Behind the Creative: Thomas Fähnrich

Rafael Molina Harno

April 24, 2023

thumbnail behind the lens thomas fähnrich

Thomas Fähnrich has been in the sports photography world for over two decades. He was the club photographer at 1. FC Köln for 11 years and has since the end of 2022 stepped away. His focus is now on advertising and PR, as well as dedicating more time to his family, especially on weekends. His dedication to his core values shines through in both his photography and career decisions.

Humble beginnings to childhood club photographer

Thomas shared how he got started in sports photography at the tender age of 14. After going to 1. FC. Köln games with his older sister, he received his first camera as a gift from his father and started spending more time watching the photographers pitch-side than the match itself. From that age, he knew he wanted to be a sports photographer. After school, he worked as a trainee technician in a photo laboratory to learn everything he could, and started to shoot for sports press agencies.

He worked with Onlinesport, one of the biggest picture sport agencies in Germany at the time, and tried going it himself but at 19, didn’t have enough experience. He found another agency where he worked until 2004/05 and then went back to freelance once he had the contacts, network and experience, even shooting for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He went on to become the club photographer of 1. FC Köln in 2011, fulfilling his childhood dream of photographing the club full-time.

Owning his style and passions

Thomas' style is dedicated to his creativity, and he always strives to achieve his own unique style. He enjoys other photography but never feels he should copy, as he always ends up going back to his style. He once tried copying a lighting setup, and it simply didn’t work - inspiration is one thing, but like fingerprints, no two photographers are the same. Thomas loves to capture emotions such as happiness, but just as powerful are the sad moments, such as relegation, losing a game, or cup. Reaching the Europa League in 2016 and the Conference League in 2022 were some of his greatest moments as a photographer that captured the pure elation of success on the pitch. along with action moments for social media.

Thomas has photographed many different sports, including soccer, ice hockey, basketball, golf, motorsport, handball, and American football, and yet his favourite remains soccer. He also really loves crossfit because there are so many different styles of the sport and a sport with so many different types of movement means there are so many elements to capture in one session.

Top 5 photographs

Shot with Sony a7 RIII
Lens 12-24mm
Outex Underwater Housing
Client: Orthomol Sports / Social Media Content
Athlete: German Olympic Athlete in Canoe - Max Hoff

Shot with Phase One XF Medium Format camera and IQ3 100 Digiback
Lens 55mm
Lighting: Broncolor Beauty Dish and Continous LED Lights
Personal Project

Shot with Phase One XF Medium Format camera and IQ3 100 Digiback
Lens 55mm
Lighting: Broncolor 2xStriplights, Beauty Dish and 2 Softboxes
Client: 1.FC Köln / Jersey Campaign
Athletes: Ismail Jacob, Timo Horn, Kingsley Ehizibue

Shot with PSony A7RIV
Lens 35mm
Lighting: Broncolor Beauty Dish and Projector for the Picture on the Wall
Client: Puma / DHB - Jersey Campaign
Athlete: Joel Birlehm

Shot with Phase One XF Medium Format camera and IQ3 100 Digiback
Lens 80mm
Lighting: Broncolor Para 88, P70 Reflector, 75 Octa Box
Personal Project
Athlete: German Paralympic Runner - Felix Streng

Follow his work here.


Back when he was club photographer, Thomas would arrive several hours before kick-off to take impressions of the empty stadium, including locker room shots with jerseys, and rival team pictures taking in the stadium. Thomas took pictures through the whole match, always near the opponent’s goal to be able to capture any goals. Within 30 seconds of a goal being scored, he had to send the photographs to the social media team to post, along with any big match event such as cards, injuries, etc. This meant manually editing the photographs and then sending them over via a variety of methods depending on network quality.

Tips and equipment

When it comes to equipment, Thomas has been using Sony since 2019, before that, he used Canon for 17 years. His typical match equipment includes a 2.8 400mm lens, a 2.8 70-200mm lens, and fixed lenses of 8.4 35mm or 8.2 50mm. He also uses ultra-wide 12-24mm lenses for whole stadium or fan shots. Thomas takes all of his pictures in raw and when he worked for 1. FC Köln, applied the preset ‘look’ they had chosen as a club to establish a consistent brand look and feel.

Thomas' top three tips for someone starting out are to be active, work with smaller clubs first, know your equipment so you can handle it with your eyes closed and finally, build up your network. His number one advice is to find other photographers that can be business partners or mentors that can help bring you where you want to be. Thomas Fähnrich's journey as a sports photographer is one of dedication, creativity, and hard work. His passion for photography and sports shines through in every project he undertakes, and his unique style sets him apart from his peers.

ScorePlay 🤝 Photographers

Thomas found ScorePlay to be a valuable tool for working beside him on the pitch. He worked with Capture 1 and used the ScorePlay Live Mode via FTP, which saved him a lot of time and created a very fast and efficient workflow. The AI-tagging worked very well for the internal usage and meant he didn’t have to add keywords or even descriptions

ScorePlay was built together with photographers, and we always strive to put their work forward and highlight the incredible creativity and art that they produce, week in, week out. If you think your sports photography workflows can be improved, don't hesitate to reach out.


The centralisation, classification and distribution of sports media assets needs to be consolidated on a single platform for a seamless real-time experience free of manual bottlenecks. Long has the sports media landscape relied on a variety of tools that crowd photographers, creative teams and disrupt a logical efficient workflow (from PhotoShelter, Dropbox or Newsbridge for storage, and Greenfly for distribution).

The new generation of sports fans demand social-media-ready content in real-time as they consume, and having an all-in-one solution allows sports organisations and professionals to be reactive, versatile and adept in their content strategy. ScorePlay automates the centralisation, classification and distribution of assets with AI. A media hub built for the sports industry.

Photo credit: Thomas Fähnrich
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