Optics Mag is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Read more.

How To Become a Sports Photographer (Step-By-Step Guide)

Last Updated on

sport photographer

Back in the day, many people didn’t even know sports photography was a thing. They thought it was journalism and nothing different. But it’s a thing, and the role of the photographer is to capture various images at an athletic gathering. 

The ‌pictures being taken are usually eccentric in the sense that they are action-oriented. The primary task is to capture the players’ and audiences’ emotions during the contest or game. Sometimes they’ll accompany those images with articles, to ensure they elicit the right reactions.

Now that we know who a sports photographer is, let’s look at the hoops that they have to jump in order to become one.

shutter camera divider 2

The 7 Steps To Become a Sports Photographer

1. Sign up for classes

The concepts being taught in photography classes aren’t as complicated as those being taught in calculus class.

If you’ve already graduated from high school and are not looking to go back to class, you could sign up for online classes. Or look for a mentor who’s willing to offer private lessons. Nevertheless, the point is, with the help of those classes, you’ll be able to learn the fundamentals of photography. Including how to work with a digital camera.

Being certified is a definite plus because the document will act as a testament that you went through a program and excelled. Making you qualified for any gig that’s all about sports photography.

young photographers in the studio
Image Credit: Stock-Asso, Shutterstock

2. Apply for an internship

Interning is part of learning. The only difference is that instead of working with a mentor or teacher in class, you get to work side by side with professionals who have experience in the job. That hands-on experience you’ll eventually gain will be instrumental in the long run, as you’ll know how to navigate dicey situations.

Finding an open internship position shouldn’t be a problem. Just reach out to your teachers or anyone who has an established network in this field. The other option is to offer your services as an independent sports photographer whenever they have school games.

3. Build a portfolio

Every photographer needs a portfolio. It doesn’t matter if they are working in sports, finance, academia, banking, or architecture. They all have something that shows some of their best work in case they need it to apply for a job, earn an award, or show off their achievements.

Don’t just take pictures of the audience cheering or crying—take more action shots and vary your portfolio as much as possible.

photographer infront of computer
Image Credit: Rawpixel.com, Shutterstock

4. Enroll in college

College degrees are important for many reasons. So if you’re looking to make a career out of it, consider enrolling in one. That certificate will offer job stability, recognition, long-term financial gain, and ultimately career satisfaction. That being said, a degree is not a necessity in this line of work. There are so many sources on the internet that can help you gain the technical skills being offered in a bachelor’s or associate program.

A few examples of the skills being taught in college include color options, object positioning, and the software used to manipulate photos.

5. Focus on one sport

It’s okay to diversify, but we find specializing more productive. You get to work faster, more efficiently, and thus are able to produce quality images. In addition, understanding the rules of the game will be easier, and anticipating a player’s every move on the field will become second nature.

Make sure you choose the sport that you feel most passionate about. Because even though it’s going to be a career, it shouldn’t feel like a job. Also, find time to go through the photos taken by other photographers in your sport. This will give you an idea of what to document and what to ignore. If they are playing soccer, you’ll want to take a picture of that free kick!

photographer taking pictures
Image Credit: sergey causelove, Shutterstock

6. Invest in high-quality equipment

Sports photography is the kind of gig that requires those involved to buy their own equipment. Very few people will be willing to lend you their stuff since it is very expensive. Replacing even one broken part can cost you an arm and a leg.

You should at least have memory cards, a tripod, zoom lenses, and a DSLR camera. Just so you know, this will not be your typical camera. And the brand has to be a trustworthy one, or you’ll invest all your hard-earned money on a less-than-ideal product.

7. Apply for the job

We’ve already gone through the classes, graduated from college, completed an internship, bought professional equipment, freelanced, and built a portfolio. The only thing that’s remaining is securing a real job.

While applying for vacant positions, avoid the high-level offerings. Even if you feel qualified, start at the entry-level, and work your way to the top. Trust us when we say you’ll climb that ladder fast if you’re great at what you do. No company wants to lose a valuable employee to the competition.

shutter camera divider 2 Frequently Asked Questions

What ‌skills make someone a good sports photographer?

For starters, you have to be a really good storyteller. The images have to be sequenced in a fashion that relays a message and tells a captivating story. You’ll know you’re doing a good job by looking at the reactions and comments about a post.

Image composition is also a factor at play here. So if you didn’t learn the skill during your academic journey, you’ll have to go back to those classes. The photos have to be visually appealing and the lighting has to be perfect.

Lastly, learn to pay attention to the minute details. We’re talking about the angles, colors, shadows, and every other component that makes a photo look great.

female photographer marketing services
Image Credit: MYDAYcontent, Shutterstock

What exactly does a sports photographer do?

Do you mean other than taking sports photos? Well, they also build relationships with athletes, travel the world to attend different games and contests, edit pictures, work in tandem with sports journalists, and teach prospects. Yes, you can be a sports photographer and dabble in other things, like teaching.

But we’re not implying that it’s going to be all fun and games. Be ready and willing to invest a lot of your time and money.

Is photography a good career?

It depends on who you ask. We think it’s one of the best careers, but those who’ve tried and failed will obviously have a different opinion. The only thing that we can tell you is that if you’re certain that this is what you want to do with your life, you’ll succeed.

shutter camera divider 2 Final Words

We hope you’ve learned something important from this guide. The takeaway should be that sports photography isn’t only about taking pictures. It’s about telling a story and telling it the right way. You really don’t need a degree to be good at it, but that paper could play a critical role in ensuring you get to where you want to be.

Featured Image Credit: VanoVasaio, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.