Sports Photography: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

What Is Sports Photography?

Sports photography is a type of photography that covers every sport and sporting event, capturing the action of a game and behind the scenes of the players. This type of photography helps to promote brands, the players, as well as the sport.

Soccer - sports photography guide

The industry of sports photography can be a highly appealing one – the ability to take in sporting events or the potential of being a part of professional sport is a dream to many, but the competitiveness of the industry and the challenge of shooting moving subjects can feel daunting. If you have an interest in doing a deeper dive into the world of sports photography and getting more involved in action photography, then look no further. We've compiled a guide to get started as a sports photographer – from breaking down the way to gain experience and break into the industry, to the technical aspects you'll need, right up to the equipment.

Sports aren't the only type of photography that requires photographers to tap into the ability to capture subjects who are in motion – live motion, dance, sports, etc. all fall into the same category. For expert tips on more powerful action photography dig into this article. If you already have experience with any of these types of photography, you are a step ahead in starting your path to a career in sports photography.

While your research will help you get started, your online portfolio will help you grow your sports photography business. It's where you will showcase your work, network with other photographers, and land new gigs. Your online portfolio will be an essential part of your photography business, but before you get going – here are all the sports photography tips you'll need.

What Is Sports Photography?

Sports photography includes all types of photography that cover every sport and sporting event. This ranges from local and regional sports, high school athletics, all the way to the national and international sport, as well as a professional sport.

When people think of sports photographers, it is sometimes easy to only think about the most popular professional sports – like basketball, football, basketball, soccer, and hockey. But truthfully, sports photographers are needed in so many more areas  – like swimming, running, water polo, paddling, martial arts, lacrosse, track and field,  etc. The list can go on for days.

If you want to photograph sports as a hobby or as a career, there are many opportunities. The need for photographers to cover youth sports and local sports does not go unnoticed. Sports photographers are vital at all levels of competition. The shots you take will matter just as much as the ones of the athletes on the field.

Sports photography is about telling stories. With the advent of social media, the need for up-to-date photos to help tell a story has grown exponentially. Sports photographers need to capture the game's intensity and competitiveness. Amateur or professional athletes are now growing their brand in new ways with their own sponsorship and social media channels that require them to grow their own portfolio.

What Do Sports Photographers Do?

A sports photographer's job is to capture and tell the story of athletic events. They capture the game's raw emotion and help fans connect with it. They must be able to convey the event's essence – the athletes' successes and failures – to viewers at home and abroad.

Sports photographers are able to capture moving objects and cover any fast-paced sporting event. They have the technical skills required to think and move quickly – with the unpredictability of the match or the event – while also knowing their camera well enough to ensure they can get the shots they need.

Sports photographers face unique challenges with moving objects and unpredictable lighting at indoor sports. Like the athletes, the more sporting events you cover, the better your shots will become.

Photographers are now needed to cover community events for athletes and teams to help expand their media coverage. They are also involved in the sponsorship and branding of athletes – athletes looking to sign with a professional team or collegiate sport will use their online platform as a way to build their brand and often will hire photographers specifically to help build their portfolio.

Working with athletes one-on-one to capture their sport and personality can be very rewarding and allow you some creativity in figuring out how to share that expression. The sports industry is continuing to grow and with that, the opportunities for photographers will too.

swimming - sports photography guide

Is It Hard To Become a Sports Photographer?

Becoming a sports photographer is a highly competitive landscape. While most sports photographers may never cover the professional sport for a living, sports culture is continuing to grow and there are lots of room in a wide range of different leagues. 

While getting into sports photography can be difficult, it can also be hugely rewarding and fun. No one has a better seat to the magic within sport. You get to bring to life incredible moments of victory and heartbreak. 

If you have a passion for sports then you'll be able to carve yourself a space in the industry. Finding ways to start small and build your online portfolio and experience will help you gain more work. 

Networking is largely important for your career. Don't be afraid to reach out to different sports coaches, managers, leagues, etc. to get your foot in the door. Reach out to other sports photographers to get advice on how they got their start.

Don't feel intimidated by setting big goals and remember that you'll need to start small. Get involved in your community and get your name out there.  And if your focus is to use this platform as a hobby, you will also find the role to be incredibly rewarding as you share local sports with your community.

What Is the Average Salary for a Sports Photographer?

The range of an average salary for a sports photographer changes depending on the size and scale of the sports you are covering. There are some photographers who are working freelance to cover sport, while others have been hired by a team or league with a more extensive workload that can include travel to road games. 

On average, the salary of a sports photographer can range from $102,000 to as low as $19,500, but the average salary hovers around $49,047. For freelance work, sports photographers should make somewhere between $50-$300 as an hourly rate and land between $500-$3,000 for a flat rate for an event you are covering (between four to eight hours of coverage).

