Photographers for the NFL have two major paths to employment. Some work directly for the NFL, shooting promotional shots, game action and player pictures. Others shoot NFL photos as part of their work with another employer, such as a newspaper or sportscasting channel. Both paths require significant photography experience and clear sports knowledge. There's no guarantee that any specific path will take you to the NFL, because working for the NFL is challenging and requires both luck and skill.
There are no specific educational requirements to work with the NFL. However, a background in sports photography can make you a more attractive and qualified candidate. Consider pursuing a degree in photography and taking electives dedicated to sports photography. Classes in photojournalism can prepare you to capture important NFL moments as they happen. If you're interested in sports journalism or working alongside a sports journalist, a few journalism electives can help you gain the necessary background.
Building Your Portfolio
Whether you want to work directly with the NFL or with an organization that works for the NFL, your portfolio is key to landing a job. It's not enough to have good photos; you need stellar sports photos that show close-up shots of split-second actions. The key to getting a good portfolio is gaining access to the football field. For most NFL photographers, this access begins as early as high school, when they volunteer to shoot high school teams. Begin working with football teams as early in your career as you can, volunteering if you have to. Credentials to photograph a game often come as a result of who you know or what you have photographed before, so becoming involved in the football world as early as possible is key.
Learn the Sport
If you're not already highly familiar with football and NFL rules, take time to learn the game. You'll need to be able to provide photos that accurately reflect what's happening. Spend time watching games, reading official rules and attending football games. Joining a professional organization for sports photographers can also help you stay aware of new developments in the NFL.
Early Career and Internships
Early in your career, an internship is one of the most effective ways to gain access to the playing field and begin meeting people in the NFL. Apply for NFL internships, as well as internships with newspapers, broadcasters and magazines that shoot NFL games. The key here is to get the chance to photograph NFL events that you can later showcase in your portfolio. You may then be able to leverage your internship into a paid position or use the connections you made during your internship to get contract work.
Contract photography work can help you get your foot in the door. You'll need press credentials to gain access to the field, but if you can get these, you can then submit photos on speculation to papers and broadcasters. If you develop a good track record, you may be offered a contract role to photograph sports events. This not only helps you further build your portfolio. It also is the first rung on the ladder toward working with large sportscasting companies and national newspapers. If your photos are good enough and the people on the field like you, the NFL may even take notice.
Joining the NFL
The NFL website maintains a list of currently open positions; you may also consider submitting photos directly to the NFL on speculation. One of the most effective ways to land a job, though, is to go to NFL conferences and job fairs. This gives you the chance to chat directly with people who can hire you and to make friends and connections. Take only your best photos with you, and be prepared with business cards and numerous copies of your resume.