Sports photographers snap all types of sports photographs, including individual portraits, team photos, sporting events, action shots, fitness modeling and more. Some specialize in a specific sport, and others can cover a range of sports, including basketball, baseball, football, gymnastics, martial arts, hockey, tennis, track and field, soccer, swimming, and dance. Athletes may be at any level in their sport and any age, from youth to seniors. Photos can be for editorial use, personal use, print or catalog advertising, or websites. Several factors affect the cost of sports photography.
Reputation and experience
Sports photographers who have worked with famous athletes or those with a strong reputation and long career often charge higher rates than those just starting out in the field. The geographic location of a pro can also affect their rates. Photographers in regions with a higher cost of living generally charge more for services.
Some sports photographers charge an hourly rate for their services. The rate may include some post-production work (retouching), or it may solely be for photographing the event or game. Don't hesitate to ask questions to make sure you understand what services are provided at what rate. Here are two examples of average hourly rates:
- Ezra Brathwaite Photography in New York, New York: $125 per hour. $250 minimum fee for a two-hour minimum. Hourly prices include light post-production retouching.
- Greg Dunivant Photography in Phoenix, Arizona: $150 per hour. A minimum of 50 high-res photos are guaranteed for each hour, although more often there are 75-100 per hour.
Many sports photographers offer on-site services in half- or full-day pricing bundles. A package deal can give clients a discount from the photographer's usual hourly rate, ensure more coverage of their sporting event — or a more extensive photo shoot — and can benefit the professional by consolidating work with one client. With Greg Dunivant Photography, clients receive increased hourly savings for longer package deals:
- Half-day photo services (four hours): $450, which is a $150 discount over the hourly rate of $150
- Full-day photo services (eight hours): $800, which is a $400 discount from the hourly rate
Some photographers specialize in sports portraits and fitness modeling as an element of their work. Often these photo shoots are on location (yoga studio, swimming pool) to best showcase the athlete. Costs for portrait sessions can vary depending on the city, photographer background and more. For example, David Keith Photography in Washington, D.C., charges a $395 starting rate for portrait sessions.
Sports photographers can also be hired to shoot a sporting event. As with taking team portraits, they will travel to the game's location, but will take action shots instead of posed photographs. Generally, the photographer will charge an hourly rate, ranging from $50 to $300 on average or more, depending on the length of the assignment, the photographer's skill and experience, and the type of sporting event. For a complex event like a tournament, it may be more cost-effective to ask for a daily rate or half-day rate. For four to eight hours of action photography, the costs tends to range from $500 to $3,000 on average, or more.
Alternatively, some sports photographers offer a per-game photo fee, such as $150 or $200 to shoot one high-school football game. They may also include a disk with all of the digital images on it as part of the fee. They may also offer a sports package to cover several games, such as a high school's homecoming game and playoffs; the package may include a print for each player as well as a coach's gift photo. This type of package typically costs about $500. Some photographers will assemble a music slideshow of the best images on disc; expect this to cost about $50 for one copy.
Before the day of the event, be sure to go over your list of desired shots with the photographer. Provide a list of the photographs you absolutely want to have. For example, at a baseball tournament, you may want a shot of each player at bat as well as each player in the field, plus shots of the winning teams receiving trophies.
Tips for hiring a sports photographer
Not every professional photographer is the right person to shoot a sporting event or even take team portraits. Before hiring a photographer, follow these top 5 tips for finding the best match for the job:
- Ask about the photographer's expertise. Make sure his or her style suits the job — a portrait photographer, for example, won't necessarily have the skills or photographic equipment to take fast-moving action shots of a football field.
- Look at the photographer's portfolio. Each photographer has a different style, and you want to choose the one that will deliver the look you want, whether it's photojournalistic or highly stylized.
- Understand the contract. Make sure the photographer carries appropriate professional liability insurance, particularly if he or she will be shooting action photos on a field or court near the players. Ask, too, about copyrights and the usage of the images so you know what rights you have to the photographs. Finally, review the payment schedule as well as the product delivery dates.
- Make sure the photographer is experienced. Ask if they've photographed your type of sporting event — a wedding photographer probably isn't the best choice for a ballgame. If they specialize in studio portraits, make sure they've photographed sports players and teams, not just families.
- Find out what's included in the fees. Some photographers provide a set number of prints, while others charge a fee for every print. Some will include untouched photos and charge extra for editing. Know exactly what you're paying for before you sign the contract.
For more, check out our tips for smart hiring.
Photography is not just taking photos. It involves setting up the shoot properly, retouching images and perfecting final outcomes. Instead of charging one high rate, some sports photographers break down costs for different services to give customers options and make their pricing more transparent. Here are a few average pricing examples for add-on services:
- CD/DVD or flash drive of all sports photos: $25
- Retouching services: $50 per hour, with a 30-minute ($25) minimum
- Special lighting setup: $75
- DVD slideshow of game or sports event, with audio: $75, including up to 50 images; each additional image: $1
Photographers who use higher-grade cameras and lighting equipment typically charge higher rates to help cover their overhead for equipment and insurance. In general, better equipment also results in a higher-quality photo outcome, which is worth the extra cost. Prices for professional cameras range from about $1,500 at the entry level to well into the tens of thousands. Lenses and other equipment are also very expensive. It's critical that sports photographers have the right gear to capture the action, however. Fast action games and other sports require a camera capable of high frame-per-second (fps) shooting.
Many photographers shooting digital images will post their digital contact sheets to a private site (including watermarks to prevent people from downloading and printing them at home), then allow customers to access them. Customers can preview the prints and choose just their favorite shots to order as stand-alone prints, in bundles, or even assembled into high-quality hardcover photo books.
Of course, physical prints of photos increase total costs. Depending on the quality and size of the print, prices can range greatly. Here are some examples:
- On-location printing, with a minimum of 10-30 prints: $6 per print
- On-location printing, with a minimum of 31-50 prints: $5.50 per print
- On-location printing, with a minimum of 51 or more prints: $4.50
- 25 (4x6) prints: $20; each additional 25-print increment: $15
Many sports photographers offer a variety of packages that include different sizes of player portraits plus a team photo and additional products. The cost of the packages largely depends on the number of photos ordered, and ranges from $10 to $50, on average.
In addition to prints, most sports photographers offer a range of products that can have a player's image printed on them — collectible mugs, refrigerator magnets, buttons, keychains, calendars and more. These products are usually ordered along with the prints as part of a bundled package.
Some photographers charge a travel fee for arriving at sporting events or photo shoot sites to cover additional time and transportation expenses. For example, Greg Dunivant Photography charges $60 per hour for travel time exceeding 30 minutes in either direction, measured in 10-minute increments at $6 each.
- Always make sure you read the contract and understand how the deposit works. Some deposits are nonrefundable, and others, such as those for Greg Dunivant Photography, are more flexible, offering a full refund with a two-week written notice.
- Read client reviews and follow up with references to make sure you're choosing the right pro for your project. For more, check out our tips for smart hiring.