Thursday, September 1, 2016

Fore! How to Photograph Golf like an Expert. Seriously...

Photographing golf is a special talent that many have and some only dream of. I am one of those dreamers. Capturing a professional golfer's facial expression or perfected swing at just the right moment is easier said than done! It's amazing the story one very well captured photograph can tell. You know the old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words! I believe that is the absolute truth if the picture is done correctly.

Anyway I'll stop rambling on and let you decide for yourself after reading the following blog post written by contributing sports photographer and columnist Darren Carroll  

I used to tell people that I thought golf was one of the hardest sports to photograph–but when their laughter got to be too much, I started to ponder their reaction.
Maybe they had a point. I mean, the player isn’t exactly moving very fast, like, say, in hockey. You don’t have to make any split-second decisions about which player to follow like you might at a football game.

There’s not really a ball to follow like there is in basketball, and the game isn’t very cerebral (at least for a photographer), like baseball. It’s all pretty much right there in front of you–player stands there, people get quiet, player hits ball, player walks to ball and does it again.

So I began to reconsider. And I arrived at the conclusion that I still give people who ask today. And it’s this:
Golf is, in fact, the easiest sport to shoot. But the very reasons that make it the easiest sport to shoot make it the hardest sport to shoot well.

Now, I’m not saying that I have all the insight into photographing golf well, nor do I have the market cornered on it. What I’ve attempted to do below is provide a bit of information that will lay the groundwork for shooting golf–the easy stuff, if you will. Once you’ve digested that, you’ll be in a better position to take the stuff I can’t give you–your eye and your talent–and apply it to your work out on the course.

Anybody can photograph golf. Really. It’s very simple to just stand there and shoot people doing the same repetitive thing over and over again, pointing a camera lens at a guy swinging a club and firing off a salvo of motor-driven frames as soon as he wraps the club behind his head. I see lots of people doing just that every time I cover a golf tournament.

It’s another thing entirely, however, to shoot golf well, there are rules to follow and follow very carefully unless you want to be booted out of the tournament!


I’m going to start off with these to get them out of the way, because everything else that I say is going to be predicated upon your following the “rules” of golf photography. They’re pretty straightforward, and when you think about it, they all boil down to one thing:

Do not distract a player. Ever.

That’s it. Simple as that. Golf is a much different sport to cover than just about anything else–it’s rather solitary, as the player is really battling himself more than anyone else, and he has no teammates to rely on; the crowds, while large, are generally quiet, and the players expect to be able to concentrate without distraction.

If you can remember that one simple concept, the rest is all common sense. But there are some things we can put down in writing to help illustrate the point.
First, stay close to the ropes. An “arm’s length” is the accepted standard, and generally speaking that works pretty well.

Next, don’t move until after each player has hit. There’s always a tendency to forget that there’s more than one player in a group with, say, Tiger Woods, in it. As soon as he hits, gallery and photographers alike want to head to the next shot, forgetting that there still may be other players in the group who haven’t hit yet.

Stay out of what’s known as the player’s “line.” If you can draw a straight line between yourself, the hole, and the player while on the putting green, you’re in the wrong place.

Maintain some situational awareness on the course. Lots of times tee boxes and putting greens are right next to each other, and the noise from your camera or your moving around while following one group can distract someone in a group nearby.  So be careful.

And finally, there’s something that I like to call “minimizing your presence.” In other words, do as little as you can to remind the golfer that you’re there, while still being able to do your work. Don’t call attention to yourself. That means, for example, that you don’t shoot during a practice swing. It also means that if a golfer is lining up a putt, it’s okay to squeeze off a frame. There’s no reason to rattle off ten in a row.

There is one rule, though, that I feel the need to separate out on its own. In fact, I think it needs its own section devoted to it.
The rule is this: Do not fire until the player has made contact with the ball.

