How to become a professional sports photographer in the UK

Discussion in 'Sports' started by leila_griffiths, Jun 7, 2015.

  1. Hello everyone,
    I would like to become a professonal sports photographer in the UK. I have got the equipment for it but I just dont know how to get into it properly. Im struggling to find sports photography courses.

    What do you recommend?
    I have taken pictures at the london marathon, bupa 10k run for charity
    I personally prefer outdoor sports but Im not fussed which sport to be honest.
  2. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I don't know how different it is in the UK than the US, but I suspect it's similar.
    It really comes down to connections. I wouldn't take a class unless the teacher is well-connected. What worked for me, and a lot of the sports shooters I have known, was taking photos at gyms of people training. For outdoor sports, I'd look at practice sessions that are open, including amateur ones. Meet everyone you can, especially coaches. Talk to players and become friends with them. Build a really strong portfolio, it doesn't matter if the events are amateur. Send players and coaches and trainers pictures or post them on Facebook. Then ask the team to sponsor you for a pass. From there it's all about networking.
    That's how started and I ended up shooting for a number of trainers and for two magazines. I built a stock library with good sales with photos that weren't available elsewhere and got book, magazine and web publication as well as images on athletic clothing from the stock images. My first hit was one of the players needed an event photo for an endorsement and I got paid extremely well for a photo I'd already taken.
    It did take a while, the first year I shot almost every weekend with no pay. I don't do it any more, but could probably go right back in through my connections.
  3. So how about I volunteer to take
    pictures at my local football, rugby,
    swimming clubs etc. To help build my
    portfolio is that what you mean? I'm not
    expecting it to be easy but nothing
    worth having is ever easy I suppose
  4. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I would do that but use the events to meet the people who can help you get media access also.
  5. Oh okay....who would be a good media
    access connection?
  6. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Some of the people running things will have friends with connections, you just have to figure out who and make sure they see what you are doing.
  7. I would be surprised if there are any courses specific to sports photography. I did an HNC course a few years ago, which included the opportunity to photograph university rugby and soccer matches at stadiums. It should be possible to choose topics for the various assignments which are biased towards your main interest. More important perhaps, the HNC included a number of modules on becoming a professional, for example model releases, estimates and invoices, business plans etc, boring for me as I had no intention of turning professional, but very relevant otherwise.

    But it is quite a demanding course, and no doubt expensive nowadays, usually taking two years.

    Otherwise definitely get involved with local sport and try to build trust with the clubs, do team photographs etc.
  8. I agree that volunteering for local sports teams is a good way to build up your portfolio. The smaller the team the easier it is to get your foot in the door -- if you know someone who coaches little league baseball (or maybe little league cricket in the UK) or a high school coach, they may like the idea of having a team photographer. Any professional team or college team likely already has a photographer.

    I started off my newspaper career as a photographer, shooting mostly sports. It was lots of little league baseball and high school football/basketball for a local daily paper. Later I transitioned from being a photographer to a reporter and eventually worked for United Press Photographer in New Jersey, where our photographers shot professional (American) football, baseball, basketball and ice hocky from Philadelphia to New York City.

    In my experience most professional sports photographers do not shoot sports exclusively. Short of Sports Illustrated, most are general assignment newspaper photographers. Sports might be a large percentage of what they shoot, but even in major markets few news organizations are so large that many have the luxury of shooting strictly sports. So you might want to think in terms of becoming a newspaper photographer, then working your way up to a job in a city with professional sports teams.

    As far as media passes, the way you get those are by becoming a member of the media -- getting assignments from a newspaper or a job at a newspaper. Yes, there are sometimes people with a team or with connections who can sometimes slip you a pass. But while working professionals will often gladly help other working professionals, you will find that they find a "wannabe" who gets to the sidelines at a crowded game and takes up some of the precious working space that they need in order to do their jobs may not be welcome. If a team gives you a pass to shoot for the team that's one thing, but never claim to be "media" as such if you're not.
  9. Thanks guys, I have sent out emails to
    local clubs. So far I got a local hockey
    team that would be happy for me to
    take pictures at their games and they
    said the pictures will go in the local
    newspaper and social media and I will
    be credited.

