How to Start a Youth Sports Photography Business

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In order to start a youth sports photography business, you need to have both the equipment and the expertise. Parents of young sports enthusiasts are generally eager to have mementos from their children's athletic endeavors. However, making money in the youth sports photography field can be difficult, as many parents have cameras nowadays -- both digital and on their cell phones. You will need to differentiate your work from that of your competition -- the parents -- in order to make money.

Choosing Equipment

  • Purchase a good quality DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera. The camera needs to have continuous focus for you to take sports photographs. Continuous focus keeps the camera focused when the player moves instead of requiring you to re-focus each time you want to take a picture. It is recommended that you choose a camera that can take 7FPS (frames per second), so you can take several images during action-packed moments and choose the best one. It is also best if the camera has good High ISO performance, for taking images in the evening and indoors where the light is low.

  • Purchase a mono-pod of good quality. A mono-pod only has one support leg and will allow you to support the lens and move along the field or track quickly. Also purchase a good telephoto lens. The minimum recommended is a 70mm to 200mm F/2.8. Older high-end sports cameras will produce excellent images and will be several hundred dollars cheaper than current generation medium-end cameras. Third party lenses also provide excellent quality for several hundred or thousand dollars less than their Nikon or Canon equivalents. You can also rent high-end gear by the day for a nominal fee.

  • Purchase a good water cover if you want to take pictures during outside events. The water cover will keep your camera dry when raining. Some mid- to high-end cameras and lenses are weather sealed, but most other cameras are not.

  • Purchase at least two high-capacity memory cards compatible with your camera. Make sure to purchase a brand with good reviews. Having two memory cards -- or more depending on your shooting style -- will prevent any instances of needing to go to a computer to unload a full card during a game, which can result in missed images and lost potential sales.

  • Prepare an easy-to-carry display stand that includes a laptop computer and printed examples of your work. When purchasing your laptop, make sure to include an external hard drive to back up your images on site. A failed hard drive without backup can mean a full day of work wasted. If you live in a windy area, use a sand bag or weights to stabilize the feet of the display stand. Print very large images of your best work to attract customers during sporting events. For events where teams and parents leave after their game -- such as direct elimination baseball -- put your stand in the path they will use when they leave -- near the parking lot, for example. You will have to get your images from that day's game to the stand before they go through. For events where the competitors stay on site for the day -- such as most equestrian events -- keep your display near the food stand or the registration booth.

Finding Events

  • Make a list of events within the area you want to cover. Check online for websites of leagues, sports associations and sports venues for a calendar of their events. Mark as "high priority" such special events as inter-city or interstate tournaments, regional championships, etc.; also give high priority ranking to sports where the initial investment to play is high -- such as golf or equestrian sports -- and to girls' sports, such as cheerleading.

  • Research the event you want to photograph, focusing on the number of participants in the previous years. Try to find information about events after 2008, as most sporting events saw a significant drop in attendance after that year. When trying to find work, focus on events and not teams or leagues. Photographing one event of a league, such as a large, 30-team regional tournament, might be financially interesting; being contractually forced to take pictures of all their games might not. One exception to that rule is being the official photographer of a sports venue specializing in large events, such as an equestrian center with 10 or 20 events per year.

  • Look for the phone number of the vendor's public relations person or the person in charge of the organization. Call them, as email is usually too impersonal and does not give you the quick answer you need during the time you are booking your work. Present yourself and ask if the organization has an official photographer. Stay cordial if they say they already have an official photographer. If they do and the event has good earning potential, ask if it would be all right to send them a brochure with samples of your work and your contact information, so they'll have it on file should a need arise in the future. Confirm their mailing address. If they do not have an official photographer, propose your services and ask their requirements; move forward with negotiations if they express interest in your work, and set up an appointment to meet in person and show your portfolio. Thank the person for his time before hanging up, and immediately send a follow-up email -- if you have his direct email address -- that includes your contact information, one or two of your images a thank you note for his time.

  • Ask about the number of participants, the location, and the timing of the events when you are booked for a gig. The more information you have the better. Check for events in the venue prior to the one you need to photograph. Go to the event and take a few images. It will help you know where to position yourself and what kind of lightning conditions you will have.

  • Get to the venue 30 to 45 minutes early and go over the details -- where you will be shooting, where your booth will be, etc. -- with the organization. Get a list of the participants, if possible.

Selling

  • Research the sports you will photograph before going to events. Knowing the specific vocabulary of a sport is important. For example, not knowing the difference between a "Hunter" and a "Jumper" competition during an equestrian event could have you tagged as an outsider by the riders and may hurt your sales.

  • Take the best images you can. Make sure the participants are easily recognizable on the images and are as large on the image as possible. If you have a phone with a large screen or have your laptop near you, you can try to tag the competitors -- for individual events -- by typing their numbers onto the screen and taking a picture of that screen. Always take pictures with the sun at your back, as back-lit images have less contrast and are usually harder to sell.

  • Transfer the images to your display setup as soon as you can to let competitors see their images as soon as possible. Make yourself and your booth visible to attract people. You can either set up a system that lets the competitors browse through the images using a mouse, or have them request an image or a series of images. Making small talk with the customers can help sales. Be honest about your images, and if a customer asks if the slightly-out-of-focus image she likes would be better on print, do not say "yes" for the sake of one sale. Remember that your main competitors are parents with their low-end point-and-shoots or cell phones. You can create packages, either of several prints with a lower per-print rate than single prints or CDs with all the images. You can also offer free prints to competitors for referring friends who end up purchasing images from you. Always have your prices visible and emphasize your discounted packages. Having your prices visible will prevent people from wasting your time by going through images and discovering they cannot afford them when they want to order them. When someone orders a product, take down their name, email address and the product they purchased. Always give a copy of the order form to clients and include an order number, what they ordered and how they paid. You can use a computer-based ordering system but you will need a printer on site, or you can simply use an order pad.

  • Make a list of the images you need to send and transfer them to your main computer after the event. Review each image and check for defects. Correct any defects and have the images printed. Send them promptly so clients will receive them before the end of the week following the event.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always contact organizations by phone, as emails are often ignored.
  • Never rely on web sales to make money. Sell on site. Always send the orders within one week of the end of the event to avoid dissatisfying your clients.
  • Some organizations will ask you to pay a fee or a percentage of your earnings. Never agree to pay a percentage on the gross -- always on the net -- to avoid losing money.
  • Ask for the email address of your customers. It will allow you to contact them in case of a problem (corrupted or fuzzy image) and allow you to send them a reminder at the end of the year that the images online will be deleted soon, prompting them to order another set of images if they wish.
  • Prepare change if you accept cash.
  • Do not purchase lenses above F/2.8 for your base kit. Your base kit should be able to take pictures inside and outside. Lenses with an F above 2.8 will not capture enough light for accurate focusing indoors.

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References

  • Photo Credit camera image by Alexandre from Fotolia.com
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