1. Professional sports photographers are a subset of photojournalists, in that the sports photographer’s role is to capture the action of current sporting events and tell a story, photographically. To learn story-telling skills, consider taking a few journalism courses, so you understand the basic concepts.
2. If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a sports photographer, then it’s probably safe to assume that you enjoy one or more sports, as an athlete (or former athlete), and/or you are a fan of various sports and teams.
3. To be successful as a sports photographer, as with any type of photography, you must know your subject matter thoroughly. It’s more than knowledge of the rules of the game; you must also understand the strategies and why coaches make the decisions they do during a game. Sports action occurs so fast that you must anticipate where players will be. Unless you know exactly how the game is played, you’ll be pointing your camera at the wrong place on the field or be late framing the best action.
4. As an aspiring sports photographer, it might be best to choose one sport that you already know the best. You can then expand your knowledge even more, as you find opportunities to shoot the sport and gain experience. Buy or access online the rule book of the sport you’ve picked and review and study it, even though you think you already know it.
5. Then, attend amateur and professional (if possible) games, and find a seat near where the sports photographers are located. This is easier in some sports, such as baseball, where photographers are typically restricted to a “photographers’ bullpen” next to the dugouts. Some may also shoot from the stands and press box, but the best action shots come from this field-level position. It’s more difficult in football, since the photographers move from the sidelines at one end of the field to the other end and back again. Bring a pair of binoculars, if necessary, to watch how the pros work, the equipment they use, how they dress, etc.
6. Pay particular attention to sports photographers’ equipment because, like most types of professional photography, specific equipment is required. You’ll probably notice first that many of them have very long lenses, mostly at outdoor sporting events. The cost of a lens and the other equipment you need to gain experience and learn your trade is a big challenge for many aspiring sports photographers.
7. A zoom (70–300mm) or prime telephoto lens (400mm) with a large aperture (f/2.8) and built-in stabilization technology is expensive. Add to that a professional-grade camera with a fast auto-focus system; a very high ISO sensitivity; and a burst, or continuous shooting, mode of 8 frames per second, and the investment in photo equipment takes a big jump. Plus, you’ll probably notice that many of the pros also use a monopod, sometimes supporting the lens. Just these three pieces of equipment will total thousands of dollars.
8. There are a few, limited options, however. A compact, or point-and-shoot, camera doesn’t have the capabilities to shoot “legitimate” sports photography, but if you have one with a long focal length, then you can learn and practice some of the basic skills. Don’t expect to shoot sports photography with a compact and sell the pictures to anyone, or even put them in your portfolio.
9. The other option is to rent the professional-grade equipment of a sports photographer for a day or weekend. Make sure, however, you have an all-day opportunity to shoot a sports event, so you can learn and practice as much as possible with your investment in rental equipment.
10. With whatever sports photography equipment you have, you can then concentrate on gaining experience. Of course, you won’t be given a photo press pass for a major sports event. If you’re a high school student, then shoot your school’s sports for the school newspaper, Web site, etc. With your school’s permission, you may even be able to offer the photos for sale to players.
11. You should also research your community to make a list of all the amateur, semi-pro and professional sports teams in your area, and any events scheduled for your city/town. Approach the teams that don’t receive much, if any, media coverage, but might, if they had good photos. These could be a semi-pro women’s softball or soccer team, junior golf or tennis tournament or swimming meet. Any of these opportunities will allow you to practice your skills as well as build a broader portfolio of images.
12. If you’re a high school student, a college student or a military veteran ready to pursue a career in sports photographer, then consider a formal education from Brooks Institute in California, as an excellent first step.
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