The field of sports photography can be an exciting, demanding and adrenaline-filled career. While most sports photographers will find work with local and regional newspapers, photographers who excel in this field can find themselves on the sidelines, jostling for position as they capture breathtaking images of the world’s most famous professional athletes. While it's true that a career in sports photography does not require a specific degree or certification, earning a degree in photojournalism or a related field can enhance your skills and help you to build a career in this highly competitive industry.
High school sports programs can provide an excellent practice field for a budding sports photographer. Most high schools offer at least several team or individual sports programs, including football, baseball, soccer, basketball and swimming, giving you ample opportunities to improve your photography chops. If you think you may be interested in a career as a sports photographer, now is the time to start. Join your school newspaper or yearbook crew and start practicing. If you’re lucky, you may be able to use or borrow a school-issued digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR), which is a camera with high shutter speeds, interchangeable lenses and the ability to manually control settings. Otherwise, you’ll need to save your pennies to invest in the purchase of a decent camera.
College Or University
While a formal degree is not required to become a sports photographer, you may want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in a related field to hone your skills and make yourself more marketable to employers. Colleges and universities often offer courses in photography or photojournalism as part of a broader degree in journalism or marketing. Moreover, if you’re planning on working as a freelance photographer, business courses, such as those in accounting or economics, can be helpful. Just like in high school, consider joining your student newspaper as a sports photographer to boost your skills and enhance your portfolio.
Trade And Technical Schools
Trade and technical schools are other options to consider if you’re interested in a sports photography career. While the programs will vary widely by institution, most will offer basic courses in composition, lighting and equipment, as well as more advanced courses in editing and design. Some schools, such as the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, offer both associates and bachelor’s degrees in photography, while others, such as the accredited, distance-learning-based New York Institute of Photography, offer certificates upon completion of the course.
Life Experience ... And Practice
Of course, beyond formal schooling, most sports editors are looking to hire photographers who have a creative eye, a creative vision and experience. In an interview with photoshelter.com, Brad Smith, the director of photography at Sports Illustrated, stated that he looks for photographers who have a “knack for photography that’s not all about technique and post-production.” He also looks for photographers who have the ability to connect with their subjects on a personal level. As with any other skill, these qualities and skills come from experience. The more you learn from practice, the better your portfolio will be -- and the more likely you’ll be able to convert your passion for sports photography into a competitive career.
Jennifer Brozak earned her state teaching certificate in Secondary English and Communications from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., and her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Pittsburgh. A former high school English teacher, Jennifer enjoys writing articles about parenting and education and has contributed to Reader's Digest, Mamapedia, Shmoop and more.