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|| News Item: Posted 2010-11-11

Dreams of shooting NFL Football

By Rod Mar

I’m really interested in shooting some more professional sports, specifically NFL.
Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Whether you covered Joe Montana at Candlestick Park or his son, Nick. at Oaks Christian High School(below), it's still football. Rod Mar says you have to strive to be the best photographer you can be regardless of what sideline you are on.

Any tips for someone trying to get out and shoot more?


“You want to fly jets? MY GRANDMOTHER WANTS TO FLY JETS!”

-- Louis Gossett, Jr., “An Officer and a Gentleman”.

“Make the big time where you are.”
-- Frosty Westering, former college football coach.

Everyone wants to be at the top. In the old movie “An Officer and a Gentleman”, recruits didn’t want to crew tankers, they wanted to fly jets. Because jets are the coolest, hardest things to fly.

And for a sports photographer, the NFL is one of the coolest, hardest things to shoot.

You’re not the only one who longs to shoot something they can’t. It’s in our nature.

Most everyone who’s ever taken up sports photography wants to shoot the top level of whatever sport there is. It’s a natural, competitive instinct, and photographers are a very competitive bunch.

What drives this? Why are we compelled to want to shoot the top professional leagues when we know in our hearts we could make award-winning images in our own backyards in small college, high school or even youth sports?

Because we want to see if we measure up. It burns inside all of us. “If I were on the sidelines next to Peter Read Miller, John Biever or Bob Rosato, could I hold my own?”

(Trust me when I tell you from my own personal experiences, the answer is a resounding “no”.)

But that shouldn’t stop us from trying, either.

So how does one get to the sidelines of the NFL?
Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

In many ways, just the way the players do. Excel at every level until you get there, and then push yourself even harder. Those NFL players didn’t get a chance at playing at a Division 1 school until they were not only the best at their high school, but also the best in their leagues, regions and states.

Then, they had to be among the top 5 percent or so in all of college to have a chance at the pros.

Trust me, you don’t want to shoot the pros via entitlement (i.e., someone feels sorry for you and gives you a pass). Or, you “freelance” for a weekly (shoot for free, give up rights, pay your own expenses, all in trade for the “benefit” of a byline and a clip. Also, you don’t want to be a poser when you get there. You’re a professional photographer– why feel like a tourist at a game?

Also, no one just wants a “taste” of the NFL That’s a copout. For everyone who claims to just want to experience it once “to see what it’s like”, I ask you to ask yourself – you wouldn’t want to cover it every week for Sports Illustrated? To be considered one of the photographers in the world?

An old crusty football coach in my area was one of the most successful small college coaches in history. He used to say, “make the big time where you are”. He wasn’t saying stay where you are forever and pretend wherever you are is the big-time. He was saying to treat what you are doing like it’s the big-time and your version of big-time will rise and change accordingly.

Want to get to the sidelines of the NFL? Try this approach: Be the very best high school sports photographer in your area. Then, translate that success “up” into small college, major college and then maybe the pros.

The sidelines are littered with photographers with the right gear and the wrong mindset. Doesn’t matter if they work for newspapers, magazines, teams or leagues. We watch them, see them act all cool, how little some of them pay attention, whether or not they are putting everything into their job that day.

And each of those photographers has an editor who wants the best photos from the best photographers they can find.

To get to that level, you have to work hard.

All. The. Time.

Not just at what you think are “the big events”. I cannot think of a single photographer over my 20-year career that wanted to get to a certain level and didn’t make it – as long as they worked every day to get better. Many have gone further than they ever thought possible.

And here’s the secret that many people forget. Like the best athletes, you have to work hard to get better not to get to a certain level, but to be better today than yesterday, and to squeeze every last ounce out of your photographic potential.

We all have our goals. Work for them the hard way. The right way.

Be so good that an editor can’t tell you no.

Rod Mar, after working on staff at the Seattle Times is a freelance photographer based in Seattle. You can see his work on his Sports Shooter member page:; and at his personal website:

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