    That's an interest point you made
    there. I mainly shoot weddings at the
    moment. So I would like to keep
    earning money from that. I'm not
    constantly working on weddings so I
    think I should be able to manage both
    types of photography...I
  10. "the pictures will go in the local newspaper and social media and I will be credited"

    This could be your first foot in the door with a newspaper. Once you get established with the team, make sure the people from the team introduce you to their contacts at the paper. Volunteer to be the one who deals with the newspaper. Then work your contacts at the paper to get actual paying assignments whether it's sports photography or news photography.
  11. Good luck becoming a professional sports photographer in the UK--I mean, if you can actually find someone to pay you for it, you'll be doing well indeed.
    I regularly sell boxing photos...for beer money. Boxing News, the national weekly magazine, pays the princely sum of £20 per photo. Even if you get shot of the week in the magazine, double page spread (which I've done four times now)'s 20 quid. I have picked up £100 at a pop a few times selling the Daily Mail Online shots from a fight they were interested in (they wanted eight photos for that sum), and there are a few weeklies that will pay anywhere from £15 for a single shot, to £40 for 3-4 photos. You'll find that most weeklies will tell you that they simply can't or don't pay for photos. I was overjoyed when I actually had a French paper, Le Equipe, offer me €300 for two shots for their Sunday glossy supplement.

    Occasionally I'll sell fighters sets of photos from their fights for £25-£40, and I've had several younger fighters book me to do promo shoots for them for around £100. Promoters will expect carte blance to use your photos as they wish, and act offended if you suggest they might want to make a contribution to the equipment maintenance fund (boxing is hell on kit) so that you can keep doing it.

