Rising Stars: Meet the NHL’s First Black Female Photographer Amanda J. Cain

Rising Stars: Meet the NHL’s First Black Female Photographer Amanda J. Cain

Initially a graphic artist and photo hobbyist, Amanda J. Cain took a chance on sports photography and is now making history in 2022. Her experience in the photo industry has been non-traditional and nothing short of impressive. From her early days freelancing in Massachusetts to photographing concerts and newsroom assignments in Texas, she has come a long way moving around the country to fuel her creative appetite.

As the first Black staff photographer at Eastern Kentucky University, Purdue University and now the NHL working with The San Jose Sharks, she knows a thing or two about entering new spaces making an immediate impact.

We reached out to Amanda to learn about her experience with representation in the photo and hockey industries, how she got her start, her go-to gear and more.

We also recently went live with Amanda to hear her story. Head over to our LinkedIn profile to watch the on-demand conversation.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

PhotoShelter: How did you get your start in photography? 

Amanda J. Cain: I’ve always been interested in photography. In earlier days it was with a disposable film camera on family vacations/high school and a small point and shoot for college volunteer trips. Took a couple of photo classes in college and was in love with film photography. I can remember spending more time in the darkroom than on my design homework. Not the most effective decision, but I loved it. At that time I didn’t know how a career would work, so that’s why I stayed with the design degree. Worlds collided during my first job and that’s really how it started. The people you meet sometimes can have a huge impact on your future. And that’s pretty amazing from where I’m sitting today.  

SEATTLE, WA – JANUARY 20: The Seattle Kraken host the San Jose Sharks in a regular season game at Climate Pledge Arena on January 20, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Amanda Cain/NHLI)

What made you move into the world of sports photography?

AC: I grew up watching and playing sports. I guess one could say I dreamed of becoming a professional athlete, before doing anything with a camera. The camera part of it took time because again I didn’t know the possibilities. Once I started in photography I tried to find avenues into sports, but truly never got above the collegiate level most times. The couple of opportunities that I had with professional sports were awesome, but the value for me lies within being in an organization, in which you can get to know the players. Working in photojournalism, at EKU, and in the fitness industry helped me realize that I wanted the opportunity to work with a team, and here I am.

As the first Black female photographer in the NHL, how do you feel about representation in the hockey and photography industries? This is a great blog post and I wonder if you can summarize some of your thoughts from this piece?

AC: First of all – Representation means nothing unless you have the people in your corner to back you. It sounds cliche, but I am nothing without all of the jobs that I’ve had. Would I like to have more of a presence on the NHL level? Absolutely, and hopefully in due time that will happen.

To actually answer your question, we are still very much lacking from a representation standpoint. And it’s not just the NHL, but it’s all sports leagues. Yes, these are male-dominated areas for sure. And it dates back to the 1900s, but we are in the year 2022 and we still have single-digit numbers as far as black women in team sports photography, a couple of handfuls more when it comes to women in general. But not the numbers you should expect, especially in photography.

When is the sports industry as a whole going to realize that we are talented and capable of fulfilling these roles like our caucasian and/or male counterparts?

Amanda J. Cain

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 4: San Jose Sharks mascot SJ Sharkie prepares to “photograph” the game against the St. Louis Blues in the second period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

In addition to the NHL, you were also the first Black female photographer for Eastern Kentucky University and Purdue. Do you have any advice for those looking to fill a role as ‘the first’ of their kind?

AC: Don’t think about it like that, go in with a plan and do what you love. Being the first just means no one can take that away from you. Don’t get me wrong, it also means that you are a role model. But here’s the thing: I am not the best and won’t ever say that I am. I am overall a good creative who is passionate about what I do and loves to root for the underdog. If it’s the job you want, sell yourself as the best for that position, as a person, as an individual, as THE person who will create the positive change and product for the organization you are applying for.

Tell us about your go-to gear. What’s typically in your bag? 

AC: That’s an interesting question because I’m completely in need of a new kit, personally. Based on what I’ve had the opportunity to use and purchase so far my preference is Canon, and I currently have a Mirrorless R.

As far as Shark’s gear, my go-to is the Nikon D6 and Nikon Mirrorless Z6, with either a 24-70/2.8 or 70-200/2.8 lens. I will also say 35mm, 50mm, 85mm primes if we had them.

Seeing what other creatives are doing with Sony, and my brief experiences trying them out I would love to have the opportunity to work with Sony brand gear and hopefully switch my entire kit to shooting Sony. (Hey Sony, feel free to hit me up and see what we can do together.) 

We love your PhotoShelter website! How long have you been using PhotoShelter? How does PhotoShelter help with your creative workflow and/or your photo business?

AC: I have been using a PhotoShelter website since 2020 when I started working for Purdue. My prior portfolio website needed to be updated and I didn’t have the time or coding knowledge to change the galleries to be the layouts I was wanting, which led me to PhotoShelter. Function-wise, the website templates and gallery layouts are the primary reason I chose PhotoShelter. Happy to be here and grateful for a website backend that makes the process user friendly.

Anything else you would like to share or promote? We’d be happy to share!

AC: Hmmm, that definitely could be a loaded question. I am open to freelance opportunities and working with other brands and sports on a project-by-project basis. Hockey being where I am right now I would love to work with Bauer (they make different hockey equipment) and the Hockey Diversity Alliance.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of the people who have been with me on this journey so far and those who I have yet to meet, not going to try to name everyone but if you’re wondering if I appreciate you, I do. Thanks most of all to my mom & dad and sister!

If you want to see more of Amanda’s work and follow her creative journey, check out her Instagram and don’t miss our candid conversation with Amanda on LinkedIn!

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