How Africa’s sports photography scene has evolved and what it’s like now

A brilliant capture speaks a thousand words. They are incredible moments in a game that showcase the sheer determination, perseverance, and dedication of athletes after years of hard training, all culminating in crossing that magical finish line or achieving that elusive victory on the field. Sports photography, an excruciating yet powerful form of the medium, has always been difficult to master because viewers expect a gripping experience, like watching the game live. A difficult yet crucial aspect is the photographer’s constant anticipation. While they capture the action live, they must also anticipate what’s to happen next. 

A good sports photographer understands the game and watches where the player is now while instinctively knowing where they will be the next instant. It is those split-second moments in the game that will go on to become iconic. There’s no margin for error. It’s a mission to capture athletes’ quintessential moments and the world of sports photography is made up of snapshots of legendary moments frozen in time.

Technique and technology make the best shots

A sports photographer understands their camera equipment and settings to instantly adapt and capture the best shots as the game moves swiftly. Evoking strong emotions simply through a photograph takes a lot of hard work behind the scenes, which is why sports photographers — like the athletes and players they photograph — must put in a lot of practice time to improve their technical skills. 

This was a spectacularly dusty affair. World Rally Championship stage featuring Kenya’s Onkar Rai driven by Drew Sturrock in a Volkswagen Polo on June 24, 2021. Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II Lens: EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM & Focal Length: 200 mm | Exposure: 1/1600, f/4.5 © Sila Kiplagat

Sila Kiplagat, a renowned photojournalist from Nairobi, covers prestigious sporting events like the Kenya Safari Rally. He believes that sports photography would be impossible without the cutting-edge technology available today from companies like Canon that enable photographers to do justice to their craft.  Sila has captured many timeless shots with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, transporting viewers directly to the scene of action. “Such is the power of sports photography,” says Sila, “and it is remarkable that we have ground-breaking technology that allows us to bring this to people.”

Hurdles on the track

Being a photographer in Africa is tough, and one must keep at it until one can break out. Typically, sports photojournalists learn on the job as there are no sports photography modules in media training institutions. This is something that needs to be addressed to elevate the genre. Budding sports photojournalists should also be encouraged to cover grassroots sports to hone their skills and raise the profile of future sports talent. Finding a good mentor who can help to nurture one’s talent can also be helpful.

Another hurdle that African photographers face is the lack of earning potential, especially for freelancers. In general, photography and photographers on the continent are undervalued and underpaid, and opportunities are limited as international media agencies in Africa have their own photographers.

Live sports coverage both on mainstream and social media has put more pressure on sports photographers. It is increasingly important that African sports photojournalists have access to the latest technology to help them transmit images in real-time over WI-FI or data to their newsrooms helping to keep fans engaged throughout the game. 

Getting close with an ultra-wide or fisheye lens enables you to put viewers in the thick of the action in a way that can’t be achieved with a telephoto lens. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens at 16mm, 1/30 sec, f/5.6 and ISO100. © Jorge Ferrari

According to ace sports photographer Jorge Ferrari “If you’re just starting out, the challenges will be related to having the right equipment. There are always new technologies, new cameras, new lenses, so these challenges are still valid. At this stage of my career, my main challenges are situations related to access. You can be the best photographer in the world, but if you don’t have access to where you need to be, you can’t do your job.”

Canon has long supported and encouraged sports photographers to capture the moment and create images that inspire, delight, and thrill. Whether it’s through Canon Master Class, a community of thousands of photographers and filmmakers dedicated to helping enthusiasts improve their skills, or Canon Professional Services, where professional photographers with membership receive exclusive benefits such as priority repair service, free backup equipment, discounts, etc.

Sports-mad Africa has much to offer photography enthusiasts

In June 2022, the sixty-ninth running of the World Rally Championship (WRC) was held in Nairobi, Kenya. One of the country’s most iconic sporting events, featuring more than 19 special stages, covering a total distance of 363.4km, unfolded across dusty roads, in unpredictable weather, and alongside abundant local wildlife, making it the most challenging and scenic leg of the WRC circuit Kenya’s rich motorsport heritage has led to the emergence of automotive photography with local enthusiasts using digital platforms and social media to pursue sports photography and showcase their work. 

Across the continent, there are plenty of fascinating, ongoing sporting events to take in both as a sports fan or photography enthusiast. Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, dominate long-distance running, while Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt are at the forefront of handball. South Africa excels at rugby and hosts many soccer and golf tournaments.  

Pick up your gear and shoot

Africa’s leading publication, Pan African Visions, and pioneer of innovative imaging products, Canon invite sports, photography enthusiasts, to participate in the ‘Capture the Action’ contest. It is a platform for people to showcase their talent and harness the power of visual storytelling. 

Interested participants can submit an original picture(s) on and get a chance to win Canon EOS R5, EOS R7 or PRO 200 printer. Images from the shortlisted winners will also be available to view in a virtual gallery hosted on Pan African Visions’ website and social channels.

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