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Being a sports photographer might sound like a dream job for the sports enthusiast -- but like all professions, it starts with hard work, the right connections with editors and sports teams, and an attitude of professionalism at all times. Sports photographers need to be organized people who are good problem-solvers, always ready when those epic sports moments happen. First thing's first, though -- you also need to be skilled in your craft.
Getting an Education
Some photographers pursue a bachelor's degree in art, photography or media. If you aspire to work for a newspaper or other journalistic publication, a degree is typically required. Still, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, getting a formal education beyond high school is not an absolute requirement. To learn the basics of photography outside a university, including equipment, lighting, framing, editing, and sometimes even darkroom development, pursue some type of training at a community college in an art program, or by doing an apprenticeship with a professional photographer.
Honing Your Skills
During and after your education, the way to hone your skills in photography is to shoot often. Naturally, that's going to involve investing in your own equipment. Most photographers shoot using digital single-lens reflex or "DSLR" cameras, but you'll also need long-distance lenses, tripods and a computer with editing software. While much of sports photography involves shooting live action, sports photographers should also be able to shoot well in a studio or in more intimate environments. With that in mind, use any and all opportunities to shoot photos, practicing still photography as well as shooting at any sporting events you attend.
Building a Portfolio
As you shoot, develop a portfolio of your work that you can show to potential clients or employers. As a budding sports photographer, you'll of course include some of your best shots from sporting events, but don't restrict your portfolio to only sports material. Having portraits or other more intimate photography in your portfolio can show that you have the sensitivity to make your subjects comfortable. Your portfolio can be an electronic document that you can send to potential employers, but you should also have a well-laid-out website that includes contact information and some of your best images.
Staff Jobs or Freelance
You might aspire to shoot only sports, but the reality is that most photographers have to make a living doing other types of shooting on the side, such as weddings or portraits. Even if you aspire to work for a newspaper or magazine, you might be more of a "general assignment" photographer rather than shooting exclusively sports. To get hired for that type of staff job, pursue photography internships following college, and then look for entry-level jobs at smaller publications where you can gain experience. If you're not assigned to do just sports, offer to take the sports stories as often as you can to gain expertise. If you aspire to work as a freelancer, send unique sports story ideas to sports editors to gain relationships with them. Like staff photographers, you'll typically approach smaller publications first to gain experience. According to the BLS, photographers in newspapers and other periodicals earned a median income of $43,090 as of 2013.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Photographers
- PetaPixel: Interview with Texas Sports Photographer Thomas Campbell
- Photoshelter Blog: Getting Hired: What Sports Illustrated Looks For In Photographers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013 27-4021 Photographers
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.
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