In the 40+ years I spent in the youth sports photography business, I’ve yet to come across any sports league of participants that was not photographed as part of that years’ experience. I’m confident the same holds true today throughout the entire country. When it comes to capturing the best moments of a participant’s life, there’s simply no other form of photography that tops sports pictures.

Sports photography rates second only to school photography in volumes of youth subjects photographed. The National Council of Youth Sports, NCYS, reports that there are over 60 million participants in youth sports. Revenues from photographing these participants are estimated to be in the billions of dollars annually. 

Life is becoming faster and more complex, but one constant is the valued relationships and cherished memories young people develop during their youth sports participation days.  And when it comes to convenience, cost and capturing the best moments of a participant’s life, there’s simply no other form of photography that tops sports pictures.  Today, these photos can achieve high levels of creativity as well.  Thanks to digital imaging, players have personalized, visually appealing and just plain fun images of themselves – suitable for friends, relatives or home mantles – to celebrate another year of sports and another year of growth.        


As a professional youth sports photographer, I had many times thought I’d seen it all, done it all and knew all there was to know about the industry I worked in for so many years. But, every time I thought that way, some  evolutionary new product innovation or dynamic marketing idea was introduced. And, it happened so quickly, it was hard to keep up! It seems like it was just yesterday I was loading my camera with, what was it called, film? Yes, the advancements in Digital Imagery create a wealth of opportunities allowing the photographer to better serve the photographic needs and wants of their most valued customers, the youth sports participants. 

Now they  photograph these youth sports stars with what appears to be a hand held computer with a lens. They then download onto their computer what their camera has captured to manipulate the images for greater customer satisfaction. These technological advances allow them to operate more effectively and efficiently. What these advances do not do, however, is assure that they will operate ethically, morally and legally.

With that being said I must report that without question, the vast majority of photographers in the sports photography industry conduct their businesses ethically and professionally. But, and most regrettably, there are a few, and I must stress a very few, who have compromised the integrity and high ethical  standards our industry demands. It’s hard to believe but true that there are those very few who have taken photographs of youngsters only to enhance them in an unethical, immoral and illegal way. 

This is a problem to be addressed and you may rest assured a great deal of attention is being paid to this issue by a much concerned sports photography industry. The National Council of Youth Sports (NCYS) charges the sports photography industry with the immediate responsibility to define our character to the yo​uth athletes of today, by using their endorsed, affordable online background check pipeline provided by National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI).  NCSI is a full service screening organization that works in accordance with the Recommended Guidelines© established by the National Council of Youth Sports (NCYS). 

NCSI operates as an independent company, formed in partnership with NCYS. NCSI focuses its efforts, systems and expertise into seven identified risk factors to ensure client organizations are meeting and exceeding due diligence. All criminal background checks go through NCSI’s comprehensive system, which deploys multi-provider sourcing in the data collection process and handles the administrative process. As it’s now a common practice to require coaches and managers to submit to background checks, so it needs to be for all photographers, professional or amateur. Youth sports organizations from their headquarters to each and every local league must require their selected photographer(s) submit to a criminal background check, and, to have that check performed by NCSI. With the assistance of The Photo Marketing Association International PMAI, a “Photographers for Kids Safety” advisory committee, has been formed to work with the National Council of Youth Sports NCYS and its partner NCSI, the National Center for Safety Initiatives. The objective is to screen and examine all youth sports photographers.  The banner is being waved to make all of our children,  “Kids Safe”.​ 

Written by: Frank Hadfield who, in 1974, developed and introduced the Youth Sports Trading Card across America. The “Tradin’ Cards”, as his creation was named, fueled a renewed interest in the youth sports photography industry that remains today. Since then, Frank has enjoyed a successful career as a sports photographer and business owner. In 2003, Frank founded SPAA, the Sports Photographers Association of America, which is now a chapter of PMAI, Photo Marketing Association International. Now retired, Frank is Special Sports Photography Advisor to PMAI.  

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