The range is quite extensive as some photographers are shooting sports events as a hobby, while others are doing so as a career. The bigger or better your online portfolio is, the more opportunities you will have to land more photography gigs and negotiate more money.

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How Do I Get Into Sports Photography?

Picking up a camera is the first place to start when you are looking to become a sports photographer!

If you are interested in getting into sports then starting in your community is the best place to begin. Getting involved in the local channels of social media and your local newspapers to find out when the next upcoming sports game is and getting out for experience will help you build your portfolio.

By gaining experience in your community, you'll become more comfortable with knowing how to shoot different sports and gain an understanding of the game. While you don't have to be an expert in any particular sport, having at least an understanding will help you anticipate the kind of photographs you'll need to be looking to capture.

Starting at the local level will also help you get comfortable with more of the technical aspects of your camera – such as your shutter speed, different lenses or settings, maneuvering your camera body, and focusing on moving objects.

If you are looking to move into the realm of professional sport and become a professional photographer, building a base that includes a wide range of experience will give you some great sports photos to add to your online portfolio. Your ability to network will be important in helping you get to the next step. You never know who you will meet at different amateur sporting events, so make sure to leave a good impression every time and keep working towards your goals one sports photo at a time.

boxing - sports photography guide

How Do You Shoot Sports?

Learning the rules of the game is one of the top tips to help you get started as a sports photographer. Some of the best shots you will take will be in the heat of the moment – completely unpredictable – so having an understanding of the sport itself will give you a good idea of what to look for. 

It is also important for safety in some of the more action-happening sports that could get intense. You always need to pay attention to what is going on around you and follow the ball. Depending on where you are, you also may need to be cognizant of the fans or spectators in your area.

Having a strong understanding of the camera equipment you have and the settings on it is another really important skill for a sports photographer to have. Since the game is moving so quickly, you need to be able to adapt to be able to capture the best images. If you are spending time fiddling or adjusting settings you could miss a big goal or moment of the game that you can never get back. You just don’t have the time. Just like the athletes, practice will help you improve those technical skills.

snowboarding - sports photography guide

What Is the Best Camera for Sports Photography?

We've compiled a few good cameras to consider to get you started as a sports photographer. If you are going to branch out from the specifics, the general tips on what to look for in a good camera to cover sports is one with good burst mode, a good buffer depth, fast autofocus, and a telephoto lens to be able to capture subjects far away.

Nikon D500 - A great option that is under $2,000. It checks off a number of the important categories mentioned above including a solid autofocus system, good ergonomics, a fast continuous shooting speed at 10 FPS, and a large camera buffer. It also is a durable camera that can maintain itself through different types of weather and has solid battery life.

Canon 7D II - Another solid choice for a sports photographer and is very similar to the Nikon D500. It features an APS-C CMOS sensor with 20.2 MP resolution, top ergonomics, a good burst mode with a rate of up to 10 fps fine-tuned autofocus, excellent battery life, and is weather sealed. This camera can also perform well in low-light situations which will be very helpful for indoor sports that take place in arenas, pools, or gymnasiums.

What Is the Best Lens for Sports Photography?

Canon’s 70-200mm lens is one of the most classic and famous lenses for shooting sports. These long lenses allow you to zoom very close to the subject without the image looking distorted and give very sharp photos. Since you won't always be close to the action, this lens will allow you to get a great shot of an athlete's face who is running or on the other side of the field. This lens has a full-frame sensor and mounts on a canon.

Another great lens that was built for sports photography is the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sport. This is a durable lens made of Thermally Stable Composite, a mix between plastic and metal, which allows the lens to not overheat or freeze in extremely cold temperatures. The zoom lens allows for sharp photos to be taken in tight and also far away. This lens is perfect in allowing you to capture the perfect wide-angle shot and will also allow you to capture images with ease.

Since there are a number of solid lens options you can choose from, so here are some general tips on what to look for:

  • Shutter speed is a top priority whenever you are shooting action sports, which covers a lot of them. A faster shutter speed allows you to make sure your photos won't be overexposed and ensure that you can catch the fast moving subjects in sports. A wide aperture is important to get the fast shutter speed. Whether you are shooting outside in sun or if it is an overcast day or whether you are working with artificial lighting indoors will all be factors in the aperture you will need.

  • Making sure you get the focal length right is another important part to choosing the type of lens you will need. Most sports will require a wide angle lens to be able to capture the full field or ice, but in individual sports you may be looking to shoot tighter pictures. In these circumstances a 400-600mm focal length angle of view will be ideal.

  • The focus on your camera is another important thing to think about. While sometimes taking blurry images, or partly blurred, is a desired effect you should make sure your lens can autofocus. A continuous focus mode will help you take good photos as the subjects are running or skating by you and celebrating in dramatic fashion.

With your camera equipment ready to go, it's time to start shooting! Great photographs are yours for the taking, so shoot your shot.

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