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The 10 Best Sports Photographers To Follow For Inspiration

6 min read

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The best sports photographers capture the thrill of the action because they are in the action, as seen in this image of a surfer in the barrel.

If you want to be a sports photographer, it can really help to follow some of the best sports photographers in the business for inspiration. What makes a great sports photograph?

Well, to put it briefly, you want to capture the athlete doing their sport in a way that illustrates the grace and elegance of the movement as well as the emotion of the sport. It should be a photograph that the athlete and the fan can both relate to, and you want it to be an image that captures the intensity of the competition.

The best sports photographs capture the intensity of the sport, such as that seen in this wrestling image.

That means getting to where the action is yourself. You have to be in it to get those images that will embody the adventure of the sport. You’ll have to know what’s the key equipment to use, but really, that’s not even the most important part of what you’ll need to know.

The most important thing you’ll need to know is how to capture the adventure of the sport. That takes not only technical expertise but talent as well. By looking at photos captured by some of the top photographers out there, you’ll see what kinds of angles they used, the kinds of action they captured, and how they managed to seize the intensity of the sport.

The best sports photographers go to where the action is, as seen in this rock climbing image.

To help inspire you in this genre, we’ve put together a list of 10 of the best sports photographers to follow for inspiration: 

1. Chris Burkard

Chris Burkard is a versatile photographer. He has photographed everything from kayaking to arctic surfing. He is well-known as a surf and outdoor photographer. His images exude adventure. He has been recognized for his distinctive compositions, and you will definitely find inspiration in his photographs. 

2. Dave Lehl

Dave Lehl is known for his signature light-painting photographs. He hasn’t revealed his technique, but the results are nothing short of gorgeous. He somehow manages to make sweating and endurance alluring. Each of his images has a somewhat sultry appearance, and they will inspire you to experiment with different techniques for spectacular shots.

3. Lucas Gilman

Lucas Gilman has an impressive client list that includes National Geographic and Sports Illustrated. He’s taken spectacular images of surfing, kayaking, rock climbing, and horse racing, just to name a few. His images will quite literally take your breath away, and they will definitely inspire you to find the adventure that is all around you. 

4. Adam Kokot

Adam Kokot is a Polish photographer who got his start when one of his images was published in Mountain Climbing Magazine. Since then, his images have won awards from National Geographic and Red Bull. His images will literally take your breath away. They embody the spirit of adventure.

5. Alyssa Trofort

Alyssa Trofort is an LA-based sports photographer who has shot athletes for fitness modeling agencies and sports equipment retailers. Her images catch the athlete’s dedication and power. You can see the drive to win in their faces. She gained experience in the field by contacting the photographers who inspired her. That led to some great opportunities, and from there, she was able to open her own photography business. 

6. Michael Willson

Michael Willson is the chief photographer for the Australian Football League (AFL). His images have been published in magazines and newspapers around the world, and he has won numerous awards for his work. He started by shooting local football matches to build his portfolio. While doing that, he met other photographers who gave him useful feedback. Before he knew it, his work was being noticed, and opportunities began to come his way. He credits his success to capturing the emotion of the sport. That way it connects with both the athletes and the fans. 

7. Russell Ord

Russell Ord is known for his spectacular surf photographs, which have won him worldwide recognition. His images are dramatic and are considered iconic in the surfing world. He is renowned for shooting even in extreme weather conditions and with the heaviest waves. His tenacity has helped him to become one of the most prolific surf sport photographers in Western Australia. 

8. Kirill Umrikhin

Kirill Umrikhin is another sports photographer with an impressive client list including Red Bull and Nike. You’ll notice he plays with his images–you’ll see several where he has merged numerous images into one that shows the path of the athlete as they move. He is also a photographer who does a little bit of everything, from surfing to snowboarding and many sports in between.

That, in and of itself, is a helpful tip. Many of the best sports photographers don’t limit themselves to just one sport. They experience and capture the thrill of many different adventures. 

9. James Rushforth

James Rushforth was the Digital Splash Photographer of the year for 2018. His images are textured in a way that makes them pop off the page. He uses unique angles to take stunning images. He began his photography career by climbing in the Alps. Afterward, he decided to publish a book–a climbing guide to the Italian Dolomites–and as he filled those pages with the images he had captured while climbing, he knew the answer to what he really wanted to do. His images are quite simply spectacular, and to say the least, inspirational. 

10. Tristan Shu

Tristan Shu is a French photographer who manages to capture powerful images of both athletes and their sports. He has spectacular images from all over the world. He also has images from sports as diverse as hang gliding and motorcycle racing. When you view his images, you are transported to the many remote locations around the world where he has found adventure. His clients are impressive as well, ranging from Adidas to Uber. He has also been recognized by National Geographic, The Times, and GQ.

When you look at the images captured by these great sports photographers, you notice a few things.

  • First, you see the variety of angles they managed to use for taking these images. They are in it with the athlete. If you want to be among the best sports photographers out there, you’ll have to get into the action yourself. You’ll have to keep up with these elite athletes. That’s not always easy, but it is always an adventure, and if nothing else, it will keep you fit. 
To be a great sports photographer, you have to get in the action, as seen in this image of a skier.
  • The second thing you’ll notice about their images is that they capture the elegance of the movement. They show the athlete in action in a way that is downright inspiring for the observer. They make it look easy, but at the same time, you can see that it is anything but easy.
A great sports photographers captures the elegance of the athletes' movements, as seen in this soccer image.
  • The third thing you’ll see in these images is the emotion of the sport–whether that be hanging on by a finger while climbing a vertical rock face or crossing the finish line a nose ahead of the nearest competitor, you see the concentration, the training, and the thrill of the competition–even if they’re just competing with themselves.

Of course, there are technical considerations that you will need to know to capture the intense action sports, but what sets these photographers apart are the non-technical aspects of the images they capture–the emotion and the beauty of the sport. That’s what you want to get from the best sports photographers; that’s how they will inspire you to get incredible images.

polo players playing the sprt.

Frequently Asked Questions regarding Sports Photographers:

How much does a sports photographer make?

The answer is not a lot–the median salary for a sports photographer is $46,715 per year, but if you’re among the top, you can make close to $100,00 or more per year or more.

Which camera is best for sports photography?

The quick answer is the aperture priority mode, but there are a lot of considerations.

Nikon D6 is a versatile camera with several features that are suitable for sports photography. It allows you to get great zoomed in shots and it has an expanded ISO sensitivity range for shooting indoors.

Also, Canon EOS-1D X Mark III ranks among the finest Canon cameras for sports photography. It produces great quality images with very little noise.

What is the best ISO for sports photography?

ISO 1600 usually works well because you can use a faster shutter speed, but it also depends on several factors including the available light.


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Catherine Gaither is a professional photographer and bioarchaeologist. She has traveled the world photographing archaeological sites and artifacts, and studying human physical remains. She has written numerous professional publications. She continues to work as a forensic consultant and author.
Catherine Gaither is a professional photographer and bioarchaeologist. She has traveled the world photographing archaeological sites and artifacts, and studying human physical remains. She has written numerous professional publications. She continues to work as a forensic consultant and author.

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