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Developing a Sports photography career

Jason Conway , May 03, 2011; 01:12 a.m.

I will be graduating from highschool in a few weeks here, and I am contemplating whether or not to go to school for photography. At 18, I have already been doing racing photography and have been published in numerous publications and websites. My question is, Is a degree in photography really worth it? Or is it all about talent? I am doing pretty good for an 18 year old, At least I think so.
Does my age give me an advantage when it comes to a career in sports photography?

Responses


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Michael Ging , May 03, 2011; 04:55 a.m.

Becoming a sport photographer who earns a good living is a long shot for even the best photographers. You have better have a killer portfolio, shot with a very expensive camera and lenses to get a nice job like this. For every opening you will be up against 500 other very talented photographers, who also want this job. To move yourself to the front of the line, you will need something that makes you different , or more valuable than the other 499 people who want the job. A college degree would be one of the things that would help. THe number of these jobs and the publications that employ them are shrinking every year. I am not saying you can't be the one in 500 who gets one of these jobs, but you had better be head and shoulders above your competition.

David Haas , May 03, 2011; 05:55 a.m.

I would suggest instead of a degree in photography - get a degree in business. Reason is that the photography is a small part of it. Business is 99% of it. Knowing the legal side, money making and saving - that's the important part.

If you've already been published - you're on your way - a Degree in Photography would like nice - but at the end - I think you'd learn far more by keeping on doing what you're doing on the photography side.

Whatever you decide - get a degree in something - as an ex-manager - when I was looking at resumes - the first cut was a college degree... I didn't care if it was in the field I was in - it had to be a 4 year degree.

Dave

Randall Farhy , May 04, 2011; 04:22 p.m.

I agree with David, having a degree in Business (and marketing) will do more for your professional career than a degree in Photography. Also, as David notes- having a degree has become almost mandatory to making the first cut in the eyes of many managers. So much so, that in some industries, younger applicants with a 4 year degree are being given consideration over more experienced people without one. Managers feel they are more in tune with current standards and practices, even if they don't have the "hands on" so to speak. Congratulations on being published

Ron Andrews , May 04, 2011; 05:47 p.m.

David makes a good point. I think a degree in business may be at least as valuable as a degree in photography.

If you want to consider studying photography at a college level, visit some schools that have good photography departments. (I'll put in a plug for Rochester Institute of Technology.) Talk to current students. Ask about job placement rates for graduates. Are graduates getting the kind of job you want?

Jeff Spirer , May 04, 2011; 06:05 p.m.

I disagree that a degree in Business will help with skills. Business schools teach what you need to know for a big company. When they don't, it's for entrepreneurs looking to build a big company, or one that a big company is interested in. In addition, the number of freelance sports photographers is a subset of the professional sports photographers working for pubs and wire services, and that doesn't require business degrees.

What I find most valuable is good communication, both written and spoken, and a sales "head" when talking to clients and potential clients. It's also good to be able to analyze requirements. I can speak from experience, I built a good client base in the professional fight world, and I built it by delivering a quality product before anyone else did. I found that in the modern internet age, having things fast was critical. (Actually it was years ago in the news business, but the time scales have changed.) By cranking out my photos within a few hours after an event ended, typically 3-4AM, I have been able to get business a lot of other guys don't because it was on the web at 7AM the next day. This is just one example, but it's one I hear back on regularly ("you get photos out the fastest.") I know that people like to think it's all about having great photos, but having great photos a day late is far less important than having photos on time.

I have other things I do that seem to make a difference - every state official working fights in California knows who I am and chats with me. I know the routine and what I can do and when I have to move. These are not things business school teach, they are things you learn by paying attention and talking.

Craig Shearman , May 05, 2011; 12:29 p.m.

To start with, you absolutely need a college degree today, not for photography but just for life. It's a box that has to be checked off on a job application for any job that pays a living wage, just like a high school diploma used to be. Since photography is what you want to do, by all means go to a school where you can major in photography. Once you have the diploma, beyond the first job it doesn't matter what the degree is in, just that you have a degree. So it might as well be what you are interested in. But remember that a degree won't get you a job, especially in photography. You have to have a good eye, and you have to develop the technical skills and artistic skills. Most sports photography is for newspapers/wire services/magazines, but few photographers shoot only sports. I used to work at UPI and even our guy who was based at the Meadowlands stadium was also our general assignment news photographer for New Jersey. I started off at a very small daily paper as photographer shooting mostly sports -- little league, high school games, adult softball leagues -- but also shot car accidents, speeches, etc. Starting with a small newspaper, freelancing at first since staff jobs are fewer and fewer today, is the traditional foot in the door. Check out www.sportsshooter.com to see what working sports photographers are saying. Be sure to look at the Message Board link on the lefthand column.

Marcus Wilson , May 10, 2011; 12:33 a.m.

I agree with Craig, you absolutely need a college degree today. As one editor told me, "We will look at talent, but we hire talent with a college degree."
I would also recommend taking business courses, but look at a degree in Art. Many of us take great photos that look good. An Art degree will help you see why that photo is great or looks good. Also, if you have an eye for this sort of thing, (and you must, as you have already had photographs published) Art classes will help you develop and improve your eye for photography. And take some photography classes, its the only place you can learn how to load a nikor reel today.

Marios Forsos , May 17, 2011; 10:08 a.m.

Today, mosts colleges and universities offer business-related courses for almost all non-business disciplines, so you should, ideally, combine both! Do not, under any circumstance, omit one or another, even if it seems too much at times. You ABSOLUTELY need to know about business plans, the basics about costing and accounting, the differences between investment and profits, how to develop, evaluate and correct a marketing plan, how to research business aspects.

While none of the above will make you a good photographer or guarantee you a preferred seating at the next Olympics, it will make you a solid photographer who will be in business the next year and the next year after that. It will make you someone who will always be able to afford the right kind of gear for each job and one who can take some time off for relaxation. One a large corporation can count on to be in business a couple of years donw the line and with who they can do business with.

You can learn how to shoot simply by shooting. Truly, you can. But you cannot learn how to survive in business simply by "doing it". You only get one chance there...

Dave McColl , May 24, 2011; 08:05 p.m.

You're 18, if it doesn't work out you can do something else. You're young, have fun and chase your dreams! Get what I call a money job (one that pays the bills) and be a serious semi-pro hobby shooter on the side. Just have fun!


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