Giving It Your Best Shot
When Super Bowl XXXV kicked off at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL, most football fans cheered from the sofa. But not Elsa Hasch. She was on the sidelines, armed only with sharp elbows, grit - and a camera.
As a sports photographer for Allsport, a company that distributes sports photos to media around the world, Hasch is regularly on the front lines of professional sports competitions. Her images have been used by such high-profile publications as Sports Illustrated, the Sporting News, ESPN, and the New York Times.
Hasch was one of seven Allsport photographers assigned to Super Bowl XXXV, her third trip to the big game. While attending college at the University of Minnesota in 1991, she worked as a stringer for the Associated Press. It was her job to collect film from the photographers during the game and run it over to the AP office across the street from the Metrodome.
"All I did was haul ass back and forth," she said. "It wasn't much money, but it was worth it just to be there."
An internship at the Sporting News resulted in her second trip to the Super Bowl. It was her first time actually shooting the game.
Hasch shoots a wide variety of sporting events, hockey being her favorite. "It's a lot harder than other sports because it's a fast-moving game and the playing field is huge," she said.
Hasch was never a big sports fan until she became interested in photography. But when she started working as the yearbook photographer in high school, she enjoyed the challenges of capturing the action at sporting events - a passion that has stayed with her.
"I like getting the play of the game or the peak action," she said. "Different sports present different challenges and objectives. You have to adapt and figure out the situation and what you need to do to get the best shots."
After graduating from college, Hasch worked six months at the Kansas City Star as a general assignment photographer before realizing she wanted to focus solely on sports.
When she joined Allsport in 1996, Hasch worked 40 hours a week doing office work, then spent her nights and weekends "shooting my way out of it. It was like sports photography boot camp."
But although Hasch had to pay her dues, she said, "Nowadays with technology it's a lot easier to get in and start working right away."
Salary is Modest. Equipment is Expensive.
Most professional photographers use their own equipment. Over the years Hasch has invested over $30,000, and would like to spend more. She says it would take another $20,000 to bring her equipment up to date.
Hasch started at Allsport with a salary in the low 20s. After four years on the job, her salary has bumped to the mid-30s, with a $4,000 per year equipment allowance.
Salaries vary for sports photographers, who hold jobs at wire services such as Allsport, newspapers, magazines, Web sites, and sports card companies. Major publications and large newspapers pay very well, but it's not the industry norm.
"When you're starting out, you're not going to make a lot of money because there isn't a lot of money in journalism," she said.
Sports photographers can also expect to work nights and weekends, and travel heavily. Between March and June, Hasch is rarely at home in her St. Louis, Mo. apartment. "You really have to be motivated and enjoy the pressure if you want to succeed," she said.
Rubbing Elbows is a Perk
Hasch's salary includes standard benefits plus perks including travel and, of course, access to major sporting events. She also gets to rubs elbows with players and even celebrities on occasion, though Hasch said she isn't star-struck and doesn't usually introduce herself to people.
"Jack [Nicholson] and his friends used to hang out in a kind of break room during the [Los Angeles] Lakers games, which is where I used to go to transmit my pictures. One time he was waiting for his buddies to come in, so I asked him for his advice on which picture to send in," she said. "Oh, and he offered me a soda once. But he pretty much ignored me for the most part."