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How to Photograph a Golf Tournament



As an Event Photographer you may well be asked to cover a golf tournament. This is

a practical guide based on my own experience of shooting a corporate sponsored golf tournament hosted by Home and Finance and held at Ulverston Golf Course in south Cumbria. I’ll cover equipment, settings, do’s and don’t’s, how to avoid easily made mistakes and how to ensure you end the day with a wide variety of interesting shots.



We'll start with an essential checklist which should make life much easier for you on the day and then discuss some of these elements in more detail.



What To Shoot


Preparation


Like most jobs, photographing a golf tournament involves preparation so I always start out with a basic checklist which usually includes the following:


1. Well before the golf tournament, talk to the client about the event’s schedule, and ask them about any particular shots they might want you to get from the day. You'll want to add these notes to your list.





2. Ensure you have a map of the course if you’re not familiar with the layout.


3. Make sure you arrive early, not only to get your bearings but to capture the first teams going out to the first tee. This is a good time to get shots of the registration table, where there’s likely to be volunteers as well as golfers around the table. You should also be able to get shots of players on the putting green.





4. Capture the clubhouse and surrounding buildings – I like to do this both at the start of the event and towards the end, which gives me a choice of different lighting (and possibly different weather conditions), and also a wider variety of golfers to photograph.





5. If this is a sponsored event you’ll want to include shots of the sponsor’s banners and other advertising. For this tournament the sponsor Home and Finance had provided golf towels embroidered with the company logo, so capturing these on the golf bags was an obvious choice of shot.





6. As well as the first tee team photos, try to capture a good selection of teams throughout the day. This once again adds variety and mixes things up from every team shot being only on the first. The obvious time to ask for these extra team shots is as the players move from the green to the next tee.






7. Capture action shots with as much variety as possible and from different angles. Try to anticipate where your next position is going to be based on where the ball lands. If the ball is in a bunker for example get yourself into a position where you can capture that next bunker shot.





8. Having done some research on the golf course, make sure you get shots of the best vantage points on the course – capturing some of the surrounding landscape is something I always like to do. Behind the Hoad monument Lakeland fells provide a spectacular backdrop to Ulverston Golf Course.





9. Try to capture smaller details beyond the typical action shots. The 18th green is a good place to capture handshakes for example, as the team complete their game.


10. Photograph the tournament or auction prizes. If you’re covering the dinner event too, you’ll want to include the dinner tables and possibly the food as it’s served.


Going in blind to photograph a golf tournament is likely to set you up with all kinds of trouble so make sure you’re well-prepared beforehand. You will already have talked to the client about any specific requirements they have. Ideally they will also provide you with a schedule of the event, tee-off times, dinner and award presentation times. Starting off with a checklist will remove some of the stress, iron out any unknowns, and should help you have a smoother and more productive day.



Equipment


What you take with you will obviously depend on what you have – I’ve read blogs that advise on taking two or three camera bodies to a golf tournament, but if like me you don’t have such options that’s really not the end of the world. So what follows is a loose guide to the kind of gear that should get you through the tournament and enable you to photograph a wide variety of shots.


Work with what you have; which may mean just positioning yourself for shots according to the lens range you have. Your own imagination and creativity are every bit as essential as the gear you're carrying.


Here's my own list of equipment from the day:


Canon R5

Canon 24-105 f4

Canon 70-200 f2.8

Canon 100-400 f5.6-8

Rocket Blower

Lens Cloth

Godox Speedlite

Spare batteries


Bring water. You're likely to walk miles during the course of a tournament so stay hydrated.


Lenses

I found I used all three lenses pretty much evenly throughout the day: the 24-105 took care of all the wider shots and many of the surrounding landscape images. The 70-200 was my go-to for capturing individual golfers while the longer telephoto reach of the 100-400 allowed me to get shots from much further away. There’s a strong argument for having a wider lens than 24mm, but I certainly managed without one. I’m not sure there was one of my lenses that stayed on more than the others so frequent lens changes became an accepted part of the day’s routine.



