Chanelle Smith-Walker currently serves as the Team Photographer for the Carolina Panthers. I can personally say that it has been a pleasure to watch her career blossom into what it has become. Recently, I was able to catch up with Smith-Walker to discuss her current position and advice for future industry professionals.
Smith-Walker is a graduate of Elon University, where she also played volleyball. Upon graduating in 2015 with a B.A. in Strategic Communications and a minor in Digital Art, she served as a graduate assistant for the athletics creative department at Southern Mississippi before becoming the Director of Digital Media of the department.
After a year as the Associate Director of Graphic Design for the Baylor Bears, Smith-Walker was named Director of Creative Media for NC State Football in 2019. It was at NC State where she took me under her wing, allowing me to witness her impact and creativity firsthand. In 2021, Smith-Walker was named Director of Content for the University of Tennessee’s football team. This move made her the first black creative director in the SEC.
In her current position with the Carolina Panthers, Smith-Walker is getting back to what she really loves: photography. She told me that the most rewarding part of the job is capturing moments that fans don’t usually get to see. She mentioned being able to take pictures of a player’s son’s first steps and how that was her favorite moment from this past season. She also said that getting to develop relationships with the players is also one of her favorite parts of the job. She refers to a lot of the players as “annoying younger brothers.”
When discussing the future of the sports industry, Smith-Walker said that she believes the industry is expanding and diversifying, especially in more creative roles. She also talked about seeing more photographers with their own personal brands outside of their professional jobs. Smith-Walker was one of the first photographers that was able to differentiate herself in this way and she attributes much of her success to having a personal brand.
One thing I have learned about Chanelle Smith-Walker is that she is always available to give some very honest advice. When I asked her about advice for future industry professionals, she said that it’s important to not get caught up in Instagram likes or clout. Those things mean nothing if your pictures are horrible. She also stressed the importance of networking and building meaningful relationships and how no opportunity is too small.
Her last piece of advice was geared towards women in sports. She told me to remember that all women do not want to see you succeed and that she currently has other mentees who have seen this play out within the industry. Smith-Walker also said that you have to have thick skin and be comfortable being the only woman at the table sometimes.
It is no secret that there are not a lot of minority women in creative roles in sports, so it is always crucial to highlight those that we look up to. On a personal note, I have really enjoyed watching Chanelle grow as an industry professional over the past few years and it’s amazing to be able to say “I knew her when…”