It is not easy to be a sports photographer and there are very few weekends Ettienne van Rensburg does not spend next to a sports field, but he prefers it this way.

Magdel, Ettienne’s wife, is a web and social media publisher at the marketing and communication department on the NWU’s Vaal Triangle Campus.

Ettienne with his two daughters, Ailani (9) and Hailey (10 months).

Through Ettienne’s lens

Observing the world through the lens of a camera is second nature to Ettienne van Rensburg.


He has established himself as an award-winning photographer and journalist in community media and is an esteemed sports photographer who also has an eye for the fun in sport.

Action, viewed through Ettienne's lens...

Rowers on water... Ettienne captured this moment in time.

Ettienne (39), alumnus of the Vaal Triangle Campus, is sports editor of the Vaalweekblad, a community newspaper in the Vaal Triangle.


He cut his teeth in newspaper journalism at Beeld and Sondag before settling at Vaalweekblad, where he has been honing his skills for the last couple of years. Here he is responsible for all sporting content in the Vaalweekblad's stable of publications. This entails action photography, layout, subediting and writing, and producing copy for the paper's webpage.


Divine intervention


“I love sports, especially rugby. I have always wanted to sit next to the field and capture the action. It was divine intervention that pushed me on this path,” says Ettienne.


His initial plan was to study law on the Potchefstroom Campus of the NWU, but after his father suffered two heart attacks in short order, he decided to pursue his studies closer to home.

After completing his BA degree in 1998, he received his honours degree in sociology in 2001 at the Vaal Campus of the former PU for CHE.

Ettienne remembers his student years with a smile and jokes that he would probably have been elected honorary president of the beer guild "if there had been one". He was a Nyala daily and winks as he explains what a staunch supporter of student activities he used to be.


Keeping his camera close


He inherited his love of photography from his father. “My dad was an enthusiastic photographer in his younger days.”


If Ettienne is not snapping sports photos, he photographs weddings – which means he always keeps his camera close.


One day he wants to master the intricacies of nature photography, but for now he is quite content perfecting his sports photography next to the rugby field.

Whether it be "bulletjie" rugby or the clash of the titans, Ettienne will be on site, lens pointed at the action.

“Rugby is probably most South African sports photographers' favourite sport to photograph. I love rugby and am attuned to it, and I think this helps me get good photos. One's passion shows through one's work,” he says.


Haka is a highlight


One of the highpoints of Ettienne's career was photographing the All Blacks’ famous haka. He also covered the first T20 world cup tournament in South Africa as a sports journalist, and has been a photographer at various rugby tests between South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia.


He enjoys seeing future talent unfold before his lens when he covers Craven Week tournaments, as he was a keen rugby player himself before an injury took him off the field.


“I played rugby from a young age, but developed back problems. I had to hang up my boots early on in my club career.” He wanted to stay involved in the game and photography has helped him to do just that.



Honoured for excellence


Over the past six years Ettienne has won various national prizes for sports journalism and photography:


  • Earlier this year he came first in the category for Best Sports Writer of 2015 and second in the category for Best Sports Photo at the Caxton Media Group's awards ceremony.

  • Last year he won the title of Photographer of the Year at the Caxton Awards and was one of the top three photographers in a national competition of the Forum for Community Journalists.


They deserve the spotlight


Although Ettienne is grateful for the recognition of his peers, he feels that more can be done to place the spotlight on the hard work of the community media.


“Due to increased pressure on printed media and digital photography, as well as the emergence of social media and ’citizen journalists' (ordinary members of the public taking photos and writing news reports), there is a misconception that anyone can be a journalist.


“Although there are competitions for community media, like the Caxton, Legends and Sanlam (now FCJ) Awards, I think more can be done.”


Happily ever after


Ettienne, his wife Magdel and their two daughters are quite happy in the Vaal Triangle.


He dreams of one day shooting American football and is unable to choose a favourite amongst the photos he has taken. “I think that I still have to take my favourite, most beautiful photo..."


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How to hone your skills


Ettienne's advice to emerging photographers is practise, practise, practise.


“These days digital photography and the internet make it very easy for new photographers to learn quickly. My advice is to acquire suitable equipment you can afford and to start practising. If you can find yourself a mentor, it would boost your learning process significantly.


“The most important thing is knowledge of and an intuition for the game you are shooting. Study the work of other photographers, copy them, and start experimenting with different angles and shots. If you don't have a passion for photography, you won't make it.”



NWU & U  |

Through Ettienne’s lens


Front page

Winners of the NWU's Alumni Awards are from left Karen Meiring (Business Leadership Award), Dr Tanya Robinson (Research Award), Yvonne Mfolo (Community Involvement Award), Dr Theuns Eloff (Lifetime Achievement Award), Judge Frans Kgomo (Public Service Award) and Kobie van Rensburg (Arts and Culture Award). Due to urgent commitments elsewhere, the other two winners, Shanté Bukes (Sport Award) and Prof Llewellyn van Zyl (Young Alumnus Award) were not able to attend the event. Their representatives received the awards on their behalf.



Through Ettienne’s lens