Photography — How To
Take Great Golf Photographs
Ah, that sage advice offered by Chevy Chase in one of
our alltime favorite movies, Caddyshack, should be kept in mind by
photographers who hoist a camera on the links.
In a nutshell,
sports photography is tough. While there are lots of great sports photos
published, the average newspaper is full of mediocre sports photos nearly
every day. The reason that sports photography can be tough is because it's
hard to get a good photograph of action in most sports.
bad news about golf photography. The worse news is that golf is one
of the hardest sports to photograph. There's no physical contact between
players, the course is tremendous and the ball is tiny and travels very
rapidly through the air. It's hard to get a good angle without impairing
the golfer's concentration or risking getting conked by an errant drive.
Good golf photography is hard. As NYI
students have learned, we say "If it's hard, that's terrific!" Because
if it's hard, most people won't do it, and therefore the benefits
and rewards will flow to those that do. With those words of encouragement,
let's turn to the job at hand.
The photographs you can take on the golf
course can be broken into several distinct types:
The basic action
photos you see in all types of golf photography are "big swing" pictures
of golfers driving off the tee or hitting long shots in the fairway;
players blasting out of sand traps and other hazards; and finally,
putting on the green.
Golf photography offers up lots of opportunities to
photograph players reacting to their own shot or someone else's.
Finally, we can take "location" portraits of golfers and record some
of the scenery on the course.
Before we look at each type of golf
photo, it is essential that you remember that regardless of the kind
of picture you want to make – golf photographs or any other sports
photographs – following NYI's Three Guidelines for Better Photographs
will determine whether or not your photo succeeds.
readers should know by now, NYI's Three Guidelines are best recounted in
the form of these simple questions you should ask yourself before pressing
the shutter on your camera:
What is the subject of my photograph?
Guideline Two: How can I
give emphasis to my subject?
Guideline Three: What can I do to
simplify my photograph?
Particularly with a subject such as
golf, the action of your photo is likely to be so minimal that if there
are distractions they will seriously interfere with your sports photo.
Look at the example below.
What's the subject in this golf photograph?
The golfer in red? His cart? The town behind? The mountains? We could go
on endlessly about the flaws in this sports photo, but we don't like to
teach from negative examples. Suffice it to say everything here that isn't
the subject of the photograph detracts from whatever is the intended
subject. We assume it's the poorly cropped golfer in the lower left, but
the other elements in the picture are certainly putting up a battle to
distract the viewer.
If you are unfamiliar with NYI's Three
Guidelines we strongly suggest you look at this month's Picture of the
Month feature. Each month we take an interesting photograph and give it a
thorough analysis using NYI's Three Guidelines. Now let's look at some
good examples of the various types of golf photos.
Big Swing Photos
This is the bread-and-butter type of
golf photograph – the golfer has completed the follow through
of his swing and watches as the ball sails (hopefully) right down
the fairway. We see the golfer's form, golf clothes and little
else. Unlike a game played on a court or small field, in this
type of sports photography, it's nearly impossible to show the
player, the trajectory of the ball and the location of the green
in one photo.
The lack of a visible ball is a
problem. For most sports photography, the first rule is always show the
ball in the photo, but that's nearly impossible to do when players are
driving off the tee or making iron shots on the fairway, unless you make
an image before the ball is hit.
This photo shows a more
modest approach to a similar situation. Here the golf ball is visible
because the player hasn't hit it yet. Instead, we captured what looks to
be the beginning of the golfer's downward stroke. His golfing partner (we
doubt it's a caddy) looking on from the left side of the image adds
interest to the photo.
This picture makes another point as well –
we suspect the photographer used a point-and-shoot camera and
had intended to capture the golfer with his club poised at the
top of the swing, rather than an instant later when the club head
has begun its downward arc.
Point-and-shoot cameras have one major drawback when used for
sports action photos. There is a delay of a second or two from the time
the photographer presses the shutter release until the picture is actually
recorded on film. That means, if you're out to capture a golf swing (or a
diver in mid-air or a runner stealing home) and you wait to press the
shutter until you see the peak of the action in your viewfinder, you won't
get the shot you wanted.
Unlike a single lens reflex
camera (SLR) where the shutter fires at the instant you push the shutter
release, point-and-shoot models need a little time to set the correct
focus, analyze the exposure and select the proper shutter speed and
aperture. That brief delay is no problem if you're taking a photo of the
kids in front of the Grand Canyon, because there is no peak moment. But
for sports photography, you run the risk of missing the peak action.
There's no certain formula for overcoming this problem since all
point-and-shoot camera models have a different amount of delay.
