When Kathryn Riley graduated King Philip in 2012, she envisioned a career in the sports world. The lacrosse standout, a member of KP’s last league champion, Riley played college lacrosse at Boston College, then a program on the rise, and planned on continuing into the family business of college coaching.
A decade later, Riley has found a career in sports, though it is one that she could never have pictured when she decided to step away from her lacrosse career after two seasons at Chestnut Hill. What started as a hobby, working for the BC yearbook office, got boosted by an internship with the Boston Red Sox and has now become an accomplished career as a photographer covering some of the biggest sporting leagues and events in the country.
From Fenway Park to Gillette Stadium, from NASCAR to MLS, from USA Today to Getty Images, Riley is taking her own experiences as an athlete and bringing sports stories to life through her lens.
“Anyone who pays me, I’ll be there,” Riley joked when listing the numerous clients she has worked for, which includes MLB, MLS, the NFL, Boston College Athletics, NASCAR, the USTA, the USGA, and more. “I’ve been really lucky to get some awesome clients that allowed me to do what I do for a living. I’m very thankful for them.”
Her career began after stepping away from lacrosse after her sophomore year. Admittedly “disillusioned” with college athletics, Riley took up an offer from a friend to join the yearbook. She got credentialed to cover BC football when it upset highly ranked USC at Alumni Stadium and was on the ground among the fans who stormed the field. Suddenly, the decision to be part of the yearbook staff, which Riley admits is “bottom of the barrel” in terms of photo cred at BC, looked brilliant.
“I was no longer playing a sport and I had some free time all of a sudden and I was like, I need to join a club or do something,” she explained. “I had really no idea of what I wanted to do.
“The students rushed the field and I was like this is the greatest thing ever. I kind of thought shooting sports is like this all the time, which it is not, but I really liked it and it became a fun hobby. I didn’t think anything would come of it.”
She picked up a photo minor, which was more focused on art than journalism, and after graduating went into PR. It only took six months of sitting at a desk for Riley to realize that wasn’t the right career for her. Riley said, “I came home one time and was like, is this what life is going to be like for the next 50 years? I just work every day and get two weeks off a year. I can’t do that.”
On a whim, Riley applied for a photo internship with the Red Sox. Although she had no idea what to expect, Riley got the chance to be at Fenway Park almost every night (splitting games with another intern) and learned the ins and outs of the professional sports photography business. In addition to enjoying the work, “It was so much fun every single day just to go into the ballpark,” and getting great shots of the historic stadium, the players, and the fans, Riley also forced herself to network. She met photographers from the major local papers, from AP, from Getty, and started to see that the hobby she picked up at BC could become a lifelong career.
“When I got this internship, I thought I’m going to hold on for dear life and find a way to make it stick,” Riley reflected. “That really opened a lot of doors for me and I saw that I can have a career doing what I now do. Very happy that I saw some random Twitter post about this job.”
Riley used that internship to become a member of an expansive Boston photography community, filled with young and up-and-coming photographers and older, more experienced veterans. It is a competitive field for sure, but also features plenty of people willing to give advice, share ideas, and commiserate about similar struggles.
“If it wasn’t for that [internship], I wouldn’t have met any of the contacts I met, wouldn’t have gotten the jobs I got after,” Riley said. “I didn’t know anybody but I got lucky with an internship and then I networked.”
Her career began with baseball, but Riley is happy to get away from the grind that is shooting baseball every day over the course of a long season (taking the occasional line drive to ribs is also an occupational hazard). Regardless of the sport, Riley is always searching out the moments in games that go beyond just the action on the field.
All photographers want to get the diving catch, the winning goal, or the crucial touchdown, but sometimes the best shots are what happens after. It is about getting the emotions of the game, both positive and negative, and finding images that fans might miss from the stands or the television broadcast and that give a fuller picture of the experience.
“Everyone who is working these games, I don’t care what level it is, they all want that same shot,” Riley said. “But my favorite moments, if I’m able to get them, are those in between moments. Whether it’s a celebration or dejection, it’s those small moments that just kind of help fill in the blanks of how the game went.
“If I was covering a game for Getty for the NFL, they would be like, if the game gets out of hand or if it’s a big upset or something, make sure you’re getting these moments of elation from players on the sideline or try to find the dejected quarterback hanging his head or coach crossing his arms because that just adds so much more than a picture of him fumbling. It just adds more context and makes it richer. That to me is always super important and almost as important as some epic sack or touchdown catch.”
Photography has kept Riley involved in athletics and shooting some of the biggest events, like Tom Brady’s return to Gillette, brings with it a rush, but it is still work. It is a lot of long days and nights, shooting and editing, carrying equipment, and trying to get into the best positions for a shot, sometimes with dozens of other photographers jostling for the same spot.
“I find a lot of similarities between shooting a sporting event and playing a sport,” Riley said. “You still get those adrenaline rushes when you get an epic shot or you’re in the right place at the right time, it’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s a little bit competitive. What can I do to make myself stand out?”
She continued, “Those bigger moments, I feel like people just rise to the occasion. I’m very lucky. I love my job, it’s a cool job, it’s fun, but at the end of the day it’s still a job and there are still days where it’s stressful, I’m exhausted, my body hurts from lugging around all the gear. It’s nice to have something exciting.”
Whether it’s a big game or just one of 162, Riley will be there looking for the unique shot, the story that only a great photo can tell.
See more of Kathryn Riley’s work at https://www.khriley.com/.