by Sean Setters
I always enjoyed playing sports while growing up, and these days I thoroughly enjoy watching live sports action with a camera in-hand, a situation that perfectly combines my greatest interests.
This weekend I decided to take my EOS 7D Mark II (with battery grip), EF 300mm f/4L USM lens and a few business cards to a local park here in Savannah where youth football games are played. While walking around, I tried to photographed pivotal and/or exciting plays to see what I could get. Inevitably, many parents would ask me, "Did you get that last play? If so, where will the images be published and how can I get one?"
Getting noticed by players' parents was precisely my goal when setting out, and it started with my choice of gear.
Go to any sporting event and you'll likely see a parent (or several parents) taking photos using their mobile phones or otherwise sporting consumer-grade cameras and 18-55mm lenses. As such, simply using a DSLR isn't enough to get noticed by potential clients (and an 18-55mm lens won't likely allow for capturing impressive imagery at such long-field events). However, a gripped DSLR with a big white telephoto lens attached reminds people of the type of gear they see being used along the sidelines of every major pro sports event. Without having shown anyone a picture you've taken, you've already got street cred.
And for youth sports events which are often played at public venues (like parks), even a 70-200mm lens can work well in capturing the action (though I find a 300mm lens to be ideal). Of course, you'll have to make good use of your gear to bolster your credibility (practice, practice, practice!).
And when a parent asks about where they can find your images, you have a few options. You can either point them to a website gallery tagged with the date/time/team names (for individual sale through services like SmugMug) or you can simply hand them a card and say, "I'm a freelance photographer. If you'd like me to take photos of your child while he plays, my rate is $ ___.00/(hour or game) for a disc of all the images featuring him/her." Otherwise, you could work out a deal for a specific image they previewed on the back of your LCD using PayPal to settle the transaction fee. And speaking of previewing images on the LCD, you may want to carry a hood loupe around your neck so that parents can see glare-free images on your LCD.
Want to really grab potential clients' eyes at such events? Here's an idea I've been kicking around for quite some time. Get a custom designed T-shirt that says, "Want action photos of YOUR athlete? Call 555-555-5555!" This type of advertising will be easier than handing out a bunch of business cards and will likely lead to even more sales.
Keep in mind, I'm talking about photographing youth sports that have been organized under a public league program and are not tied to a specific school or academic conference. Note that some schools and organizations may have an exclusive contract with an official photographer or may otherwise prohibit freelance sales at such events. A quick check with the event’s organizer can quickly discern this matter.
If you love sports and already have a big white telephoto lens in your kit, then shooting youth sports events is a fun way to make extra income on the weekends while doing what you love.