I’ve always been a golf fan. I played my first round of golf about 20 years ago when I was 20. I slowly fell in love with the game, and soon had a small group of friends that I’d play with every weekend. We’d get up at the crack of dawn and try to get out early before the crowds, rain and heat during the Florida summers. I lived across the street from the University of South Florida golf course and practice range so I’d get home from work and go out and practice every night. I haven’t gotten to play much since having kids, but I know as soon as time frees up later in life I’ll get back into it. Anyway, not being much of a sports photographer, I’ve never really gotten out there to photograph golf though. But a couple of weeks ago a friend of mine, Mike Olivella, reached out to me to see if I wanted to shoot the 2013 Tavistock Cup in Orlando, FL at Isleworth Golf Club (with another friend of his, Steve Gustafson). It sounded like a great opportunity to try something I never had, so I jumped on board and off we went this past Monday (Mike on the left and Steve on the right).
As I mentioned, I don’t shoot sports so I’m not really equipped for it. I borrowed a Nikon D4, a Nikon 300mm f/2.8 for my main shooting rig (on a monopod). I also took my D800 with a Tamron 24-70mm lens on it as a 2nd body in case I wanted to shoot wider.
Like everything, golfers warm up too on the practice range. It’s the perfect time for photographers to warm up as well. So that’s where we went first. I was able to get a couple of good isolation shots of the players as well as some photos of them just having fun before the match started.
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Just like a wedding photographer would do at a wedding, we also shot around the clubhouse a little, getting some detail photos of the overall event.
Rule #1! – Don’t Shoot During The Swing
Since I’ve played golf for about 20 years now, I already knew one of the most important rules – don’t shoot during the swing. I can attest to the fact that noises and distractions during your swing can affect the outcome. I can only imagine, at the pro-level, how frustrating it can be. So when it comes to shooting, if you’re anywhere even close to the player, you don’t shoot during his swing. So when can you shoot? Well, here’s where it get’s tricky and challenging. You can start shooting right as the player is about to make contact with the ball. Now, if you fire just as he makes contact you get something like this photo which looks kinda “eh” since the ball is still on the tee.
But if you fire at just the right moment, then you get something more like this where the ball is coming off the club.
That’s pretty much the rule throughout the day, whether it’s a tee-shot, fairway, bunker or putting on the green. Don’t shoot until he’s made contact with the ball. I personally even like some of the finishing shots where the ball is gone and the player is watching it’s flight.
Where To Shoot From?
You can pretty much shoot from anywhere as long as you’re not interfering with the player. You’ve got to watch out for the TV camera crews too. But there were several times we’d be shooting from right in front of the player during their tee shot. A place that I’d never in a millions years stand if I were playing with my buddies, but since these guys are pros you can pretty much guarantee you’re safe.
On the tee, you can get some great shots with good expressions on both the players and the spectators (yes, I know there’s two hands protruding from Fred Couple’s head below – more on that later).
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On some holes you could get behind the tee box and shoot the player as the ball is traveling away from him.
The greens and putting is another place for some great concentration photos. I especially like these because it shows the players and just how meticulous they are about everything they do, from placing the ball to lining up the put.
Here’s Hoping For A Sand Bunker Shot
Ever go to a location, event or anything with a specific photo in mind that you’d like to get? For me, a great splashing sand bunker shot was one of those photos for golf. I don’t know why, but to me it seems like one of the most action related photos in golf. So whenever I player landed in the sand Mike, Steve and I secretly (and not so secretly) gave each other a little high-5. One of my favorite photos was to catch a swing with a big splash of sand and still have the ball in the photo.
Another nice photo is when the player is hitting out of the sand to the pin and you position yourself so you can see both the pin and the player in the photo.
And heck, I even like some of the photos where neither happened, but I still think they look cool.
Follow The Player
Another thing that Mike Olivella told me in the beginning is to follow the player even after the shot. You never know what kind of celebration (or not) that they’re going to do. Maybe a tip of the hat, wave, or even the classic Tiger Woods arm-curl celebration. In this photo, he’d just missed holing a sand bunker shot and tossed the club up in the air (more just joking around than in anger). I actually missed the toss up because I was watching the putt myself, but was able to swing back on him as the club came down.
Timing Is Everything And Even 10 Frames Per Second Isn’t Always Enough
I borrowed a D4 to shoot with since my D800 isn’t really a good sports body (although I did carry it was a 2nd camera). If you’ve ever been near the D4 on continuous shooting mode, it sounds like a machine gun. It rattles off 10 frames per second and you’d think you catch ever bit of the action. But you don’t. Here’s a great example. I caught the downswing right before he hit the ball and the very next frame he’s already coming up and the ball is gone.
That’s where the timing comes in. If you wait just a split second longer you can catch the ball in the air, and maybe even some grass behind it.
