The University of Montana - Bachelor's Degree, Journalism, Emphasis in Photography
With a sunny disposition that would rival even Minnie Mouse, Christa Thomas is a big dreamer who proves that attitude (and confidence) can get you far. After graduating from college at The University of Montana with a photojournalism degree, she moved to Charlotte, N.C., where she became a sports photographer who clicks pics primarily for NASCAR races and events, and sometimes even an NFL game or two. She even achieved her big goal of flipping through the glossy pages of Sports Illustrated to find a photograph she took — on more than one occasion. Christa loves her time outdoors, whether it's spent running, biking or playing frisbee golf. She also loves reading, especially fantasy and science fiction. And like many of us, she starts her day off with a cup of hot coffee, because it makes her so happy. (We can't disagree there!)
I hate that feeling you get when you know that you should have worked harder at something. So I always make a point to remind myself of that.
Was it always your dream to become a racing photographer? How did you discover your current job?
By luck! My college roommate took me to my first NASCAR race in Concord, N.C., where I ended up meeting my boyfriend, Jamie. Jamie and I began dating, and I told him I was looking for a real job (since I had recently graduated college). I honestly was unsure whether I would find something in photography, let alone, sports photography. Well, Jamie introduced me to a NASCAR photographer, and from there it took off. The photographer sent my portfolio to his boss, and I was soon asked to come in for an interview. Three NASCAR seasons later, and I am a full-time photographer!
What is your typical day like? What types of things do you do in your job?
NASCAR has 38 race weekends. While the city changes each time, the schedule is usually similar. As a photographer for Harold HInson Photography, we are responsible for covering drivers who are sponsored by companies that we shoot for. For example, Budweiser, Richard Childress Racing and Bass Pro Shops are a few of the sponsors that are clients for HHP. During race weekend, we photograph everything -- practice, qualifying, the race, sponsor-related functions. Our race weekend usually lasts from Thursday through Sunday, and we average about 12 hours per day.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
The most rewarding part of the job is knowing that you either got "the shot" or a photograph that is just very creatively different. It can be very easy in this job to photograph the same thing, the same way, every single weekend. So, it can be very challenging to find a new way to photograph everything. However, that is also the most exciting part of the job. I love being creative, and I really have to force myself to look at everything in a new way each weekend.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
Weekend freedom! There is always something going on at home or with family, and everything always happens on the weekends! I love running races, and unfortunately I don't get to participate in many of those.
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
To remember why I love doing what I do. It can be very easy to get caught up in the politics of any job. A lot of the time that can be very mentally draining. I just have to remember that I have to work hard, do my job and enjoy what I am doing.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
The biggest challenge is getting into the industry to begin with. I think that can be seen on all levels of NASCAR. This is not a female-driven sport.
I feel I had to prove my worth every single day when I first started. However, while it can be a challenge to get your foot in the door, I've come to realize how beneficial it is for any company here to have a female on their team. We see things so differently from men, and it becomes quite obvious in the way we photograph the events. That is something I take a lot of pride in.
What is the biggest challenge about being a woman covering sports traditionally managed by men?
The biggest challenge facing women who are sports photographers is just figuring out how to be part of the boys club. In NASCAR there are about 20 full-time traveling photographers, and out of that there are four women. When I’ve photographed NFL games, I’ve been the only woman out of the 30 photographers out on that field. My biggest challenge was convincing my company to spend the extra money on me! They have all male photographers, so when I joined they had to buy new clothing for me and get me my own hotel room at the tracks. It may not sound like a big challenge, but it’s all about making them realize that I am an asset to the company. I think what I’ve encountered is that sports photography has been a male dominated industry. I’ve realized I really have to work extra hard to stand out.
Who are your role models?
My parents! They always told my brother and I that we could do anything we wanted, but we had to put the work in. If we worked as hard as we could and invested the amount of time we should, then we could do anything we wanted! My parents and Jamie have all been the best support system I could ask for. Their love has really had the greatest affect on me going out and working hard for what I want.
What are some of the rules you live by?
I hate the feeling you get when you know that you should have worked harder at something. So I always make a point to remind myself of that. There are times when I may not want to put in the work or effort, or the job I am doing is not particularly fun, but I have to remind myself that what I am doing now will benefit me later.
And I love this quote!
"Some people succeed because they are destined to, but most people succeed because they are determined to."
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
Work hard!! I think it's good to walk into a situation where you know you will have to prove yourself. At first it was a hard concept to swallow, but as time went on, I noticed that my work was improving and that I was pushing myself harder than anyone else could push me, because I wanted to show that I deserved this job! Also, you have to be able to brush things off your shoulder. Things might be said to you to bring you down or make you second guess your worth, but as long as you stand tall, focus on what you want to accomplish, you will be able to do it.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Being a photographer! I love what I do now. To be honest, I have no idea if I will still be doing this in five years or not. But this job proved to me that there is nothing else I'd rather do than be a photographer.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
If there is even an inkling of a thought that there is something out there that you want to do, go for it! I never thought I would become a sports photographer, but I did it! I realize that there are so many things out there I want to do, and I now have the confidence to want to try it and see what happens!