How to Build a Sports Photography Portfolio

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Sports photography is a fantastic way to combine two passions. What sports-loving photography buff wouldn’t love to get paid to shoot sporting events?

But getting into it can feel a little daunting. How do you even start?

Before you can get anywhere, you need a solid sports photography portfolio showing what you can do. You might have a hundred well-composed, beautifully lit portraits but those aren’t going to impress event organizers. 

So how do you build a solid sports photography portfolio — especially without access to the best vantage points at games? Read on to find out how!

Continuous Mode and Back-Button Focus

The very first step is to learn your settings. One-Shot or AF-S mode doesn’t work for sports photography but the continuous AI Servo (Canon) or AF-C (Nikon) mode was designed specifically for moving subjects. 

With your continuous mode active, focus on your subject. Then the camera automatically tracks the subject’s movement, keeping them in focus even as they move around. 

This mode works better with back-button focus, which means you use a button on the back of the camera to focus rather than pressing the shutter halfway. Why is this useful? Imagine locking the autofocus on your subject to wait for the shot. Then, when you press the shutter, the autofocus starts searching for the subject and your photo ends up blurry. 

When you remove the focus feature from the shutter button, you can press the shutter at any time without worrying that your focus point will get messed up.

Practice Capturing Motion

Once you’ve got your settings straight, it’s time to practice taking photos of subjects in motion. For an easy start, take photos of your kids and their friends running around the yard. Or head to the local dog park and photograph pets at play. 

When we say easy, we mostly mean accessible. You’ll quickly find that taking pictures of subjects in motion is not easy. But don’t get discouraged, all it takes is a little practice!

Take Advantage of Community Events

Once you’re feeling more confident and more of your images are in focus, you can step it up a notch with community events. Volunteer to photograph at your local 5K, Jingle Bell Run, Turkey Trot, or YMCA event.

Do it right and you can use the event both for exposure as well as portfolio images. Here’s what you need to know. 

Be Prepared

Gather the right equipment before the day of the race. A camp chair makes the waiting period a lot more comfortable. A monopod can be helpful when you need to steady the camera (tripods are too fixed). Make sure your camera’s clock is set to the correct time. 

You should also have an extra set of batteries and memory cards. Imagine how frustrating it would be to be in position and the battery dies right when the runners arrive!

Don’t forget to dress for the weather and bring a large-brimmed hat for the sun. Sunglasses don’t go well with cameras and it’s really hard to see through your viewfinder with the sun in your face. 

A bottle of water and maybe even some snacks is a great idea. You might be waiting in the sun for a while so you need to stay hydrated. 

Scout Your Location

Get a course map before the race and scout your locations. Of course, you’ll want to be at the start for the exciting moment when everybody takes off. 

Then, move to your predetermined spot about ⅔ of the way through the race. The runners won’t be so clumped together at that point. Then you can get individual shots in portrait orientation as well as small groups in landscape. Having variety among photos is important — it’s easy for sports photos like these to all start looking the same. 

Choose your location carefully. What will be in the background of your photos? Pick something pleasing, not a boring parking lot — or worse, a bunch of trash cans. 

Planting yourself along a straight stretch is helpful so you can see who is coming. Plus, you won’t be on the edge of your seat wondering when the next runner will come around the corner. 

Use the PNG Event Logo as a Watermark

Upload your photos to Lightroom based on shoot time. The gallery should flow from beginning to end to portray the event accurately. 

Edit your photos as you normally would, but here’s a tip to make your photos look more professional. 

Get a PNG copy of the event logo and use it as a watermark on your images. This makes your images look more official when you share them on social media.

Share with the World

It can also be helpful to use a distribution service like Shootproof or Pixieset. Share your images with event organizers or other key folks to open a future opportunity. You can even ask them if they would share a link on social media to your websites. 

Pick a few images to post on social media to get your work out there. Don’t forget to tag the event when posting to Facebook or Instagram.

Pick Your Best Images For Your Portfolio

Once you have a few events under your belt, you should have enough images to start putting together your portfolio. 

This is tough at the beginning but you don’t want all the photos in your portfolio to be from the same event. Limit yourself to only a few of the very best ones from each event. 

As you choose your images keep the following points in mind. 

Know Your Audience for the Portfolio

Think about who you will be showing these images to. What will they want to see? Though it’s unconscious for most people, you need to be demonstrating your skill as a photographer through your portfolio. They won’t technically know what makes a good photo but anyone can easily spot a bad one!

Know Your Goals for the Portfolio

You also want to think about what you want from the portfolio. What skills should it demonstrate? What type of events do you want to photograph? Try to choose images that will attract more of the same. 

Have a Consistent Style

Ask a hundred photographers to edit the same photo and you’ll end up with a hundred different results. Every photographer has their own style. 

It might take a while for you to find yours. Once you do, you want to make sure your portfolio demonstrates your style. People will be hiring you based on the style shown in your portfolio (whether they realize it or not). 

Consider the Order Carefully

When looking at a portfolio, which images stand out to you the most? Most likely it was one of the first or last photos. Photos in these positions make a stronger impact and the viewer is more likely to remember those photos later. 

Thus, try to put your strongest images at the beginning and the end. 

That doesn't mean that everything in between can be all jumbled, though. Pick a sequencing theme and stick with it.

In any type of photography portfolio, this might be colour, composition, mood, movement, etc. In sports photography, you might choose to order the images by event type. If they are all depicting the same event type, then you might choose to group them chronologically. Start of the race, middle, and finishing photos — regardless of which day the images were taken. 

Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter too much which organization method you choose. The biggest thing is simply to have one. People like order and things that make sense. A well-organized portfolio will always feel more pleasant than a random one. 

This is true even if the random one is full of amazing images. 

Written Content

One final consideration is what other content you might want to add to your portfolio. 

Would you like to add an artist statement about your work? Think very carefully about what you will write and where you will put it. Being concise is extremely important. People won’t be poring over your portfolio and they aren’t interested in reading a novel. Stick to a few lines that best describe your concept.

You might also add short captions or titles to your images or the date and location it was captured.

A Portfolio You Can Be Proud Of

It is deceptively difficult to pick images for a portfolio. You might think you have it perfect but when you come back a few days later, you are baffled by half of your image choices. 

Take your time with it and don’t force it. It’s okay to choose some images and set them aside for a few days. When you come back with fresh eyes, you’ll notice new tidbits about each image that may or may not affect your decision. 

And don’t be too hard on yourself. All too often we are our own worst critics. You can let that either push you to excel or paralyze you — the choice is yours. 

6 thoughts on “How to Build a Sports Photography Portfolio”

  1. Thank you for this. I just so happen to be currently working on my own sports portfolio. One game at a time… I’m getting there. ?

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