Settings


Settings will of course be dictated by conditions on the day (which may well be constantly changing) so you need to have a fluid approach when it comes to settings. Make sure you regularly reassess your current settings based on the lens you’re using, the lighting conditions and the type of shot you’re taking.


Aperture

When photographing groups and the surrounding landscapes I’d generally be working around f8-f11, but for all other shots I’d often be as wide open as possible, f2.8 or f4 for the main part. Wide open choices on the 100-400 are obviously are bit more limited but the principle remained the same.





Shutter Speed

For most golf shots beyond teams and landscape shots I’d recommend no less than 1/500s but ideally 1/1000s or 1/1250s. If you’re wanting to freeze the ball then you’ll need to be even higher than this at around 1/2000.


ISO

Keep your ISO as low as you can, but be mindful of changing lighting conditions, especially when you need those higher shutter speeds to freeze action.





Compositions And Shot Types


Introduce as much variety as you can, try all angles and don’t be afraid to be creative – it’s partly why you’ve been hired. Capturing the backswing is a traditional no no, but that’s largely based on the noise by a DSLR and its disturbance to the player. Mirrorless has changed that considerably. I’m going to assume that you’ve already set all beeps to silent – I see no reason to have these on, ever. It sounds obvious but put yourself in the golfer’s shoes when it comes to positioning yourself. Avoid being directly in their sightline, particularly when close up, near the pin on the green, for example.





Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try composing the same scene from different angles.


When composing remember to determine your subject. Golf courses by their very nature are comprised of often huge sweeping vistas, and with your wider angle shots in particular it's all too easy to cram too much into the picture.


Some of this will come down your personal style but I think it’s always important to stay focussed on what you’re intending to depict in the scene. It’s easy to capture a scene that's just too busy, and paring things back can make for a more compelling image. Less is very often more.





Action Shots

Although there’s a variety of different action shots to be had on the day, it’s safe to say some of the essential ones are:


The Swing

The big swing as a player drive off the tee or along the fairway. As already discussed you must make sure that when you take your shot you are not going to distract the player in any way. The classic time is at the point the golfer has completed the follow-through of the swing and watches the ball move up the fairway. But don’t be restricted to only this kind of shot – there are many other choices beyond this point and mixing it up will give you a more interesting and varied set of images.





Bunker shots

The bunker might be a challenge for a player to get themselves out from, but they offer the photographer a great amount of visual interest: from the sand that gets churned up and flies through the air to the concentration of the player’s face. A ball in a bunker is the perfect opportunity for you to plan a position that will capture the get-out shot. This is the type of scene that will usually favour a longer lens choice, so try to get as tight in as you can.





Putting

Another classic image and one of the few golf shots that gives you a relatively easy chance of capturing the player, the green and the ball all in one shot! As with anywhere else on the course, plan your position before the player lines up their shot.





The Surrounding Landscape


Images taken that include the landscape beyond the course help create a sense of setting and perspective, while also adding additional interest and variety to your images. When primarily concentrating on the players within the course it can be easy to forget this so it’s important to step away from the viewfinder and consider a broader view on a regular basis throughout the course.


Your preparation should have already provided you with the best vantage points, the highest areas and the most scenic spots. With the majesty of the Lakeland Fells as well as the beauty of the estuary alongside it would be pretty difficult not to include these scenes on this beautifully picturesque Ulverston Golf Course.





The outer surroundings will often best illustrate the unique characteristics of any course so it’s vital that you reflect these in your choice of compositions.



There's tremendous amount of scope when it comes to shot choice and what to cover on a golf tournament and I've briefly outlined some of the points I've found to be most important. There's certainly lots to think about and an almost overwhelming series of choices to be made. But as I mentioned at the start of this article, you can certainly narrow things down by being as prepared as you can beforehand.


Finally, try and enjoy the day - as well as presenting you with certain challenges photographing a golf tournament gives you a great opportunity to be creative, and will help hone your thinking and decision-making skills. It's also exciting and extremely rewarding. Good luck.


Shaun Barr is a photographer based in Ulverston, Cumbria, and as well as being a commercial and event photographer, is also a dog photographer, providing on-location photoshoots and fine art studio portraits.


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