If you’re thinking of becoming an editorial sports photographer, don’t.
Or at least first read this 2015 interview with five veteran sports photographers.
This short article describes what has happened over the past dozen years in editorial sports photography.
Basically, the deal is, editorial sports photography is completely dead as a market for a photographer to make even a modest living. Dead. Kaput. Over. Flatlined. The best action photographers in the world, who freelanced or were staffers at the major sports magazines, are all out of work . . .
– Robert Seale, photographer
Maybe you’re still thinking of getting into editorial sports photography and you think these experienced photographers are wrong or maybe they’re exaggerating. Maybe you think it’ll be different for you. If so, you’d be a fool.
Professional sports photography for the editorial market is an endangered species. Unfortunately, a lot of it has to do with editorial clients turning away from the professional photographer to sports enthusiasts who are willing to trade their photos for season tickets.
– Maria Piscopo, photo rep
This is very true. Here in Toronto, there are many part-time sports photographers who have full-time day jobs. They shoot sports events either for free (on spec) or $150 (or less) per day, assuming they can get time off from their day job.
One guy comes to games with $40,000 to $50,000 worth of gear and gets paid $150 per game. At that rate, there’s no way to make money.
Another person often comes to games wearing the home team’s jersey and hat. He shoots on spec.
A third such person shot a four-day summer event on spec. After six months, they said their commission on resales was $140. Parking at that event was $20/day. So the photographer grossed $60 for four days of photography.
I am working now with Getty who distributes my sports images . . . photos that used to go for $250 for a quarter page now may garner $5 for the same space with the photographer splitting that $5 with Getty.
– Michael Zagaris, photographer
Last week at a sports event, I spoke with a photographer who was shooting on spec. This person gets $2.50 for each download. At that rate, how many downloads do you need before you make a profit? Just for the record, I got paid $360 for the two-hour event from which I sent three pictures.
The market is flooded with free or cheap wire pictures that are good enough for most end users. The ride is over. It was fun while it lasted.
– Brad Mangin, photographer
In this mess, (and I call it a mess because the demand for sports pictures is huge yet most stock agencies try to get their piece of the action by charging less and less and then hoping for volume), there are many to blame.
We lose money on every sale but we make up for it with volume!
You can blame Getty for intentionally lowering prices to gain market share. Getty did slightly admit their predatory pricing was a mistake. But if not Getty, another online agency probably would’ve done the same thing. But Getty is/was the 800-lb gorilla and got the ball rolling at high speed. Once the race to the bottom had started, many fools joined in.
In this group of fools are the numerous “wire” services that flood the market with cheap pictures. The word “wire” is in quotes because these online stock sites aren’t wire services like AFP, AP, EPA, Getty(editorial), Reuters and the various national services. Instead they’re just commodity stock photo sites that use the word “wire” in their name or description to confuse potential customers.
Now add the numerous “sports enthusiasts” who shoot for free or a very low rate. These folks are more often about getting into events for free and being near their sports heroes rather than being concerned about the news value of the event. At a sports awards event last week, several “reporters” and “sports photographers” were busy doing selfies with, and getting autographs from, the athletes.
Some of these sports enthusiast photographers will say that $150 (or less) per day is all they can get. If they don’t take it, someone else will. But why lose money by working for a business model that intentionally underpays you? If you don’t value your work, no one else will.
Just for the record, I’ve asked for, and received every time, 35% to 50% increases from various wire services and magazines when I felt a job required it. For example, a job requiring long hours or lots of preplanning.
All this is not to say that photographing athletes or sports activities is dead. Only editorial sports work. If you can do commercial photography for a sports or sports-related client then you might be able to make a go of it. Even then, it won’t be a full-time job. You still need to find many non-sports customers.