Again, pretty simple. And as with everything, not as simple as it sounds. Which leads us to…


I’ve decided, after years of preaching until I’m blue in the face, that trying to teach photographers who don’t regularly cover golf about shooting golfers on their back-swing is akin to trying to teach teenagers about sex: we can preach abstinence all we want, but at some point we have to be realistic: it’s not going to stop anything. They’re still going to do it. So knowing that, we might as well adopt the attitude that while we’re not encouraging it, it’s best to teach them to be practical (and safe) about it.

Shooting a golfer at the top of his or her back-swing is the single most distracting thing that we as photographers can possibly do. Put aside any arguments or criticisms of how a golfer can possibly be distracted by that when a baseball player can hit a fast ball, or a basketball player can shoot a free throw, in front of thousands of screaming fans, as such arguments miss the simplest of points: Golf is a game that demands concentration and mental focus, and the expectation that the player has is for silence. A sudden, unexpected intrusion on that expectation–like, say, the sudden ear-splitting crack of a 10 fps motor drive firing away–is most unwelcome.

For us photographers, it’s also against the rules. So shut up and stop complaining.

Now, the more argumentative in the audience will point out that images abound of golfers at the top of their back-swing. And they’re right. But what they often neglect to mention (or, perhaps, realize) is that those images were shot by photographers who possessed a combination of three things: 1) Knowledge of the game and the player they were photographing; 2) Judgment (based on lots of experience) of the surrounding environment and its ability to minimize noise and distraction, and 3) the right equipment.

With that in mind, here’s the skinny on shooting on the back-swing. Don’t do it if you have a testy player who can hear a bee fart. (Colin Montgomerie and Cristie Kerr come to mind.) Don’t do it if you have to get close to a cranky caddie who possesses an overwhelming desire to protect their player. Steve Williams (Tiger Woods) and Fluff Cowan (Jim Furyk) fall into that category.

If you’re within a hundred feet of a player, don’t do it unless you have a Canon G9 or G10, and you’ve turned off all the beeps, clicks, and whistles (not to mention the flash).
If you’re more than a hundred feet away, but still close enough that the player fills the horizontal frame from head to toe with a 400, don’t do it unless the wind is blowing towards you.

If you can, activate the “silent” shutter mode. If you shoot Canon, you can. Do it.

If you can’t, then also check to see if there’s a source of strong ambient noise around to help mask the noise of your shutter: A power generator from a TV tower, a low-flying blimp overhead, a four-lane highway on the other side of the fence lining the fairway. But above all, if you have even the slightest doubt in your mind; if you think there’s even the most infinitesimal chance that you will distract the player, then DON’T DO IT. Period.

This photo of Michelle Wie was made on the 15th tee at Mission Hills Country Club,with a 400 mm lens from a distance of about 100 feet–with Bob Hope Drive (and six lanes of traffic) in Rancho Mirage, CA hard on the left side of the tee box. Tiger Woods photo shot with a totally silent Canon G9.

There. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on…

You’ll get lots of arguments on this. Some people love Canon. Some people love Nikon. Shoot with the system you’re comfortable with–the one where you know instinctively which way the shutter dial spins, what button controls your focus point, how different lenses flare in back-light, and which direction to turn the manual focusing ring. In short, use the system that lets you think less about the machine in your hands, and more about what’s in front of you.

I’m a Canon guy. For all of the amazing things a Nikon D3 can do (and there are a lot of them), there’s one thing a Canon Mark III (or II, for that matter) has that a Nikon doesn’t: The “S” setting, where the shutter doesn’t advance until you let go of the trigger button. This is a very good thing to have when covering golf.
But it’s not the be-all and end-all. If you have Nikon, that’s no reason to switch. It is, however, a reason to be a lot more careful about when you shoot on the back-swing…At the same time, Nikon has a 200-400mm lens that I would kill for–but again, I don’t think that’s a reason to switch.

Some people swear by a 500mm for their long lens. I think that’s a little too tight, and prefer to go with a 400mm. Besides, I love to shoot back-lit, so I appreciate the extra stop a 2.8 lens gives me without having to sacrifice shutter speed or a higher ISO setting.
When out on the course my kit generally consists of the following:
Canon 1D Mark III with a 400mm f 2.8 lens
Canon 5D Mark II with a 24-105mm f4 lens

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