Sometimes It’s Frustrating
When it’s all said and done, one of the most frustrating things about sports photography is the lack of control. You don’t control the weather, you don’t control the crowds, you don’t control the players, refs, or anything else. I’ve seen some amazing sports photos that simply don’t make it because there’s empty bleachers behind the players (something the photographer can’t control). When it came to shooting the golf tournament, we were out there in harsh mid-day light (a time when all photographers are told not to shoot). And while there’s classes on shooting in harsh light, most of those techniques are geared around you having some control of your subjects. So you end up with harsh shadows from hats across people’s faces, squinty eyes, and as you can see here, a man signaling touchdown with his hands protruding out of Freddie’s head 😉 But that’s life. We have it in many areas of photography I suppose, but I always find sports to be some of the hardest when it comes to the uncontrollable circumstances.
My Semi-Near-Death Experience
Funny little side story. We’re standing on the 16th green waiting for the players to hit up to us and I hear this thump about 6 feet from me. Seriously, 6 feet! The ball bounced right past me and it was coming in hot! What’s even more ironic about it was the golfer who hit the ball (Bo Van Pelt) that almost hit me, was the same golfer who saw me shooting earlier in the day on the practice range and said “You know, seeing you out there, it’s so hard not to try to aim for you?”. He was joking of course, as I was standing near a bunker that I think he wanted to start hitting into. I jumped out of the way though, so that he could hit anywhere he wanted. I just thought it was funny that, later on, his ball was the one that almost hit me 🙂
The post processing work was pretty minimal. It was pretty simple white balance (barely any) and Exposure changes in the Basic panel in Lightroom. And I won’t deny that I may have had to move a golf ball to be closer to the player here and there, or remove a stray person/pole/object in the background that looked distracting. Keep in mind that if I was shooting for a journalistic outlet (which I wasn’t), I wouldn’t have been able to do anything other than some basic exposure, contrast and sharpening. But since I wasn’t, then game on! Anything is fair game.
What… no Tiger?
I’ve always been a Tiger Woods fan. I think he’s an extraordinary athlete and amazing competitor. I’ve watched him ever since he was a teen and one of the most exciting things to me about getting to shoot this tournament, was that I’d get to photograph Tiger. Sadly (for me, not him), he was busy winning first place at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, because the weather delay from Sunday caused several players to miss Tavistock on Monday. While I was bummed, he wasn’t there I still really enjoyed shooting the tournament. Plus there were still some of my other favorites there. Bubba Watson (who won the Masters in 2012) and Fred Couples who I’ve always been a fan of. Anyway, the day flew by as I learned more, adjusted, and I got more and more excited with my photos. So even though Tiger wasn’t there, I still had a great day. And there’s always next year right? 🙂
Wow! Where do I begin? First, I barely ever used my 2nd body. For starters it was frustrating because the D800 doesn’t have the frames per second that the D4 does. So I missed a lot of action with it. Plus, I just wasn’t “feeling” the wide stuff. So I didn’t push it. If I wasn’t feeling it, I figured I’d stick with the tighter shots that I was happy with. So, I basically carried the 2nd body, a backpack with another lens, battery, extra cards and bottle of water all day. I never went into the backpack, as I found water when I needed it and never need the extra cards. lens or battery. So next time I would consider leaving it behind and just bringing the 2nd body (which again, I barely used).
Also, if I had it to do over again I would have borrowed a 200-400mm f/4 lens, instead of the 300mm f/2.8. I shot most of the day with the 300mm and a 1.4 teleconverter on which took the f/2.8 lens to f/4. So why not have just shot the 200-400mm f/4 lens instead and had more flexibility. Dumb mistake on my part, because I often found that 300mm was too tight (I actually took the 1.4 converter off on the back nine), but the 2nd body at 24-70mm was too wide.
Thanks for stopping by today and a huge thanks to Mike and Steve for an awesome day. Have a good one!
Matt, I don’t live far from PGA National and received free tickets for the Honda Classsic. Brought my Canon gear to take shots and guess what….no cameras AND no cell phones! I was very disappointed and at the same time irate that they would do that although I do understand why! How does one get to bring camera gear without working for a professional journal ?
Honestly Paul, I don’t know how to get a camera in without actually having some sort of official shooting pass. Unfortunately it’s that way in a lot of sports too. You can only bring a camera with a small lens into a football game – nothing large enough to get great shots though. Sorry.
Nice job Matt.
Sports photography can be frustrating for all the reasons you have described. You definitely have minimal control over the subject or the backgrounds. I’ve never shot pro golf but I’d bet it is pretty intimidating. I’ve seen more than a few pros completely go off on the hapless photographers and was glad it wasn’t me out there.
