Being a Sports Photographer isn’t Just About Knowing How to Shoot Sports

When people find out that I’m a sports photographer they always mention how great it must be to watch all the games up close and that I’m only there to shoot sports. Anyone who works as a sports photographer knows that those two statements couldn’t be further from the truth especially if you work for a team or school as their primary photographer. The thing is being a sports photographer isn’t just about knowing how to shoot sports. There is so much you need to know to be a successful photographer in the sports world.

Aside from knowing the proper etiquette for being a sports photographer, you also have to know how to be a landscape photographer, a portrait photographer, a commercial photographer, concert photographer, event photographer and even a communication director. And imagine if you have to be all of those for just one game.

So do you still think being a sports photographer is only about shooting sports?

Portrait Photography

What happens when it’s a team photo day and you need head and group shots? How is being a photographer only able to shoot sports going to help you? Quick hint, it won’t.

As a portrait photographer you know how to use off camera lighting techniques and poses. Imagine having the someone like Max Scherzer standing in front of you for photo day and you don’t know anything about using strobes. How long do you think he would stand there waiting while you figured it out? I’ll tell you not very long. Back in 2022 we had about 45 seconds to shoot him on media day before he “had enough” and went out to practice.

If you don’t understand portrait lighting techniques or how to get 2-3 poses from athletes under two minutes then you won’t be working as a team photographer for long.

Same thing goes for when you have celebrities and other social media influencers in the building on big game nights. Your team wants to show the fans and others that they have the hottest ticket in town. You’ll need to know how to properly use your on-camera flash to balance both the subject and the background. And this is where the communications director aspect comes into play. Most of these celebrities have “handlers” you need to get in contact with to set up times during the game to take their photo. It’s a lot of back and forth, changed locations and everything in between.

And just like photographing athletes on media days you have maybe a minute or less to grab a frame or two of these celebrities.

Nobody is going to wait for you to figure out how to light a subject at a game. They’ll just go back to their seat and blow you off.

Commercial Photography

I’ll put commercial and marketing photographer in the same level. Working for a team or school there are sponsors, who put up large sums of money to have their branding on uniforms and around the ballparks, stadiums and arenas, and they want to have photos of their brand to help them gain more clients or customers. If you don’t know how to properly incorporate their products and branding into images then you team or school won’t have sponsorships for much longer.

Did you know there are photographers at games who only shoot the scoreboard and the ribbon scores around the stadium as well as all the billboards in and around the stadium? They might shoot the game here and there. but their main objective is to get all the advertisers logos and branding from the scoreboards. There are brands who hire photographers to solely go out and shoot players with who use their brand of baseball gloves during a game. There is money to be made at games and these sponsors want their cut.

If a stadium is rolling out a new food lineup for the season you’re going to have to photograph the food and make it look so desirable in photos that fans want to try it when they come to watch the game. Taking an iPhone picture isn’t going to lure people in no matter how many filters or Bad Bunny songs you attach to the post, story or reel. And let’s not get started with creating a specific TikTok dance just for a new burger.

If these brands are spending hundreds of thousands to millions for sponsorships they want the best return for their value. It’s one thing to take a photo of an athlete on the field it’s another to frame them so you can see both the brand logo and them side by side. It gives the illusion to the fans that this player uses their product.

Concert/Event Photography

While you may be the head photographer for a team, you also work for the stadium or arena as well. That means if any concerts come to the arena, you’ll have to photograph it for them. Same with events. If a team is having a turkey giveaway at Thanksgiving or their star player is hosting a gala you will need to shoot those as well.

For concert photography you’re going to have to know how to freeze the action with such dim lighting in the venue. You’ll also have to know how to balance all the flashing stage lighting and how to use that to your advantage.

Event photography often requires knowing how to use on-camera flash and I’m not talking about that little rectangular flash that pops up from your camera. You will need to know the inverse square law and how far lights falls from a subject. And if you don’t know about those things, let me direct you to someone who can teach you in such a way that he makes it easy for anyone to understand, Zack Arias.

With events you’re going to have to quickly pose people, dial in your settings and roll from there. Everything is so fast paced that you don’t want to be the reason why things are delayed.

Still Think You Only Have to Shoot Sports?

The next time you tell someone it’s great they get to watch the game up close or get to hang out with your favorite player, just know that there is more the being a sports photographer than just shooting sports. It may look glamorous on tv, but in real life there is a lot of work that always needs to be done and there is never enough time to get it all done.

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