Once you get a press pass what’s next?

This is an easy and not so easy question to answer.  Yes, it would make sense that you go to games and do your thing.  However, not all press passes are made equal.

First, congratulations for acquiring some sort of credential that allows you to enjoy sports photography at another level.

Second, don’t live under the assumption that you can go wherever you want or do whatever you want.  The press pass allows you the opportunity for access others may not have.  However, there are rules.  And, if the school representative at the event, usually the Athletic Director (AD), deems it necessary, he can ask you to move or even leave.  Or, if you are in the way of players or officials, you may be asked to move by the officials.

So, to answer this question we need to examine what kind of pass it is and who issued it.

If you don’t have a press pass but want one, check out my article “Three ways to get a press pass for sporting events

Press Pass Issued by State Association

If you receive a press pass issued by a state association for example the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) or the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) then you must read their policies regarding the use of the pass.  This will include do’s and don’ts, which varies by media type.  By media type I am speaking about TV vs. radio vs. internet vs. newspapers, etc.  Each will have their own set of rules and restrictions.

As a photographer some of these rules regulate for example,  where on the playing surface, such as the court or field, you can occupy.  At many high school football games the coach/player boxes are off limits.  Or, in basketball they will ask you to be at least six feet from the side and endlines.  In Oregon the OSAA policy states:  “DESIGNATED PHOTOGRAPHY LOCATIONS  Note: The OSAA or game officials may alter the following photography locations due to safety or to accommodate a specific facility.  BASKETBALL Each end of the court. Set up at least 10 feet behind the end line.”

During playoffs there are other rules to pay attention to.  And you will be required to STAY OUT OF THE OFFICIALS’ WAY!  Ok, it won’t be printed in all caps or have an exclamation point but, it will be outlined and your press pass can be revoked at any time if you don’t adhere to the guidelines.

Press Pass Issued by Schools

Some state associations do not issue regular season press passes.  They put that responsibility on the schools themselves to regulate who can cover their events.  You may not receive an actual pass from the school.  Instead, sometimes your name will be placed on a list and you be asked to check-in.  

There are still some protocols with a pass like this.

You will need to make contact with the Athletic Director (AD) of the school you intend to shoot.  Showing up unannounced is not a best practice.  I know some photographers who were denied access because the AD did not know the photographer or the media he was shooting for.

All it takes is a short phone call or a quick email to the AD to let him or her know who you are, who you are shooting for, and that you will be at his school.  If you are shooting for an organization the AD has never heard of, you may have to supply the AD with a website link or something similar to demonstrate you are legit.

Every once in awhile you will run into an AD who is, an ass.  This person will question you and give you a hard time and possibly not allow you free access.  In those cases, just be friendly and use your silky powers of persuasion to put the AD at ease.  If it comes down to it, offer the AD the use of some photos free of charge.

My approach when shooting a game is to use common sense.  I have found that many older gyms do not have much room along the endlines.  Sometimes less than three feet.  In those cases I do my best to give the players and officials room to work.  However, I have a job to do as well and will get the shots I need.   There have been unconfirmed reports of me entering the coaches box in football in order to get a specific shot.  I just make sure to stay out of the way.  Again, use common sense.

Making Your Entrance

You now have your pass and ready to enter the exciting world of sports photography.

Arriving in style is important.  I would suggest renting a limo and paying some people to serve as your entourage.  Obviously you will need help carrying all of your gear for you so that you can sign autographs.

Ok, just grab your gear and arrive by whatever means possible.

I will be up front and tell you that when I arrive at regular season games whether it is football, swimming, track, softball, etc., I rarely show anyone my press pass.  I just walk right in and get to work.  I make sure my press pass is visible, usually hanging around my neck by the use of a lanyard and, I always have my camera in my hand and not hiding in my bag. The key is to act like you belong there, which you do.  show confidence.  I also never stand in line.  You are there for a purpose and don’t have time to wait in line. If you wait with the common folks, you might miss some great pre-game shots that help tell the story.  However, don’t be rude.

Playoffs are different.  This is when I actually have to show my press pass to the on site contact and have my name checked to make sure I am on their golden list.  Many times I am given a separate pass that shows I am allowed special access.

Now, these are my own experiences from numerous high school and college sporting events in different states.  Your results may differ but you now have a general idea of how to use your pass and what to expect.

There you have it.  Now, head to the game and enjoy the fun of being a sports photographer.

If you  have questions, comments, or are having troubles get a press pass, email me and I will help in any way I can.


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