When I was playing college basketball, one thing my coach talked a lot about was "staying connected to the game." By that, he meant that the experience was a stepping stone for all of us, whether that meant a future in professional basketball, coaching, broadcasting, or a whole host of other sports related activities.
Prior to college, I really hadn't been exposed to many career paths. I could sit here and point fingers at my high school guidance counselor or teachers, but honestly, they were passing on what they knew.
One of the goals of this site to create exposure to new ideas. We often look at the "best" books in certain categories, explore the nuances of certain sports, or highlight athlete accomplishments. One thing we've done very little of to date is explore sports careers. And by careers, I mean taking a deep dive at how non-athletes stay connected to the game.
Today, I want to focus on a path that's always intrigued me but that I've had little exposure to. By the end of this article, hopefully you and I both will have learned a thing or two about sports photography, while gaining an appreciation for some of the best in the business.
How to become a sports photographer
To kick things off, let's take a look at some logical steps for anyone interested in a career in sports photography. These seven steps are by no means an exhaustive list but serve as a good starting point for anyone interested in the field.
Becoming a sports photographer can be a competitive field. I repeat: it can be competitive! So, cut. yourself a bit of slack and focus on developing your skills and portfolio. Attend as many sporting events and practices as possible and take shots from a variety of different angles. Put simply: work on your game so that what you're producing is clearly head and shoulders above your peers.
Ok, so you're interested. But where do you go to see what "great" looks like? It's not like elite sports photographers are household names a la Michael Jordan or LeBron James. Here are ten sports photographers that I see as "elite." Each one has taken a different career path and can help provide a blueprint as to how to advance in this industry. The best part? Their work is highly visible, so understanding what "great" looks like is simply a click away.
But what about the money?
I'm glad you asked. The salary of sports photographers varies depending on their experience, location, and skillset. According to ZipRecruiter, the average hourly pay for a sports photographer in the United States is $17.00, with a salary range of $10,008 to $128,763 per year.
In California, the average salary for a sports photographer is $40,950 per year, while in Ohio, it is $15.44 per hour. NFL photographers earn an average salary of $39,285 annually as of January 2023.
Of course, these numbers alone are proof that there is quite a variance in what people make. Like every other job in America, though, if you're really good at, you'll earn more.
Keep in mind that a lot of sports photographers travel around the country (or world) on their employer's dime. So while their salaries may seem low, their lifestyles can be rather exhilarating.
There are ton of books on sports photography (and generic photography). One of my favorites for sports photography inspiration is Who Shot Sports:
Based on friends' recommendations, if you're looking for a more generic photography book, they recommended Learning to See:
I hope you found value in this article. Any specific questions or interest in another sports career path, please shoot me an email.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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