“Do I need a press pass?” is one of the top questions I get asked followed by, “If I do, how do I get one?”
Pro level access is out of reach of beginning photographers unless, you are associated with a major media player or know someone in high places. Even small college and high school governing bodies of athletic events have tightened up media access.
In some cases a media credential, AKA Press Pass, is not required. However, if you want to shoot high school, community college, NCAA, etc. sports, it would be beneficial to acquire a press pass. Even at lower level events, a press pass gives you more credibility and you are questioned less.
Yes, you could pay your entrance fee and then attempt to shoot the event courtside or at field level but, you risk being asked by the officials or school personnel to take a seat in the stands. This is especially true during the playoffs.
So, here are three ways to get a press pass for small college and high school action.
1. Start with the athletic director (AD). Whether it’s high school or college, there is an AD running it all. Offer to be the school’s sports photographer. If you have a son or daughter, contact their school first. There is a good probability you will be approved. Even if they don’t need a photographer, sell yourself but ,don’t sell your soul, and offer to give the school some photos for their use. The school may be in need of photos for their annual yearbook or school newspaper.
You might be tempted to talk to one of the coaches first but, I would advise against that. It’s the AD who has the final say on who has access and if you get approval from a coach and show up but the AD wasn’t aware you would be shooting, it might cause some problems.
Also, it’s just proper protocol.
Now, this method will not get you a conventional pass. It’s more like permission to access the game with few limitations. It’s also school specific but it can give you experience and credibility which, you can then use to approach other schools and sets you up for other opportunities.
2. Become associated with a newspaper, magazine, or other form of the press. Reach out to a local newspaper Sports Editor to see if freelance sports photographers are needed. It doesn’t have to be a big newspaper. There are many weeklies that may be in need of a photographer. Make sure you have high quality photos available to demonstrate your skill to the editor.
There is a chance they would be interested in your photos but with budgets being tight with all of the downsizing that has occurred over the past years, you might not get paid. Instead you will probably be offered a byline. A byline is a printed line of text giving credit to the photographer. If your are offered a byline, I would suggest your website or social media contact info is included.
3. Start your own sports magazine website. I am talking about a real website and not a blog. Create a site with not only photo galleries but also articles. Yes, this will cost a little money and it will be time consuming, however, it may be the answer you are looking for. It also puts you in charge of your own destiny.
Once you have a website, load up your photos, place them into articles, and your are set. The articles do not have to be in depth. Just write out a one paragraph game summary. Many state athletic associations require articles and not just photo galleries as part of their press pass requirements. Once you have some material on your site, you next approach the local state athletic association and request a pass. In most states it’s a simple online process.
At first you may only be given a season by season pass but once you have proven you are serious, it should be easy to get a year pass. And, they will check up on you. I can tell you from experience you will have to provide new, fresh content or a regular basis in order to keep your creds.
There are some state athletic associations that will grant only one press pass to one media member per organization. And, they will not issue a pass for scouts, recruiting agencies, or online entities charging for content.
If you chose this option and need help creating a sports magazine website, send me an email and I will give you direction or even build the site for you.
Some state athletic associations, for example the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA), do not hand out regular season press passes. The schools handle that responsibility themselves and then the DIAA steps in during playoffs.
Which option is the best to pursue? Well, that depends on your wants, needs, and time you can commit. Only you can answer those questions. One thing is for certain, If you want to make a living or at least some extra income, you are going to have to work hard.