Ryu: How one becomes a professional

It’s snowing in Berlin and I got this message in the mail a while back:

Im in college right now and I am interested in what you do for a living. I would love to get into sports photography after I graduate. I am wondering how exactly you got to the point where you are now, and are able to go to so many different sports matches and get paid for it. I would love to know what steps I should take after college that will help me get hired as a freelance photographer.

BTW your sports photos are awesome, and I always look forward to seeing my favorite soccer players on your flickr account.

Joel Bierwas

I’m going to do a semi-flow chart to show how simple it is to become a professional sports photographer:

Graduate from university with a psychology major ->
Graduate from graduate school with a MA in forensic psychology ->
Can’t stay in America because can’t get a working visa ->
Don’t want to goto PhD program as it takes too long and also unsure about forensic psychology as a career ->
Devastated as there is no goal in life anymore ->
Go back to Japan ->
Work at a restaurant for 3 months ->
Realise that Germans can work legally in England legally ->
Move to England ->
Work as a business man for 5 years ->
Realise that business man work is not fun ->
Decides that photography is the way to go because it’s fun ->
Decides to become the Japanese James Nachtwey ->
Quit job ->
Start photography career ->
No job for 6 months ->
Run out of savings ->
On the dole ->
Ask parents for money as no money for food ->
Start looking for any job as need to pay rent and keep on eating food ->
Doom and gloom as I’m now 30 years old ->

So far, very easy right?

Visit a friend who is the bureau chief of a Japanese broadsheet in London ->
Tells me to visit his friend who is the head of the photography division of the said broadsheet HQ in Japan ->
Goto Japan ->
Visit the head of the photography division ->
“We need a photographer for the Confederations Cup in Germany” ->
No idea what “Confederations Cup” is ->
“Have you ever shot sports?” ->
Answer: “No” ->
“There is a match tomorrow. Take our gear and show us if you can shoot sports ->
Take gear and shoot a football match ->
Bring photos to the head of the photography division ->
My photos pass the test ->
Goto Germany for 2 weeks and stay at people’s houses because newspaper will not pay for hotel ->
Work like a whore ->
Meet another photographer who asks me if shooting Shunsuke Nakamura who will be playing for Glasgow Celtic for the upcoming season is a possibility ->
Answer: “Yes”

Yup, a cinderella ending.

As for how you can get paid to shoot sports, well, it’s difficult. I am one of the few remaining freelance sports photographer on this planet. Not many left as most of them have decided to join the galactic empire (aka agencies). I sometimes shoot matches I know I might not break even because of the expenses incurred (flights, trains, buses, Quaker Carraiges) for these matches. As a freelance, you also have to pay for your own equipment. So you need about 10,000 EUR to start off with. Off to mortgage your kidneys!

The relatively easy way is to join the reason sports photography is going down the drain, aka agencies. They will give you a monthly wage, insurance, hot meals, equipment, access to the hottest matches in town, and they might let you keep your dignity on a good day. The downside of all this is that you have no say in which match you will shoot. In most cases, you will shoot stuff other than sports. That’s right, you will be there whore, just like everyone else. But then you won’t go hungry, but you might be a fat pig by the end of it all. Your choice.

If you are adamant in joining the rebel alliance, you will need to do a lot of leg work and show a lot of not-really-as-important-as-they-say-they-are people your work. Newspapers, website, magazines, and your most hated enemies. You’ll also need a lot of luck as most places are not hiring, but firing. It would help if you have your own style as most places have enough dull pictures from the agencies to choose from. Showing your work on FB, flickr, and other fun social sites is also a good way to spread the world of Joel. For instance, I got my Nike job when they saw me on flickr. True story.

And most importantly, a whole lotta luck (and love from friends and families and ex lovers).

I have to admit that my way is not the most conventional way to start a career as a freelance sports photographer. Hopefully other people will chime in and give Joel some wisdom on this matter. If you have anymore questions, please feel free to ask.


PS Thanks for the compliments on my photos. Obviously, I can’t get enough. :)

*Please Read Below*
Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by supporting us on Patreon and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.



4 thoughts on “Ryu: How one becomes a professional

  1. Ruan,
    I have to admit that i work less like a whore, but more like an escort girl these days. :)

    33? Too young to be complaining about “business stuff”! Saying that, I’m complaining about my “business stuff” with sports photos since I was 30. :)

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