The Different Types of Sports Photographers

When I tell people I am a ‘sports photographer’ they often follow-up asking, “With what paper?” So I try to explain how I don’t work for a paper but instead work a team. I thought that was easy enough to understand but have found that it isn’t. Some people have even thought that players hire me. So I thought I would write about all the three main kinds of photographers (there are more but these are the big three).

1. Wire (Editorial) Photographers
Examples are the Associated Press (AP), Reuters or US PRESSWIRE. They photograph games and put photos from the games on the ‘wire’ so member papers subscribing to their database can use them in their paper. The AP photographer covering the game is typically one of the more important photographers on the field because their photos reach the widest audience.

2. Newspaper Photographers

Any newspaper worth their salt will send their own photographer to photograph a game. For example, the Raleigh News and Observer will send their own photographer to photograph a game even when it is a good distance away. This past Thursday, Florida newspapers sent their own photographers to Raleigh for the NCSU v. FSU game. Newspapers send their own photographers so they can have a unique body of work to put in their publication. Fans read other news sources and if a paper only runs AP photos, their publication will lack novelty and appear to be a reprint of what was on sources like (and thus, why put the quarter down for the paper if it looks like the same stuff?).

3. Team photographers

The team photographer’s role is very different from the newspaper and wire shooters. Much of our work is done away from game day. We do the head shots for the team, the team photo, photograph internal events and then off course the actual games. Instead of photos being disseminated on the wire for newspapers to pick up, the photos are instead meant mostly for internal use. The photos are used for the team’s official website ( or, media guides, on the jumbotron, brochures and other publications developed by the athletic department. On game day, in addition to game action we are also photographing award presentations and other special events that other photographers don’t have to worry about. Even with action photography, we shoot differently than all the other photographers. We put a special emphasis on creating stock imagery. The goal is to get a photo of every single player on the team (never happens) so we will have their image to use in the items I mentioned above. So while the the action is with player X, I might be shooting player Y because we need images of him. As a result, we miss some of the really “cool” action photos that are perfect for AP. Additionally we are really only concerned in images where our players are the focus of the photograph, and where our player “looks good” for lack of better words. Our quarterback getting sacked or the other team getting a touchdown isn’t worth much to us, but again, it would be very newsworthy for a wire or newspaper shooter.
Being one kind of photographer doesn’t mean you don’t do the other. For example, I work for NC State doing many of the sports along with two other photographers, but during basketball season, I also work as a wire shooter for US PRESSWIRE doing Duke basketball as well as working as a contributing photographer for UNC doing men’s basketball. BTW, if you add the words “Getty Images”, especially when talking about the NBA or NHL, you can just go ahead and rewrite #1 and 3. Also, some team photographers (like myself) also send part of their take to wire services for resale. But let’s keep it simple.

There are pluses and minuses to being either photographer. Wire and newspaper photographers get to cover a wider range of sports. They photograph their local, high school (newspaper only), college and pro teams. That helps mix things up and keep their work fresh. Team photographers (unless also freelancing as a newspaper or wire photographer) stay put in the same environment photographing the same people. That is a turn-off to many photographers because it can seem monotonous at times. I have enjoyed team photography though because of a somewhat corny reason. Working for a team makes one feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. It is a wonderful feeling to travel to California, walk in a sports store and see t-shirts that have my employers logo on them. I don’t see many kids wearing Harris Teeter t-shirts, but I see kids wearing UNC and NCSU t-shirts all the time. You also get a sense of satisfaction when your team does well. My buddy Jeff Camaratti at UNC went with the men’s basketball team in 2005 when they won it all; I can only imagine what a great experience that was. I also like the fact that I get to know a lot of the people with the teams I work for; both the staff and the athletes. When an athlete tells me they liked or enjoyed the photos I took of them on the field it brings a lot of job satisfaction to what I do. Then again, I think I get an athlete’s kind words maybe once a year.

Anyway, some time later in the week, once I’ve edited the photos, I’m hoping to post a blog entry on NC State’s win over #17 Florida State. What a game that was!