Photography Q&A

#29 - Which Business? : Sports Photography

November 07, 2021 Andy Jones Episode 29
Photography Q&A
#29 - Which Business? : Sports Photography
Show Notes Transcript

This is a new series on different types of photography business. Hopefully, it'll help you to decide what you want to shoot.

This week is Sports Photography

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I've been in your situation and it sucks when you don't know what to do.  So ask me as many questions as you like and I'll give you the answers you need.

My Story

The reason I started a photography business was to shoot figure skating. My daughter had started skating the year before. The moment I realized I could make money shooting figure skating was at her first competition. The club had hired a company to shoot stills and video. They had a stand in the foyer and had a line-up of parents waiting to buy their kids images all day. That’s from 8 in the morning until 8 at night. I stood in that line-up for 40 minutes and paid $50 for a CD that had 7 photos on it. The photos weren’t even processed, I had to do it. 

The next week I made a collage with the images, printed it out, and put it in a frame. It looked pretty good. I wanted to see if anyone at our club would be interested in paying me to make a collage out of their kid’s photos. I got a really good reaction and made quite a few collages.

At this point, I decided I needed a DSLR and had to start a business.

I’ve shot lots of sports over the years. Figure Skating, Synchronized Skating, Ice Hockey, Ringette, Soccer, Highland Dancing, Show Jumping, Softball, and Dog Agility. During the winter I was at the rink and in summer outdoors.

Equipment

Sports are fast-moving, so you need a camera body with fast auto-focus. A fast frame rate is also necessary, 6 frames a second will work. 10+ frames a second makes your life a lot easier though. That’s not to say that all I did was spray and hope at 10 frames per second. When you have a camera that can shoot at that speed you don’t need to keep your finger on the shutter button for a second or more. Half a second or less will capture lots of the action. 

For example, in soccer, if a kid goes to kick the ball, it doesn’t take long, maybe half a second. So if your camera can do 10 fps you will get 4 or 5 images and will capture the point of impact. If it only does 5 fps you will only get 2 images and the 3rd will be after impact. Now you can improve your timing with practice, but you will still miss some crucial moments.

Next, we have lenses. For most sports, you need at least a 200mm focal length. Your best bet is the 70-200 2.8 zoom. It’s not a cheap lens, but it will earn you lots of money and is a great lens to have.

Not all sports need a long lens, basketball for instance only needs a 35mm to 85mm focal length. School games indoors require a prime lens that can open up to f/1.8 and capture low-light images.

If you are shooting a sport for a full day, consider using a monopod. They really are a great piece of kit. My first one was a $24 special and lasted a couple of hours before I gave up on it. It couldn’t stay at the length I had set it to because the locks weren’t up to the job. I quickly replaced it with a Manfrotto monopod and haven’t had a problem with it in 16 years.



Which Sport?

The vast majority of sports photographers start shooting professionally as I did. If you’re at your kid’s sporting event you might as well make some money while you are there.

When choosing a sport to shoot give it a try before offering your services. See if you like it, there is a difference and you need to shoot one that you enjoy. 

My favorite was dog agility, I loved the dogs. Trying to capture the fastest dogs jumping was lots of fun. I made the most money from figure skating and the least from highland dancing. Yeah, highland dancing, 12 hours of bagpipes, and a bunch of cheap British parents, what could possibly go wrong.


How to Get Customers

If you are going to shoot sports you need to look at getting customers differently. Instead of single clients, or small groups, you need to market the one group that represents many. That one group is the sports club committee.

If you want to shoot kids soccer find out the name of the local club that runs the league. That one club will control all the age groups. In small towns that can add up to hundreds of kids from 5 yrs old to 18 yrs old. 

Find their website and make a note of the names and contact information of the committee members. Also, find out where and when they have the meetings. Turning up with a couple of boxes of donuts isn’t out of the question.

You need to put together some prices and make sure the club gets a percentage. Sports clubs are constantly trying to raise money. If you offer to help them raise the money you are making it hard for them to stick with their current photographer who doesn’t give them anything. Email all the committee members at the same time. That way someone is sure to bring you up at the next meeting. 

There is a simple way of going about making money from sports. That is just turn up and offer your services to the parents. I have done it over the years and it works well. Now you do need a large poster that shows what you can do and shows prices. I have used an A-frame sandwich board set up with my posters attached. The last time I did it I just had a 24”x36” poster and taped it to the wall in the ice rink. The parents see the poster and look around for the photographer. It’s really simple and you can make good money doing it. Plus, you don’t have to buy any donuts.


Look After Your Customers

This is really important if you are dealing with a committee. Every year they vote people in and out. So each year you might be working with different members. Offer to do their headshots for the club’s website as part of the deal. Give them coupons for your other services, like family portraits and weddings. Being a club photographer can be very lucrative so look after the people that hold the power. 


What Products Should You Sell?

The big processing labs offer lots of products for sports teams, and you should offer some of them. If you can come up with your own style of poster or collage it will put you on another level. 

Most photographers only shoot posed photos of sports teams, so start shooting action shots. Everyone likes action shots, so give them what they want. A poster with the kid actually doing the sport instead of just standing there smiling is way easier to sell. Be known as a professional sports photographer that offers cool products.


Conclusion

Shooting sports can be a lot of fun and is a great way to earn money. Make sure you offer action shots and custom products that other photographers can’t copy. If you do is the same as everyone else, then there is no reason to use you when someone else offers lower prices. 

Use professional equipment and capture the best images you can. Cheap lenses won’t focus fast enough to capture fast sports action.