Becoming a professional sports photographer takes a bit of patience a lot of expensive equipment and a lot of your valuable time. Lets talk first about the PATIENCE aspect. Of all of the pros that I know and have become friends with over the years, none of them started out shooting professional or even college level events their first time out. I know it may sound cliche, but most of us start out shooting children or high school sports. The key is to build a portfolio of quality shots that at some point you can put together in a portfolio to send to an accrediting agency. Before spending an entire morning or afternoon shooting youth league baseball or football you need to become familiar with the different styles of camera bodies and lenses essential to shooting sports. All too often I see people out for the first time snapping action shots of their kids with their camera in auto-mode and the flash popped up. Knowing how to operate your camera in manual mode is not only important as a sports photographer but in any field of photography if you want to become a professional. Manual mode allows you to control the aperture of the lens, iso and shutter speed. A good, used, fast aperture lens is the first major investment that you should make when wanting to A. stop the action of sports and B. shoot in low light situations. A fast aperture lens is one that opens up wide to let in as much light as possible, the more light that you can let through the lens and on to the sensor of the camera then the quicker your shutter speed can be while shooting. Look for lenses that feature f2.8 aperture ratings, the lower the f number the wider the opening in the lens can be. Having a zoom lens is the other feature in a sports lens that you will want and having both a zoom lens with a fast aperture is where it starts to get expensive. A 70-200 f2.8 is the staple lens of most any beginning sports photographer. You can find a good used one on ebay usually for around $450 – $700.
When you first start shooting games you will find that most of your shots are not usable. Either the ball is nowhere to be found in the shot or another player is in the way of your intended subject. Finding ways to get shots that are composed and have good subject matter without having to use captions all falls under the relm of TECHNIQUE. Spend some time getting to know the sport and the teams that you will be photographing. I grew up playing football, so when I decided to start shooting some local games I was able to follow the action. You will not always be as familiar with the sport or teams that you are shooting. My first time shooting professional soccer I found it hard to follow the action because I was not as familiar with the flow of a soccer game. I basically just followed what the other more experienced soccer shooters did and manged to get some shots that would work for the agency that I was shooting for. Although it made for a long weekend of capturing more useless shots than usable content. I highly recommend studying up on the sport before hand.
Once you have established an extensive portfolio of your work feature shots from several events you will need to establish an online and print portfolio. Most national and international wire services will want to see your portfolio via an accessible public link online. What they are looking for is not only the quality of your photos but the way you cover an event from the beginning to the end. Your portfolio for each event must tell a story about what happened at the event. Local newspapers and publications will more than likely call you in for an interview at which point having a physical portfolio to hand them is always highly appreciated. Working for local media providers is a good way to establish a consistent income from your work, however, it is not always very lucrative. National wire services can yield high income numbers for your work, but it can be far and few in between from check to check. Shooting for a wire service is usually a 50-60% commission only from the sales that your work produced. A lot like the music industry, it could be anywhere from 6 months to a year before your receive a check for your work that sold. The larger the event is that you are shooting the more photographers the event will have and allow for. Therefore you are going to have to plan that much more to get the shots that you need and that you think no one else will get. This post could go on forever…I will create another post soon to go over the ins and outs of equipment.