So, if you use a point-and-shoot, get to know your camera and
learn to anticipate peak action and press the shutter a second
or two before the peak. Sports photography is one area where single
lens reflex cameras have a distinct edge over point-and-shoot
models, so if you're really interested in action photography,
you should consider using an SLR. By the way, this "shutter
lag" can be an even bigger problem with digital cameras, particularly
point-and-shoot models because there is a second component called "recycle
time," that is, the time needed after the image is recorded to
clean that image from the capture chip into some kind of storage.
It's only after the chip is cleared that the camera is capable
of taking the next picture. While shutter lag in digital cameras
is less of a problem than it used to be, you'll want to experiment
with your camera to get a feel for how much of an issue it might
be with your particular model..
Sand Trap Photos
Golfers playing out of sand traps and other
hazards provide for more elements of visual interest, since the golfer
often blasts a clubful of sand along with the ball, and the speed of the
ball is slower and can be captured on film. For a golf photo like the one
at the left, the photographer is using a long lens and is probably
standing on the far side of the green. This means that there's little
distraction for the golfer and little danger of the photographer getting
hit by the ball, since the golfer is trying to loft the ball onto the
green near the location of the hole.
For this photo you'll need a
camera with a telephoto lens. If you have a zoom lens make sure you are
zoomed in on your subject as tight as possible.
Here's a similar shot with a mountain of
sand that has been churned up by the golfer. The ball appears to have
vanished from the frame by the time the shutter fired. It's still an
interesting golf photo, but showing the ball would have helped. Of course,
no matter what type of camera you are using, in an action sport like golf,
you may not know exactly what you've captured on film until you look at
the processed photos. That's part of what makes sports photography
On the Green
Golfers putting on the green give
photographers a different range of options. Here you have a real
opportunity to get reasonably close to the subject and the
speed of the ball has slowed down to the point where it can
be captured. Our guess is this player made this putt. We can't
imagine that the ball is going to stop on the lip of the cup.
The visual elements in the photo are simple –
the green, the pin and hole, and the golfer. In addition, there's
the background and the lighting. Try to pick your best location
and settle into your spot before the golfer starts to line up
the putt so you won't distract the player.
In this photo we don't mind that the
photographer's face is in shadow, nor does the golf bag behind the pin
bother us. It's an action photo and the course scenery behind the player
adds to the story.
are common to all types of sports photography. In many situations and in
every sport, players (or fans) reacting to the game are much easier to
photograph than the action itself. That's why you see lots of reaction
shots in the sports pages of your daily paper – basketball players
with their arms raised, football stars high-fiving each other
in the end zone, and so on. In golf, other than an occasional
wave of the putter, you're likely to photograph golfers' facial
reactions to their own shot or someone else's.
We don't think this guy looks too satisfied with
the path of his ball. The club rests on his shoulder and a grimace
unfolds across his face. Our guess – sand trap!
If you can get close to a famous golfer
even when he's just waiting to tee up, you're in position to make a
location portrait that tells a story any golfer will appreciate. Look at
the concentration on Arnold Palmer's face at a Masters in Augusta a few
years back, before he retired. We see the ball and tee in his right hand,
club and glove on the left, and the marker for the 15th Hole in the
background adds to the sense of location.
A little fill flash
would give us a better view of Palmer's eyes, but we know the face so well
that it doesn't matter. Note the logos of Palmer's corporate sponsors are
Action photos with a long enough lens can
also serve as portraits, particularly if you have an angle that gives your
camera a clear view of the face and even
It's important to bear in mind that golf is a sport
of concentration and that golfers in the midst of a competitive
round should be not be distracted by a photographer getting too
close or moving around when the golfer settles in to make a crucial
putt. A lot of great sports photos can be made during practice
rounds or when your favorite golfer is practicing on the driving
range. While civility wanes in many of today's sports venues – witness the basketball fans making noise when a
player from the opposing teams steps to the foul line – most golf
courses remain places where the players are entitled to expect
that their need for concentration will be honored.
In closing, let's consider the
scenic possibilities on the golf links. Golf courses are designed to look
attractive and some of them are also located in highly scenic areas. While
landscapers and designers may enjoy photos of empty golf courses, we think
the scenery of any course is best captured while the golf course is being
Scenic Golf Photos
Players on a scenic golf course give a
sense of scale to the image. In photos of this type, the identity and
facial expressions of the players are less important than having them
positioned in a way that allows you to make a photograph that shows the
scenery of the golf course to its best advantage.
While it may be hard to capture that
perfect golf action photo of the key shot made by the big star
who won the major golf tournament, we guarantee if you follow
our sports photography and golf photography advice in this article,
you'll be able to take great golf photos of your friends and family
next time you head out to your local course. Think of the benefits – fresh
air and a camera that is much lighter to tote than a bagful of
clubs. What could be more pleasant than a round of golf without
having to worry about whether you break par?