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8 Jul

Visualising Victory on the Sidelines: Denga Netshituka’s Mastery in Sports Photography

Amidst the crowd’s roar, one man stands apart—not as a player, but as a passionate observer. Meet Denga Netshituka, an award-winning football photographer capturing the essence of the game through his lens.

With every click of his shutter, Denga freezes time, immortalising the raw emotion, fierce competition, and triumphant glory that define football. His story is one of dedication, artistry, and an unyielding passion for both the sport and the craft, transforming moments on the field into lasting memories that tell the epic tale of the field of play. 

Nounouche delves into the world of Denga Netshituka, who was named the 2021 Limpopo Sports Photographer of the Year and the 2023 Gauteng Sports Photographer of the Year, and explores his journey, his triumphs, and the fiery passion that drives his award-winning photography.

Denga has always had football woven into the fabric of his life. Despite his passion for the game, a lack of playing talent led him to embrace a different role in the sport. While studying for a degree in Accounting at the University of Limpopo, Denga found his niche on the sidelines, serving as a coach during his final year. This experience solidified his commitment to staying connected to football, even as he prepared to embark on his professional career.

After graduating, Denga faced the challenge of balancing his new employment with his desire to remain involved in football. The limited time available to him only heightened his determination to stay close to the sport he loves. His journey reflects a deep-rooted dedication to football, demonstrating that passion and perseverance can carve out fulfilling roles in the sports world, even when the initial path might not be as a player.

Denga shared that he has always loved cameras and it started with him just playing around, then ended up buying a camera.  

“The first photographs I took were of the Sammy Seabi Tournament in Limpopo. From there onwards I decided that Sports Photography was the genre for me. I got to meet Vino Snap, Philip Mayetha who was  South African Sports Photographer of the year in 2018. My first day of photography and getting to meet the sports photographers with big lenses helped me decide,” expressed Denga as he reminisced on when he took his first ever football photographs.

“As I’ve grown and spread my wings, I’ve had the privilege of meeting Sam Sibambvu, the current Sports Photographer of the Year, and Sydney Mahlangu,” said Denga. “These two have been the biggest influences in my career.”

Inspired by these trailblazers, Netshituka saw reflections of himself in their journeys—ordinary black brothers achieving extraordinary feats in football photography. This inspiration propelled him to pursue his passion, capturing some of the most compelling images in the sport. Their success stories have been instrumental in shaping his career, demonstrating that with dedication and talent, he too could leave a lasting impact on the world of football photography.

Denga’s breakthrough into professional football photography began with his involvement in women’s football. 

“Getting accreditation was difficult, especially because I was unknown,” he shared. “I professionalised my photography in football through the Hollywoodbets Super League. From thereon, because of the work I was able to put out, someone from an established media agency vouched for me with the PSL to get my accreditation.” 

This pivotal moment allowed Netshituka’s first images to be published through Hollywoodbets and Limpopo Mirror, marking a significant milestone in his career.

The Hollywoodbets Super League provided Netshituka with the platform he needed to showcase his talent. His dedication and the quality of his work quickly garnered attention, leading to support from established media professionals and enabling him to secure accreditation with the Premier Soccer League (PSL). This breakthrough not only validated his skills but also opened doors for further opportunities, solidifying his place in the competitive world of football photography.

His most memorable moment in football photography came when he covered his first national team game.

“My first national team game is the highlight of my career. We played Ghana in the 2022 Qatar World Cup Qualifiers, and that is where some of my images got the most traction,” he reflected. “That was a big milestone for me. Being able to cover that game and the mileage I got from that particular game was the most memorable.”

This significant event not only marked a milestone for Netshituka but also solidified his reputation in the field of sports photography. The exposure and recognition he gained from the Qatar World Cup Qualifiers match against Ghana brought his work to a broader audience, showcasing his talent and dedication. This moment of success underscored his journey from humble beginnings to becoming a prominent figure in football photography, inspiring him to continue capturing the sport’s most compelling moments.

For the award-winning photographer, staying inspired during the off season is a vital part of his creative process. “The off season is the only time I get to watch football,” he explained. “I watch football with the idea of seeing what kind of pictures can come out of the game. You watch the action and then go see the images photographers were able to produce and how they captured it.” 

This method of studying the game and the work of fellow photographers keeps his passion for football photography alive, even when he’s not behind the lens at a football match.

Netshituka also finds inspiration by diversifying his photography during the off season. “Another way to stay inspired is to just continue taking pictures,” he said. “Fortunately for me, I do other forms of photography, and in the off season I get to do some wildlife and portraits, which improves my craft in various areas.” This versatility not only hones his skills but also fuels his creativity, ensuring he remains sharp and ready for the next football season. 

“My style has always been to personify or magnify the athlete,” said the 31-year old . “In whatever action, I want to highlight the athlete’s ability, emotion, and presence in the images. It has always been to get as close as possible to the athletes.” Netshituka’s clients are often the footballers themselves, meaning his work is geared towards social media. “In a sense, I am shooting for social media because that is where they can see and use the pictures I take,” he explained. The rise of digital social media has been a blessing for photographers like him, providing an easily accessible platform to showcase their work and build an image gallery. This approach not only enhances the visibility of his photography but also strengthens his connection with the athletes he captures.

“Keep shooting,” advises Denga to aspiring football photographers. “Sports photography is easily accessible. There are kids always playing football in the streets and maybe a cycling club close by. Build a portfolio for yourself because without a portfolio you have no proof.” He emphasises the importance of continuous practice and leveraging everyday sports scenes to hone skills and create a body of work that showcases one’s talent and dedication.

Denga dreams of making sports photography his full-time occupation, as he currently balances being an accountant during the week and a photographer on weekends. His immediate goal is to find an opportunity that allows him to dedicate himself fully to sports photography. “I would love to cover the World Cup and the Olympic Games,” he shared. 

In the ever-evolving world of sports photography, Denga Netshituka stands out as a beacon of passion, dedication, and unparalleled talent. His journey from the streets of Thohoyandou to the sidelines of major sporting events exemplifies the transformative power of perseverance and creativity. With a portfolio that captures the raw emotion and dynamic energy of athletes, Netshituka has not only garnered accolades but also inspired a new generation of photographers. As he sets his sights on covering the World Cup and the Olympic Games, his story serves as a testament to the heights one can reach when they blend skill with an unwavering love for their craft. The future of sports photography is bright, and Denga is undoubtedly at its forefront, ready to capture the moments that define our sporting history.

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