Behind the Winning Shot

Jennifer Pottheiser, USA

Growing up with Nikon

In my work as a photographer, I'm fortunate to work with a lot of professional athletes in different sports leagues. I do everything from action work to documentary work to portrait work. Throughout my career, what drives me has always been the excitement of being a part of a world that I would otherwise have no business being a part of. I would not be around some of the greatest athletes in the world if I didn't have that Nikon camera in my hand.

I grew up shooting with Nikon film. Coming home after my first semester at Duke University, I had a Nikon film camera as one of my holiday gifts, and that camera went with me to several final fours for basketball. Many years later, I had my Nikon camera for when the US basketball team went to London. That journey has taken me all the way to the D5.

Drawing inspiration from raw emotion

One of my favorite things about shooting athletes and sports is that raw emotion and seeing what drives people to be the best in the world at what they do. That energy is contagious, and it motivates me to be the best at what I do too. What is more flattering than being asked to shoot someone who is such a master of their sport? It speaks to how far I have come in my career that I get asked to capture people at those emotional moments, at those pivotal moments in their career.

I love being a fly on the wall. I'm quite an introverted person, so being able to just take pictures and document history is a gift that really never ever gets old. To be able to capture that defining 1/500 of a second and share with the rest of the world a unique look into the life of someone who is, or is trying to become, the best in the world at what they do is such an honor.

I am incredibly fortunate that I have worked with some of the greatest athletes in the world, but one of my favorite things is working with athletes who are still trying to reach that level. That passion, energy and intensity so early on their career is palpable; I love to capture that youth and often that naivete. I love the access that I'm able to get, documenting the everyday reality of what it takes to become the best in the world, whether that is training, practicing or just one more moment in the gym.

Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser

"Pressure is a privilege"

I love the pressure. There's a great quote by Billy Jean King, "Pressure's a privilege." That fuels me: the honor of being asked to be a part of these professional athletes' lives is humbling.

We live in an incredibly visual world now, with content everywhere, which puts me under a great deal of pressure to do something better, to do something more, to push myself and push my gear to take me to that next level. I love it though: whether it's creating a portrait or hanging a remote camera in some previously unimagined place, there's nothing better than that feeling, knowing that Nikon is going to be right there with me to capture the image, to get the job done.

Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser

The same way the athletes I photograph spend a lifetime preparing and have their routine for their big game or match, I have the same routine where I get my Nikon gear together and I go over in my head what I might encounter, what I need to have with me, and how each of my camera bodies needs to be set. On my right side I'll have my D5 with an AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR and a flash, on the other side I'll have a Nikon with an AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8 G ED and have that for available light, and in my waist pouch I'll have an AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED and an AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR. Nikon has given us these amazing, amazing tools: I want to make sure I have them with me to capture what I want and what I want the world to see.

I work with some amazing clients, whether it be in basketball, tennis, horse racing or any number of other athletic endeavors. I shoot in high ISO, low ISO, indoors, outdoors, and I never really have any idea where I'm going to wind up for a photo shoot. I can do a low ISO portrait and have it be beautiful and crisp, or I can go out into the field to make an action shot and know that I'm good there too. I can be anywhere in the world and know I can get what I need. Just having that sense of reliability, I can sleep easy at night.

Meeting the challenge of a new sport

Today I had a great day's shooting with Skylar Grote. She is an American wrestler, and we spent the day with her training. We did a combination of action, portraits and training. As a professional photographer, knowing that you have to deliver to clients, that's added pressure.

The D5's AF with the 3D tracking was amazing. Skylar was all over the mat, she was moving fast, but the tracking was spot-on. We didn't miss a shot. The auto-area AF was incredible too. Skylar was in tight with her opponent and the autofocus stuck with it the whole time. Meanwhile, the 9-point dynamic-are AF really captured the intensity of the girls when they were down on the mat.

Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser

Reliability across the board

I always know that I have Nikon right there with me, whether it's with their gear or with their technical support and pro support. It's a team effort, and Nikon has never let me down. When I'm in the moment, my mind is moving at a million miles a second, but knowing that the camera is thinking as fast as I am, knowing that the D5 can keep up with me, just lets me think about picture-taking. Nikon makes me a better photographer and knowing that I can rely on them is priceless.

Nikon Professional Services has helped me throughout my career. If I want to try out a new lens or if I need a body for a project I'm working on, I can reach out to NPS and I know they're looking out for Nikon shooters. They help me out in a pinch if I don't know how to use something. I just need to send over an email or make a call and they're always there. Nikon is the foundation of my career. I've grown up with my Nikon cameras and that makes me who I am as a photographer. I started out with the N8008 back in the film days, and progressed to the D3, D4, D5. I can't wait to see what comes next with the D6.


Jennifer Pottheiser is a commercial/sports photographer based in New York. Jennifer shoots regularly for JP Morgan Chase, the National Basketball Association, Memorial Sloan Ketting Cancer Center and Walgreens Boots Alliance. She also speaks on photography and industry best practices at conferences and workshops across the country. See more of Jennifer's work on her website: