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How to Become a Sports Photojournalist: Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a sports photojournalist. Research the education, career requirements and experience required for starting a career in sports photography.

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Should I Become a Sports Photojournalist?

Sports photojournalists or sports photographers take pictures of sporting events for magazines, newspapers and websites. Many are self-employed, working on a contract basis for various publications. This gives them the freedom to choose their assignments but can also mean they don't have a consistent income, especially since the demand for photographs of specific sporting events will vary, depending on the season.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Broadcast Journalism
  • Photojournalism
  • Print, Broadcast and Electronic Journalism

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent; Bachelor's degree required for some positions
Degree Field Photojournalism, photography, journalism with a photography concentration
Experience Some small newspapers hire recent college grads; others prefer experience in photography, journalism
Key Skills Knowledge of sports, journalism, artistic ability, digital editing software and camera equipment, such as high-spec zoom lenses and lighting techniques
Salary $39,323 (Median as of July 2014)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Chicago Tribune 2012, Job listings 2012, Various journalism schools.

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

Although there is no required degree for a sports photojournalist, larger and more well-known publications prefer experience and education in photography, journalism or both. Bachelor's degree programs in photojournalism consist of coursework in journalism as well as in the theory and practice of photography. Students also learn visual design and editing for print and online media. Course topics include photojournalism fundamentals and techniques, media writing, visual editing, the photographic essay and news design. These programs are generally geared towards creating a body of work. An opportunity for a practicum or internship in photojournalism may also be part of the curriculum.

Success Tips:

  • Develop an understanding of different types of sports. The broader an understanding a photographer has of various sports, the more versatile and marketable they will be. Budding sports photographers can read about and attend a variety of sporting events to build their knowledge.
  • Gain photo editing and Web design experience. It's important to learn about photo editing and become proficient in digital editing software programs. Because many career opportunities may be online, sports photojournalists who can edit and upload photos often have an advantage when looking for a job. Most photo editing software programs have associated tutorials or classes that can help photographers learn how to use them.

Step 2: Create and Maintain a Portfolio

A portfolio is a collection of a sports photojournalist's best work and shows potential employers the individual's photographic and artistic skills. Students can work on their portfolios while in school or during any kind of work situation, including an internship or working under an experienced photographer. Portfolios should be continually updated and refined as a photographer expands their body of work.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Working for a campus newspaper covering college sports or participating in an internship with a local newspaper or online publication can provide a starting point. In addition to taking pictures and gaining experience, internships are a good way for students to develop contacts and get their work published. Small, local newspapers sometimes hire recent college graduates, which can be an excellent way to gain further experience.

Success Tips:

  • Practice. The best way to become an excellent sports photographer is to take pictures of sporting events. This can be done on one's own time, simply by attending any number of high school or local sporting events.
  • Consider working under an established sports photographer. According to the BLS, many photographers work under more experienced photographers as assistants. This gives budding sports photojournalists opportunities to learn the ins and outs of the business, enhance their portfolios and become intimately familiar with high-tech photography equipment.
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