Sports photography - More than just shooting

What makes a good sports photographer?

When people think of sports photography, they usually first have images of the most popular professional sports in mind: soccer, Formula 1, track and field. But the field for sports photographers is far wider and more exciting with sports like swimming, water polo, paddling, martial arts, lacrosse, climbing, etc. And new ones are being added all the time. Recently, for example, the sport of "Quidditch," which originated in the Harry Potter novels.


In addition to major professional events such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games, sports photographers also cover many local sporting events and, for example, reportage on youth sports. Sports photography is in demand at all levels of competition.

"If you think about what art has always been about, it's about the representation of the human form. And sports photography is really typical of that. The hard work of the athletes is captured in a moment."
Simon Burton - Co-Founder World Sports Photography Awards

With the rise of social media, the demand for actual photos that tell stories has grown exponentially. Sports photographers need to capture the intensity and competitiveness of a game. Amateur and professional athletes and clubs are now positioning themselves as a "brand"-with their own sponsorship and social media channels. And for that, they need attractive photos.

What makes a good sports photographer?

Sports photographers must be able to dynamically capture moving objects, freeze action, and tell stories about events. Despite the often difficult predictability of the game or event, they must have a sense of "the decisive moment." However, they cannot always remain in the same place for hours like Magnum photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once did, waiting for that moment to appear in the viewfinder.  A sports photographer must be able to anticipate future events. To do this, he needs to have a very good knowledge of the sport he is photographing.

"Great photographers are like athletes. They anticipate the decisive moment before it happens."
Simon Burton - Co-Founder World Sports Photography Awards

In addition, sports photography is a very technically demanding type of photography. The objects and subjects in front of the camera often move very quickly and many things develop quite abruptly. Often, work is done under difficult and constantly changing lighting situations. All this requires high-quality equipment and a perfect mastery of the technique, because the decisive moment happens only once. If a picture maker were still busy searching for the ideal shutter speed while the decisive goal in a soccer match was scored in injury time, he would lose an important exploitation opportunity.

"Sports photography is not getting the attention it deserves."
Simon Burton - Co-Founder of the World Sports Photography Awards

It would be completely inadequate to describe sports photography as simply "shooting" an event for the sole purpose of illustrating a message. Simon Burton also recognized this and established the World Sports Photography Awards. With these awards, Burton wants to create a structure to give sports photos a higher status and to tell stories that are on and behind the pictures. Through this competition, the work of sports photographers will be made accessible to a wider audience.

Many things must be considered when deciding which photos to award. A photographer's talent, positioning, expertise in the sport, skill, judgment, and use of photographic technology. When all these things are perfectly combined, the result may look like a lucky shot. But, of course, it takes more than luck. A sports photographer combines expertise and the instinct to be in the right place at the right time.


Header picture: In the thick of things instead of just being there - Tiger Woods hits photographer Mark Pain's camera with his golf ball.
Credit: © Mark Pain/ Courtesy of the World Sports Photography Awards

A good picture can tell a whole story, like this shot by Bob Martin - Paralympic swimmer Xavier Torres dives into the pool. Credit: © Bob Martin/ Courtesy of the World Sports Photography Awards.

The decisive moment as the bullet leaves biathlete Linn Persson's rifle, captured by Joel Marklund. Credit: © Joel Marklund / Courtesy of the World Sports Photography Awards.