One of the main criticisms of golf is the time it takes to play a round.
A lot could be accomplished off the golf course in those four or more hours. You could clean the house, mow the lawn or organize your garage in that span of time, or you could watch an entire Peter Jackson movie.
I share your concerns about the time spent on the course. But if I could make one simple suggestion to make the day feel more accomplished and have your round seem more complete, may I suggest using your camera on the course?
Depending on where I am in the world, I’ve been known to bring my SLR (single lens reflex) camera with me on the course to capture the essence of the course the way I see it — from a golfer’s point of view. Like most of you, I own my share of golf calendars and books full of lush, green photos of faraway golf destinations. But these beautiful photos are typically from a bird’s eye view, capturing a perspective of the course that a player typically doesn’t have access to.
We have been spoiled to appreciate the beautiful landscapes of these golf courses by these professional photos and the amazing TV coverage from cranes and the MetLife blimp. But often times the beauty of the golf course is how the players see it, at eye level staring down at the pin 100 yards away. If I can provide you some tips for taking great photos on the course quickly and easily, I would argue that most of you would be able to produce your own album of golf photos that others would enviably say, “Wow! Where is this?”
But before I get into it a bit more, I want to add a caveat by pointing out that I’m not encouraging you to spend time walking the course and looking for the right photo opportunity. I’m sure you can imagine someone wandering off the fairway when they should be playing ready golf and I’m sure you can feel the frustration as you look at your partners asking:
“Would you look at this clown? What is he doing?”
Great photographs take time to compose, whether it is the right light, the right moment or the way the wind is blowing. That is what a lot of professional photographers are doing when taking the photos you see in books, and chances are they are not playing the course nor have a group of four behind them waiting (sometimes impatiently) to take your golf shot. Please use these five tips when the time is right and when you are not contributing to slow play on the golf course. If you are able to remember some of these tips while walking or riding the course, you should be able to take a quick photo in stride and not affect your speed of play. Besides, I don’t want the golf community to be angry with me for encouraging you to wander around the course like a tourist…or a clown.
Tip# 1: The best camera you have is the one you have available
There is nothing worse for a photographer like being unprepared for a photo opportunity and having to fidget around with controls, setting and lenses to ensure they get the right shot. That takes up time and annoys even a photographer like myself. Mobile phones have come a long way and are adequately equipped to take excellent photos, just as good as a point and shoot camera and some SLR’s. And because most everyone carries a smartphone nowadays, it is already with you and ready at the hip to take a quick shot. The photo above was taken using my iPhone — no special lighting, filters or lenses. I couldn’t miss this opportunity and grabbed the most available camera I had on hand. If convenient, and you were able to bring a camera bag with you, I would recommend taking an SLR camera with a wide angle lens as well, but typically the camera on your phone will be able to capture interesting and memorable photos if you are able to see things differently, which leads me to…
Tip #2: See the course differently
What separates an amateur photographer from a working professional is the ability to see the everyday in a different way. Now that might be a mind blowing concept for someone who doesn’t take photos very often, but I am talking to golfers and I know for a fact that golfers have an innate ability to visualize – whether it is seeing how the ball will draw/fade, how to manage the swirling breeze that just kicked up or reading a 60-foot putt that appears to have a double break and two elevation changes. That ability to visualize and see things differently is exactly what a photographer does before they take the shot. No one likes a “spray and pray” golfer — same goes for photographers.
For example, it is very common to take a photo at eye level standing up. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but you can make things a bit different and interesting if you were to see the course and the image differently. Maybe stand behind your ball and give it a dramatic view by taking a photo on the ground. The ball is the focal point, but the essence of the photo is still the backdrop of the hole, keeping the viewer well tuned that this is a golf photo on a real golf course. Think about an ant’s eye view rather than the bird’s eye view we are all accustomed to seeing.
Another example would be to take photos of the interesting lies you left yourself with. Maybe you are off the fairway in the woods and there is a small bit of daylight that lets you see the pin a few hundred yards away. Take that image as if you were setting up for the shot, with the ball in the frame and the pin a sliver of color and it gives the viewer a sense of the challenge you faced. Perhaps you ended up dropping the ball in the fairway, but at least the image shows the difficulty level of the shot. And you can always lie about how you punched the shot through the branches and landed it within 10 feet to save par. Bring the viewer to the course the way you saw it and the unconventional suddenly becomes interesting.
