What does a Sports Photographer do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 07 January 2020
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A sports photographer is a photographer who focuses on photographing sports events and athletes. Most are photojournalists, taking pictures for use in publications, although some may also be employed by specific teams as documentarians. Some sports photographers freelance, while others are employed by specific publications or photography agencies. This work requires a great deal of travel, as people must be able to attend sports events in a variety of locations.

Photographing athletic events presents a number of challenges. Sports photographers are not able to set up shots and wait for the perfect moment. Instead, they have to be proactive about identifying good shots as they happen. This usually requires moving around the event and being careful about positioning. This requires a knowledge not just of the sport, but of the individual athletes. A sports photographer covering horse racing, for example, needs to know about the habits of horses and jockeys in order to get in place to capture distinctive moments.

The sports photographer also must select appropriate exposure times and shutter speeds on the fly. To freeze a moment, the photographer would select a fast shutter speed, resulting in a shallow depth of field. For images with more motion and a broader depth of field, the photographer could use a slower shutter speed. Sports photographers may also work with a variety of camera bodies and lenses, as well as types of film in some cases, in order to achieve different photographic effects.


Some sports photographers go to art or photography school to learn the principles of photography before seeking work, while others may start at the bottom of the photography department at a publication and acquire skills while on the job. Professional photographers often need assistants, which can be an excellent opportunity for beginners to learn valuable skills they can eventually use to develop professions of their own. Short courses in sports photography can also provide aspiring sports photographers with a grounding in the basics, along with an opportunity to meet working photographers and start establishing a network of connections.

Part of the process of being a sports photographer includes securing permission to access restricted areas at events. The photographer may receive assistance with this through a parent organization. Since competition is often fierce for good shots at high profile athletic events, the profession also involves becoming acquainted with other sports photographers and developing good working relations. A sports photographer known for being aggressive and rude may find herself shut out of good positions in the field by crowds of jostling photographers who remember previous slights.


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Post 1

I have a great respect for sports photographers who are good at what they do. I haven't done much photography, but one time in college, while working for my college newspaper, I was tasked with going to cover a summer basketball game and photographing it while I was there. No matter what settings I tried, any action shots I attempted to take wound up impossibly blurry. I had to settle for taking shots of players at the foul line or in the calm moments between plays, or else I wouldn't have had anything at all worth using!

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