    You might be able to make a bit of money shooting higher-profile sports like football, but the higher leagues are all locked up by agencies (Getty, Action Images, etc.) and licensing, so your options there are a bit limited. Practically none of the big dailies even have a photography staff nowadays, the exception being Tom Jenkins still doing his thing at the Guardian/Observer.
    I don't want to discourage you, but you do need to be under no illusions. The options for actually making a living at shooting sports in the UK are basically Brad Pitt nowadays--you can be quite good at it, you can be really passionate about it, but getting decently paid at it is pretty much a no go. Opportunities in America are much greater, although even over there it's nothing at all like the good ol' days when Neil Leifer, John Zimmerman, Walter Iooss and the other giants were making sports photograph a potentially well-paid, artistically satisfying and highly respected field in which it was possible to support oneself by the fruits of your labour. (It seems that over there even little weekly papers have enough self-respect that they'll generally pay you as much as a national publication will here--UK media have absolutely no shame in taking the mick when it comes to paying photographers.)
  12. Great for the UK input. I do weddings mostly at the moment so that will be my main source of income but I do love sports photography which is why I dont mind building my reputation from small leagues. Thanks for the advice. I will definitely bare it in mind. Its a shame sports photography costs the most (in terms of equipment) and we get paid the least in sports photography :-s
  13. Leila,
    hi. Yes, I'd go along with most of the other responses. Start small, work the contacts. If you enjoy sports and can make some money, all well and good. If you want to do it Pro then you're really looking at working for Getty/PA etc.
    I'm in the UK and cover lots of sports - athletics/basketball in the main but happy to consider all offers. I'm lucky enough to live in Sheffield where many sports have their national finals so work comes to my doorstep.
    A couple of years ago I wrote a small book about my experiences - pick up a copy at:
    Andy Chubb
  14. Thanks your ebook it was very helpful. I wish I could live in Sheffield the city of sports opportunity lol.....I live down south in Essex.
    Oh by the way, my local baseball team said they I can take pictures for the team so their game is this sunday and the local hockey club said I can take pictures for them, they said they will put the pictures in the local newspaper but the season doesn't start until September.
    What I have done so far is email local clubs of sports that I have an interested in and they are the only two clubs that got back to me. I guess I got to somewhere. Im grateful for the opportunity.
    In terms of my experience so far all I have down is take pictures at
    -Abseiling for british red cross at the Olympic park
    -BUPA 10k run for UNICEF in london
    -London marathon for leukaemia care
    -Vitality world triathlon in London hyde park I managed to get accredited
  15. Leila,
    hi. Sorry for the tardy response, but glad you enjoyed the bookette.
    If you've got offers from a couple of local clubs then go for it - you've nothing to lose, will at least get a picture credit in the papers and can then decide if it is worth you continuing or moving on to something else.
    You may get people from the clubs wanting to purchase a copy so be prepared to price things at a level that makes it worthwhile and make sure that they know what they can and what they cannot do with the pix etc!
  16. How much do you sell your photos for to the newspapers?
  17. Hi Leila, sorry I'm a bit late to the party, just wanted to add my two cents worth regarding becoming a sport photographer... better late than never!
    Andy and Bernard have covered it pretty much, but here's a few thoughts from the girlfriend (that's me) of a professional UK sports photographer...
    - there's no money to made in sports photography, especially not by selling individual images to newspapers. all the big newspapers get their sports images exclusively from agencies (with the exception of The Guardian - they send Tom Jenkins to all the big events) which means that you'd have to get a contract with an agency.
    - to get in with one of the smaller agencies (PA, BPI, Action Images etc) you need a decent portfolio. So what you're doing, shooting smaller events for free, is a great start. I would probably focus on football and rubgy, because that's what sport agencies want you to shoot but definitely a good idea to include some more 'niche' sports, cycling, running, abseiling (awesome!).
    - when you have a portfolio together, email all the agencies. The industry is in bad shape but there are still jobs going for newbies who are willing to work hard. Agencies pay either 'per shift' (recommended, as your pay then doesn't depend on photo sales) or 'split' (you get a percentage of the sales of your pictures).
    - if you want to work as a pro sports photographer (I'm not talking peanut newspapers, I'm talking professional work for an agency) you will need to be able to edit pitch side on a laptop and send photos to the server whilst shooting at the same time. Newspapers layout their papers (and their websites) while the match is still going on. So you have to be quick with Photo Mechanic, Photoshop and FTP.
    - Sports photography happens mainly on weekends so that might be difficult to fit around your weddings. A typical football weekend for my boyfriend means: leave the house at 11am (kickoff early afternoon) to get to the stadium, get a photographer's bib, find a good space pitch side (based on which team is more likely to score or which team might be more 'newsworthy'), sit and wait, shoot the match whilst doing a 'first edit' (newsworthy stuff like managers, goals, action, fouls, celebration) and sending that off to the agency. Half time is more editing and sending. After the match has finished, edit and send some more. Pack up, get home by 8pm. Weekday matches are 5pm to midnight.
    Really sorry if that sounds like I'm trying to turn you off the idea. Because I actually think that sports photography can be a great profession! But it's bloody hard work and 80% annoying. Even my boyfriend says that and he's been in the business full time for 6 years now and is making a decent living. He loves the perks like going to the football world cups, wimbledon, rugby world cup, all that. But the weather! Oh man!
    If you want to chat to him about sports photography (rather than getting secondhand info from me), ping me a message and I'll send you his email address. I think he could be persuaded to have a look at your portfolio and give you some feedback... if you want? ;)
    Good luck!
  18. Well to become a sports photographer you will need,
    Press accreditation, Public liability insurance (£5m), at least two bodies both preferably with dual card slots one for backup as they do go down, depending on what you shoot a reasonable collection of lenses, tripod, quality CF cards a good supply.

    I shoot for a glossy magazine, at places like Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Donnington and many more.
    As has been stated you will probably never earn a living. I shoot D4s, D810 with D7100 as backup, Nikkor 80-400 Nano, Sigma 150-600, Nikkor f2.8 70-200, Nikkor 14-24, Nikkor 24-120 as main lenses with three SB910 flashguns and Gitzo Tripods. This is not all.

    You say you have the gear, you need it, it has to be reliable, you have to know it inside and out, as when you shoot for someone you can afford NO mistakes. I could never let an editor down, or there are plenty to take your place.
    As for earning a living, the average for my glossy is £25 a photo and £150 a full page IF you are lucky, so a monthly shoot at Silverstone could be between £50 an £150.
    What do I personally recommend, well not taking photographic courses, going to local events shooting for two years and starting by offering to shoot free if they use your images just to build up something no money can buy, a GOOD portfolio.

    I wish you luck
    Moderator: Signature URL removed. Not permitted on

    Oh I forgot my well earned Press accreditation, membership of the National Union of Journalists and my NUJ Press pass
  19. have you managed anything?
  20. Great news my portfolio is growing covered more football games and basketball games
  21. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

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