Tip #3: Use a focal point
The reason why golf courses design a “signature hole” is to create a focal point, a chosen hole that makes the course interesting and sets it apart from other golf courses in the world. They will use images of the signature hole for promotional purposes to frame and speak to the beauty of their golf course symbolized by this one hole.
You don’t necessarily have to wait for the signature hole to take photos though. The course itself has many features that make it different from others, and it is those features that can make a photo stand out. In Arizona, you can use the cacti or the visible division of fairway versus off-fairway details of desert golf to bring interest to the photo. In Orlando, the use of palm trees to line a golf hole makes it certain that this wasn’t a hole in Canada. In Alberta, many holes are framed by evergreen trees and the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, something you would never see in Orlando. Include some golf details where possible to remind yourself that these amazing sights were taken on a golf course.
Other easy examples of focal points to compose interesting images are right in your bag. The reflection of your driver head can be used to capture your foursome and if you are really adventurous, you can hold the driver up off the ground and squeeze in the landscape into the photograph as well. This can be done at the tee box and wouldn’t take much time at all.
Tip#4: It’s all about light
Ask any professional photographer and they will tell you that the secret to taking great photographs of anything is light. Light is what enables us to see an image, and the use of light will determine the mood of a photo. Take a look at the professional golf photos in those calendars and books – you know what you will see? Almost all of them were taken at sunrise or sunset. During those two times of the day, we are given the best natural light for any photos. It is why many of us have a sunset/sunrise photo or two in our collection, we all know it is the most beautiful a sky can get.
So for the early morning golfer and the after work dusk golfer, you are in luck because most any photo you take during these times of the day will turn out really nice (light wise, composition is still up to you). The softness of the sun will always highlight objects and scenery with a pleasant warm glow that will certainly make you look like you knew what you were doing. Though the convention is to never shoot into the sun, it is during this time where you should experiment with it and allow yourself the opportunity to get the sun’s effect on the clouds and how it illuminates the sky with dazzling color.
For the other unfortunate souls who have to deal with midday light, I got nothing for you. Sorry.
Just kidding. In midday light, you will have good results when you have the sun slightly behind you or to the side. Even better is a partially cloudy day when the sun is hidden and the shade provides the best midday light possible. Without getting too technical, shaded light enables you to capture highlights, mid tones and shadows in the image which in turn provides dimension and avoids the appearance of a “flat looking photograph.” Photos at sunrise and sunset are successful because of the dramatic tones and transitions from light to shadow, allowing you to see the undulations of the fairway and greens and giving a sense of depth and dimension.
Tip#5: Take non-golf photos too
This one might take a little convincing, but if you were to enjoy the golf course as a chance to be outdoors and not just an activity where you drink and bet dinners with your friends, you will likely find it is no different than going for a nice walk or hike (just with a few tossed clubs and four letter words thrown in). And when people go for a nice walk or hike, they will take the time to see the flowers or the birds and really immerse themselves into the nature of their surroundings.
If you have a chance, don’t hesitate to take a quick snapshot of the eagle perched on the top of a tree or the flowers that greet you at the tee box. Unlike nature, golf courses are well manicured and taken care of so the flora you come across may seem too perfect. That is a perfect chance to get that image because like a food photo from a magazine, the staging is already done for you and all you need to do is take the photo.
Similar to Tip #3, use your surroundings to remind yourself that you aren’t in your own backyard. Take photos of the interesting features that you don’t see very often at home. I’m personally fascinated by architecture and have enjoyed seeing some of the amazing mid-century modern homes from the 50’s and 60’s that lined many fairways in Palm Springs. These are homes that I only get to see in magazines, and being able to see it in person was thrilling and almost transported me back in time until I had to pull out my 2012-model driver.
Taking photographs during your round is arguably a good way to multitask and can help you feel as though you’ve achieved a lot more than just golf in four hours (and it’s way better than sending work emails). As long as you are able to take the photos within the flow of the game and not slow down the pace of your foursome, you will be rewarded with some great images to share and look back on. It can also tame the frustrations of a challenging 18 hole ordeal — maybe your score didn’t prove it, but at least your photos can provide evidence that it was in fact a beautiful day.