Demystifying the world of sports photography

Ryu: The exciting and murky world of accreditations.

The question I get asked the most is:
“How do you get into a professional match?”

And the answer always is:
“You apply for it”.

Done. Hope you have a good week and make sure you keep the noise down after 2AM.

Not good enough?

I sometimes do get away answering the question that way, but there are some who won’t take my answer as the gospel. Shame on you for not trusting me. :) I really do hope you won’t be disappointed after reading this post because at the end of the day, it’s really that simple.

1 Accreditation jargon

You first need to know what I’m talking about. In my world, the right to go into a stadium as a photographer and take pictures without getting thrown out by thugs (ie security) is called an “accreditation”. I think it’s called other things in other countries such as media accreditation, press accreditation, credentials, press pass, and so forth. You need an accreditation to be allowed in. Without it, your finger will be used for drinking beer rather than pressing the shutter release. There are various physical forms of accreditation and they come in laminated, non-laminated, strings, no strings, ticket, or just plain “you can go in”. In an event like the World Cup, you’re given a pass and a bib for the duration of the cup. If you goto Metz v Grenoble, you’re just given a temporary bib and “No, that’s the women’s toilet”.

Press card is exactly that. A card saying that you are a member of the press. It’s usually a card that is the size of a credit card and has your face, name, membership number, and an expiration date. If you don’t have it, you can’t get into any professional match. As far as I know, the platinum standard in Europe is AIPS. It’s like the VISA/Master card for sports photography press cards. Don’t leave home without it. You also have national press cards such as SJA for the UK and UJSF for France. Although not as hip as AIPS, it will be enough as long as you don’t leave your country where it was issued. Then there is that fake ID kind of press card. Obviously it is illegal and I’ve known people who created their own press card to get into events they really have no business getting into. This is possible because most security personnel at stadiums and sporting events are students who have never seen a press card before in their life.

2. Procedure

First, you need a press card. As to how you can acquire one depends on how lucky you are as you wont’ find one in a Happy Meal. If you work for an agency or another media outlet (print or digital), your boss or HR will do it for you, but if you’re a freelance you need what we adults call a “connection”. I’m not telling you to sleep with the local paper’s photo editor, but it might help. If that’s not up your alley, you will need someone who is quite powerful (your mother doesn’t count) in the press world to vouch for you. For instance, my recommendation was written by the London bureau chief of a Japanese broad sheet. So if you haven’t started, you go get yourself connected.

Second, you need to find out the fax or the email address of the home team. You send it to the lovely people who are hosting the match/event. You usually have to find out the press officer who is in charge of all this nonsense. He’ll likely be the worst person you’ve ever spoken to (FA being the worst), but he is the judge and jury of your accreditation. Don’t kiss his you know what, but be cordial and nice. People like that kind of stuff.

In this archaic world of professional sports photography, we still use fax. Please don’t ask me why because my mom and Barcelona are the only people I know who still uses that god forsaken machine. When you’re typing away your request for accreditation, you need to state who you are (or what agency you belong to, more on that later), for whom you will be supplying the pictures (if it’s not the agency or other media outlets), your press card number, which match you are applying for, and so forth.

If you are gainfully employed by an agency or other media outlets, you are legitimately legit. Not 2 legit, but legit. But if you are a freelance, you a) have an agency which sends one on behalf of you 2) have a media outlets sends one on behalf of you 3) you make up your own agency. That’s right momtographers. You can create “Moi Agency”, just like you can make up your own press card. Making your own agency isn’t as shady as creating your own press card, but you obviously will not be as legit as the more established agencies or media outlets. As with the press card, I know few people who are one man agencies. Even with this method, as long as you are doing business with the end client (other agencies or media outlets), you’re legit and not enough 2 quit. Sorry, had to do it. :)

Third, you wait. In this weird world of sports photography accreditation process, no news is good news. It’s directly opposite to what we are used to. You ask Stephanie out on a date via email and if she doesn’t reply, it means that she fancies Steve from accounting. You call your boss for a raise and if he doesn’t reply, it means that you can kiss the D700 good bye. But here it’s no news means you’re in. Some teams do send confirmations via email or event post (especially Germans), but in most cases when you get something from the team you applied, it’s bad news. You can confirm by calling the press officer and once again I’m reminding you to be very nice with them. Kiss it well.

At the end of a long day fighting with the fax machine, all you can do is to apply for it, just like all the other photographers. You will surprisingly get into most matches (except for any football matches in England via Dataco, but that’s another “WTF?” story altogether), but more popular the match more difficult to get into. It will become increasingly important to know the right people and have the right backing (agency or media outlets). Unfortunately, your skill as a photographer is no match for a bit of ass kissing. Case in point, I know a journalist who gets into matches because he’s got the inside track with an UEFA official. No one told you it’s a fair game out there.

These information should at least get you started and pointed in the right direction. It might seem daunting in the beginning, but once you get your dirty feet through that door, you might be surprised that shooting Ronaldo at Bernabeu wasn’t a pipe dream after all.

Ryu

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2 responses

  1. Bonbon

    Very useful AND very funny article. The Stephanie fanciing Steve from accounting made my day :))

    April 19, 2011 at 7:51 am

  2. Hope it will help you get the accreditation you need. :)
    The last I heard of Stephanie, she dumped Steve from accounting and now dating Dan the deliveryman.

    April 21, 2011 at 4:30 pm

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