The 9 Best Sports Photographers in San Francisco
San Francisco has a rich sports and fitness scene. In addition to the pro teams here in the Bay Area, there’s a huge collection of amateur sports teams, from peewee to the high-school level, as well as a thriving outdoor-sports scene. SF is a world-class city with world-class athletes, which helps keep San Francisco sports photographers busy taking photographs for local publications. The creatives on this list are a mix of some of the most well-known sports photographers in San Francisco and talented up-and-comers whose names you should get to know.
San Francisco Chronicle staff photojournalist Santiago Mejia has been present for the highest of highs and the lowest of lows of Bay Area sports — from the Dubs winning their third championship in four years to the 49ers’ recent losing seasons (no shade, 49ers fans — Shanahan’s going to turn it around). As a Chronicle photojournalist, he’s also captured many of the most indelible news images in recent years, from wildfires, to political turning points, to scenes of unbelievable natural beauty. He’s a San Francisco institution, and his work shapes what many of us think about the Bay Area and its heroes.
2. Sean Gibson of 415 Sports Photography
Sean Gibson of 415 Sports photography takes striking, motion-filled images that really distill the focus and intensity of sports — both individual and team sports — in a way that’s clear even to people who don’t really understand the sports themselves. His images are packed with emotions and an understanding of the situations the athletes in his images are facing down. Virtually anyone can relate to and comprehend the subjects of Sean’s images, even when the athletes are pulling off feats that few people will ever experience themselves.
San Francisco sports photographer Alexis Cuarezma is more of a sports portrait artist than a sports photojournalist. His photos capture the incredible physical feats, the raw physicality, and gracefulness, as well as the strong sense of style and trend-setting ability of today’s athletes. Because he’s shooting portraits rather than candids, his photos have an additional layer of cinematic drama added to each shot, which is achieved by styling, careful direction, and the ability to fully control the use of light and framing, which one does not always have the luxury of when shooting photojournalistic sports shots at full speed.
4. Brad Mangin
Brad Mangin has been shooting sports photography for over 30 years. In that time, he has shot for Sports Illustrated, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and more. Looking through his portfolio, you would be surprised to learn that he provides most of his coverage nowadays with his iPhone. His baseball photos especially stand out. He has a real eye not just for the drama of the game but for the personal side of things as well, such as team camaraderie and the sense of connection between fans of the same team. We also really enjoy his Instagram because it’s filled with pictures of cats, and, well, we love pets.
5. Jay Watson
Jay Watson is a sports photographer who takes on all sorts of projects, from editorial work to action sports. His photos are textured, high-contrast, and cinematic. Generally, his photos focus on one dominant subject and tell this person’s story. His photos do a lot of work distilling the personalities and bodies behind some of the greatest Californian sports feats. He uses muted colors and backgrounds to bring more attention to the central action of his photos, and he really has a way of capturing shots from an angle that would be compelling to both sports fanatics and outsiders.
Amanda Hibbert is a San Francisco sports photographer who also captures still-life images. Her photographs are full of wit and whimsy. She’s clearly attracted to not just the story of the people, landscapes, and items she photographs in her work, but to the mysteries and uniqueness of her subjects, which allows her photos to connect with her audience on a deep and yet subliminal human level. Her work is natural yet colorful, as well as classically composed, yet tailor-made to capture the eye of today’s digitally savvy audiences. She can really do it all.
7. Nick Otto
Nick Otto’s portfolio covers a wide range of subjects from event coverage, to still-lifes, to photojournalistic shots of cultures the world over and, of course, many sensational sports photographs mixed in as well. Nick’s photos often seem focused on giving a true accounting of the sense of scale of American sports, the smallness of a single person in a crowd, and the larger-than-life size of a batter standing in the batter’s box while tens and thousands of fans either cheer him on or else hold their breath. He has the ability to capture exuberance and celebration that far outstrips his average contemporary, as well as an aptitude to connect with audiences of all ages.
8. Dave Donovan
Dave Donovan is a California-based photographer available in San Fran, Ventura, and LA. A lot of his work is done not with pro sports teams, but with amateurs who really help make the sports scene in California so rich — high school and college sports stars, the athletes who train and practice every day simply for the love of the game. We especially love his surfing photographs, which are exciting and chock-full of motion and a strong sense of the risk and thrill of surfing. In his other sports photos, he’s able to capture the same sense of athletes withstanding the chaos and danger to achieve at the highest level.
Valerie Shoaps shines with her extreme-sports photography, especially her surfing and watersports photography. Her other sports photos exude a sense of the athletes’ fortitude, as they are able to focus through that chaos and walk the thin line between danger and control in order to become champsions. Valerie does a phenomenal job of capturing the personal striving and almost-storybook-level of drama inherent in every sports match.
These San Francisco sports photographers we’ve selected today all capture authentic photos that tell the whole story of the most important moments in San Francisco sport, capturing the emotion, exhilaration, and incredible physical ability. These photographers have certainly made a mark in our lives by capturing some of our heroes in action, and we’re sure they’ve made a mark in your lives as well.