He went from shooting photos for California Baptist University’s Athletics Department to winning the National Football League’s Photograph of the Year award in just two years. That is a rapid rise to success, but this is the story of 2017 CBU alumnus Jacob Gonzalez.
“I never doubted Jacob was going to be working for a professional team someday, and the sky was the limit for him,” said Andrew Shortall, director of CBU athletics communications. “The outstanding thing was he got better each and every year he was here – from his freshmen to senior year he got so (much) better.”
It was that improvement and success capturing CBU’s Division II athletics teams that landed Gonzalez an internship with the Los Angeles Clippers, eventually leading to the main photographer position.
“My time at CBU prepared me by allowing me to get a head start in this industry,” Gonzalez said. “I tried everything I could and learned what worked and what didn’t those four years so by the time I graduated I was ahead of the curve and could easily make that transition to a professional.”
His work with the Lancers not only caught the eye of potential employers, but also impressed the athletics staff at CBU including head baseball coach Gary Adcock.
“Jacob had a knack for capturing the emotion of the moment, the excitement of the event, in a still photo,” Adcock said. “He found his passion, honed his craft and now shares his God-given talents with all of us.”
After graduation, Gonzalez was hired by the NFL to photograph the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams, which took him to Super Bowl LIII. In May, the NFL announced Gonzalez as the winner of the 51st Annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Photo Contest.
Gonzalez’s image of the San Francisco 49ers George Kittle and Rams linebacker Mark Barron won the Photograph of the Year for the 2018 season and took first place in the action category. His photograph of Rams safety John Johnson coming onto the field through fog also earned honorable mention in the feature category.
“The main key for my success so far has been taking a different approach than most sports photographers,” Gonzalez said.
“It took me a while to find my style, but once I did people noticed that my photos were different and I slowly started getting more work as a result.”
Gonzalez has now relocated to Atlanta, Georgia to work as the team photographer for Atlanta United of Major League Soccer.
Gonzalez strongly encourages college photographers and those interested in pursuing photography to try new things and push themselves as they strive to reach new levels of success.
“Take advantage of this time,” Gonzalez said. “You don’t have any pressure now, so you can afford to take chances and fail. When I started at CBU I had no idea what I was going to do with my photography. Now, looking back six years later, I never imagined I would have accomplished all the things I have so far in my career.”