How do I get to shoot sports?
It's that time of the year again - every fan is dreaming of their team lifting the MLS Cup and every photographer is trying to get their credentials for the new MLS Season in order. For the last couple of weeks, I have been getting messages asking how I get credentials to shoot soccer matches. So, I wanted to put together a post helping others who want to get into this game.
First thing is first - I rarely get paid to shoot soccer. I do it for the love of the game and for an opportunity to flex my creative muscles. If you are trying to figure out how to get rich doing this, I'm not the guy to ask - but if you figure it out, give me a shout.
I'm going to relay my personal road to shooting sports, so that you get an idea of one possible route.
I started out playing soccer at a very young age. But, like so many, I at some point realized I was not good enough to keep going and decided to move on with my life. But, I always felt a calling back to the game. During the 2010 World Cup, I was pretty much doing nothing but studying for the bar exam and driving my now-wife crazy. She forced me to get out of the house and go watch the US's first match against England at the American Outlaws (the largest supporter's group for the United States National Teams) bar in Baltimore. In that bar, I came across a group of kindred spirits. I became more involved with AO - becoming a capo and the Baltimore Chapter president. Friends I made through AO introduced me to the Screaming Eagles (one of the DC United supporters groups), where I similarly became involved as a member of the field team.
During this time, I was also becoming a bit more serious about my photography and, like so many, sharing what I was shooting on social media. The Screaming Eagles had a couple of photographers who shot DC United matches for them, but had one match where none of the photographers could make it. So, the leaders of the Screaming Eagles asked if I would be interested in shooting for them. I was hooked instantly. At that point, I started to shoot more matches for the Screaming Eagles and eventually started shooting the US National Teams for the American Outlaws.
As someone who grew up playing the game and was always fascinated by photography, the opportunity to shoot professional matches was - dare I say - a dream come true. When people contact me asking for advice on how they can get an opportunity to shoot matches, I always give the same advice: shoot what you are passionate about as much as possible. Whether that is your school's soccer matches or your child's baseball games. This will allow you to build up a portfolio of quality images. But, you also need to establish yourself in the community in which you want to shoot. That could mean becoming active in soccer supporters' groups or reaching out to that hockey blog you always love reading. Like so many things in life, finding a media outlet to shoot through often comes down to who you know, not how good you are. I've seen plenty of great photographers who have struggled to find a media outlet through which they can get credentials. I've also seen plenty of not-so-great photographers who get into matches without any problem. I was lucky enough to get my opportunity because I was a fixture in the supporters' group community.
Last year, I was put in contact with someone from Howler Magazine who was looking for someone to shoot the opening of DC United's new stadium and Wayne Rooney's debut season in MLS. Getting the opportunity to shoot for such a legendary magazine was humbling to say the least, but I would have never gotten that opportunity had I not proven myself and built up a quality portfolio. All of this work has led to a more regular gig for this season, where I have the opportunity to work with Prost Amerika - covering DC United and other soccer matches for them.
All of this is to say that there are plenty of options out there - you may just need to creatively use your contacts to put yourself in the right situation.