What It Takes To Be A Top Sports Photographer

Does taking photos while watching your favorite athletes battle it out in the field (or court) sound like your idea of a good time? Then sports photography may be a good career for you.

In the eyes of sports fans who are not able to watch all their favorite games live, photos taken during the event are crucial for them to somehow live through the experience.

Just like in any niche, establishing your name in sports photography takes time, but it can be learned.

Below are some tips you should remember to take photos that will propel you to fame:

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – NOVEMBER 23: The New York Giants take the field for their game against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium on November 23, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Convey the Mood and Emotion of the Game

Pictures are powerful—they can transport viewers into a specific time or place. As a photographer, your job is to make this happen. Take it from seasoned sports and action photographer Chuck Solomon who believes in “bringing the viewer closer to the action than they normally would be able to see.”

To make this happen, he makes sure he allows enough space in the frame to give the audience a good view of where the action happened.

SOCHI, RUSSIA – FEBRUARY 20: Armin Niederer (R) of Switzerland leads during the Freestyle Skiing Men’s Ski Cross 1/8 Finals on day 13 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 20, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

At the same time, he tries to get close to the subject as possible and wait for the perfect timing to get the reaction or movement that he wants to capture from the subject. He explains that from the get-go, he already has a mental image of the shot that he wants to capture.

To make his point clearer, he cites taking photos in a baseball game as an example: “Baseball is a game of action and reaction. Often the reaction is harder to anticipate and capture since it happens so quickly, unexpectedly and sometimes where you don’t expect it. I’ve learned to quickly aim my camera back to the pitcher’s mound after a key third out, whether it’s a key strikeout or inning ending double play.”

Know the Game by Heart

No matter how much you love sport, there will always be some aspect or particular event you do not know much about when you’re just starting out. What you can do is to familiarize yourself with as many sports as possible.

WHISTLER, BC – FEBRUARY 20: Simon Ammann of Switzerland soars off the Large Hill on the final jump on day 9 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at Ski Jumping Stadium on February 20, 2010 in Whistler, Canada. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Know the details of the tournaments and games held for that particular sport. Get acquainted with the rules. Familiarize yourself with the names and the faces of the players. This way, when you can plan out who and what kind of shots you’d want to capture when covering these events.

You’ll also develop good judgment of which shots are newsworthy and which are not.

Practice, Practice, Practice.

Even if you don’t have an official assignment yet, try to practice in every game or sport as much as you can. Start with one that is most accessible to you—like a group of dudes playing ball in the neighborhood court or teenagers playing ball for their school’s local league.

You’ll notice that as time passes by, you’ll take better pictures and think of more creative ideas and angles to frame your subjects in action.

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 29: Amir Khan punches Chris Algieri during their Welterweight bout at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on May 29, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

If you’re shooting minors, make sure you get a permit from the school and its PTA association to shoot. You wouldn’t want to get into trouble with the law. People taking unauthorized photos of kids can end up in a lot of trouble, even if they meant no harm.

Grab Every Opportunity You Can

Most sports photographers started with their high school or college newspapers. If you’re still at that age, those venues are good places to start.

If you’ve decided to venture into sports photography a bit later in life and you’re a bit older, you can start with volunteering to take photos of the small leagues in your town. From there, you’ll slowly build your portfolio and gain the exposure that you need.

Always Be Professional

Even if you’re not a professional yet, work as if you are. You never know who might be observing you and your work. Who knows? The person right behind you might know someone who will be willing to pay for your services. Or that very person might be looking to hire someone like you.

Be respectful of your subjects and if possible, ask them what they think of your work. People always want to be depicted in their best light—even when in action. Remember that whenever you shoot a scene or subject.

WHISTLER, BC – FEBRUARY 22: Shohei Tochimoto of Japan competes in the men’s ski jumping team event – trial round on day 11 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at Whistler Olympic Park Ski Jumping Stadium on February 22, 2010 in Whistler, Canada. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Ask For Feedback

You might be tired of hearing this, but there’s really no substitute for asking feedback about your work. Sure, it may sting at first. But you’ll find yourself growing in your perspective as a photographer when you take their opinions constructively. And their feedback allows you to know the blind spots in your techniques.

Build Your Network

Connect with sports bloggers whom you can collaborate with or online magazines that can use your services. Join common interest groups on Flickr and Facebook. Share your work on Instagram with an appropriate hashtag, so people from the industry can find you. With all things being digital now, it’s easy to build your network without leaving the comfort of your home.

But if you prefer the old school way of making connections, just attend any sporting events and you are sure to find people from the sports industry there that you can exchange contacts and ideas with.

Now that you know all these, it’s time to whip out your camera and shoot that game. Because sometimes, the best way to achieve what you want is to just get started.