I also think golf would be difficult to enjoy shooting because it is almost impossible to give the shots any context. Unless they’re at the familiar Augusta National or on the greens where fans can be seen in the background, it all tends to be rather emotionless. I’ve seen a round of PGA golf live and felt the same thing. It makes you really appreciate what a wonderful job all the networks do with their broadcasts.
I totally agree Jay. It’s a very emotionless sport. You have to be a golfer to really appreciate most golf photos. You may get that emotional celebration after a great shot, but thats about it. There’s just no action that most non-golfers would appreciate. That’s why I was always happy when they went into the sand. To me, that was about as action-packed of a golf photo as you can get 🙂
Great shots, Matt! I was anxious to see how the Tamron 24-70 worked in this environment (with the auto-focus taking a few seconds longer) but I see that you did not use it much. I’ll keep looking for your tests of this lens.
Anyway, I love the one where you’re behind the tee and the ball is heading straight down the fairway.
Hey Danielle – Thanks 🙂
I suspect it would have worked fine. Golf doesn’t have action and play moving around. You pretty much lock on to the player and you’re good. I don’t shoot much sports, so the 24-70 works great for me.
Matt, pardon my ignorance but rather than using a teleconverter could you have used one of the crop factors that the D4 camera offers, 1.2x or the 1.5x and still had the availability of f/2.8 that the 300mm lens offers? I’ve been strugling with trying to decide between purchasing a 300mm f/2.8 or the 200-400mm f/4. I would like to have the availability of the faster lens but at the same time I want the flexibility of a zoom.
Nice shots Matt – with sports you’ve got to get in tight and from as low as possible – watch the Getty sports shooters – all VERY low.
I went to B&H convinced I needed a 400 f2.8, but ended up buying the 200-400 f4 thanks to bad weather outside which kept us in the store – almost don’t need a 2nd body with a 70-200 with this lens. Joe MacNally says it’s the best super tele.
Here’s a shot of the winning try in a Super 15 rugby match in Perth, Australia on Saturday evening with this lens @ 250mm f4 1/1250 (2800 ISO)
Awesome photo Johan!!!
I may get flamed for this, but, IMO, for the money pros make they should
be able to play golf with thousands of screaming fans all around like
most other athletes do. I can’t see that it takes any more concentration
to hit that ball than it does to hit a fastball or sink a free throw or
put the puck in the top corner of the net, or, or…..
Sounds like you’ve never played much golf 😉
Nice article. Going to photograph my son when he plays in the Morgan Cup in July at Myrtle Beach.
Awesome! Have fun!
Great post full of great information … thanks for sharing
Matt, did you consider using a mirrorless camera to eliminate the shutter sounds? I know the Nikon 1 series are silent – they aren’t as great with regards to DOF/ISO/etc, but it’s silent and ridiculously fast. I’d imagine the Sony NEX series is very similar.
I didn’t but my buddy did. Will have to check out his pics. I don’t shoot this stuff enough so it’s not worth it to me.
Beau, I shot with a mirrorless and had a great experience with it… first time shooting with it, so there was a learning curve, but as far as being able to shoot silent… awesome. I will be writing about it on my blog in the next day or two over at petecollins.com (shameless plug) D:
Beau, I shot with a Nikon mirrorless for the first time at this tourney and was very pleased with it. I will be doing a write up on it in a day or two on my blog at petecollins.com (shameless plug). 😀
Really appreciate all the great tips and insights. Well written, felt like i was right there with you. Thinking of getting a monopod, which one would you recommend with or without a head? Me, I thought of the RSS version, or Manfrotto 685B Neotec. Thanks
I used an oben from BH. I have to say I can’t tell the difference between any of them so I recommend an inexpensive one.
I have the Manfrotto 685B which is really quick to adjust the length etc. However, it doesn’t fit into my ThinkTank Airport Security roller bag AND I find at its shortest length, it’s too tall to sit flat on the ground – I have to kneel. Been watching the Getty Images photographers – they sit 6-18 inches lower than anybody else
Matt, I was really anxious to see your images after spending a most enjoyable day with you on the course. With your amazing talent for photography, I knew you would adapt to golf photography quickly and add your landscape photography “eye” to the shoot. As expected, you did not disappoint – your action images are dead on and your “artsy fartsy” (my term for pageantry) are gorgeous. Hopefully we can do it again next year and Tiger won’t be otherwise indisposed. Ask Pete what it was like trying to follow his group yesterday….
Thanks Mike! I had a blast!!
Matt you did a Fantastic job for your first time out! Thanks for all the detail of each shot, and like you I dig the sand shots! 🙂 Thanks for the camera tips also! My Granddaughter is an Ice Skater (and pretty darn good) so I really enjoyed this blog today! I think I’ll try to rent a 200-400mm when she competes in Sun Valley this summer.
Great Photo my Man!
Love the golf shots (no pun intentended). I’m currently saving for the Nikon D4.. I currently have a Nikon D60 – so yeah, can’t wait for that one!