How to Photograph a Golf Tournament


Julie Whelan Photography recently had the pleasure of photographing a golf tournament for Just4kics. We had a lot of fun with it, and I learned a few things along the way. There are a few strategies, and some equipment that will prove useful on the course. Because there is a lot of information to cover, I’ll break the day down into the two P’s: Preparation and Photography.

Preparation

Preparation is the key to photographing any event. The more preparation you do, the more comfortable and productive you’ll be at the event. Here’s a few things that I managed to remember and some that I totally forgot:

Prepare a shot list

It is imperative to be clear on the final product you’re producing for your client. Sit down with your client and create a shot list of the images that are important to them. That way the client will be happy when you produce the photographs of the golf tournament they are expecting and anything you add to it will seem like a bonus. Some clients will know exactly what they want while others might need more guidance. Be prepared with a few ideas of your own to inspire the client.

Know the Course

When you arrive, get a lay of the land. Get a map of the course if the club has one and find out which course the tournament will be held on. Often golf and country clubs offer courses with varying degrees of difficulty within the same club. For example, the Lionhead Golf & Country Club offers two courses: Legends (difficult) and Masters (less demanding).

Schedule

Get a copy of the schedule if you can. What time is tee off? When does the dinner start? When are the awards being presented? It is so easy to miss shots at a golf tournament because you weren’t at the right place at the right time. Be there and be ready. It shows the client you’re on the ball and it gives you a little piece of mind as well.

Dress Appropriately

Photographing a golf tournament calls for a few changes in wardrobe. Wear something light during the day to photograph in so you don’t over heat. Golf clubs have dress codes to adhere to so it’s best if you’re dressing similar to the golfers. A Polo shirt with khaki pants was most common on the course the day we photographed the golf tournament. That being said, one should never be afraid to colour outside the lines like these characters:

Cocktail hour and dinner at a golf tournament tends to be a little more formal. It’s a good idea to come prepared with clothes you might wear to photograph a wedding like dress pants and a nice top.

Equipment

As an event photographer, you have to be prepared with the proper equipment to photograph an array of different scenarios. I brought my regular kit which consists of:

Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 24-105mm f4
Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 (with adjustment dock)
Nikon SB910 (from my Nikon days–still works on the 5D)
Gary Fong diffuser
Manfrotto monopod
AA batteries
Extra camera battery and charger
Plenty of memory cards
Lots of business cards

Photography

Now for the fun part! You’re all prepared and ready to enjoy your day of capturing all the shenanigans. To make your time on the course run smoothly, keep in mind these helpful tips:

Be Quiet

The most important need to know for any rookie golf photographer: be quiet! The 2nd Annual Just4kics Classic was a pretty laid back event as it was meant to be fun for charity. That being said, there are still golfers who take their game seriously. Do them a favour, turn the beeps off on your camera. It helps using the 300mm lens to be a bit farther away, but it’s still best to try to make your camera as silent as possible. Most golf photographers will tell you that the proper time to photograph a swing is when the club is up in the air above the golfers head, never in the prep time before the swing or on the back swing. Take note of the people on the course around you and be quiet when they are quiet.

There’s an option on the 5D Mark III called Silent Mode Continuous which will help when photographing a full golf swing. Beware, this will bring your fps down from 6fps to 3fps, but for the amount of images we needed to put up on the website, we were happy with three frames per swing.

Settings

Aperture – f2.8
Shutter – 1/1250
ISO – 100

When photographing any sport, I like to use a shallow depth of field like f2.8, to separate the subject from the background. To freeze the action I use a fast shutter speed, like 1/1000 or higher. I was toggling between 1/1000 and 1/1250 for most of the day and upon looking at my images afterward I wished I would have bumped up my ISO to 200 to get 1/1600 to 1/2000. The reason for this is the speed at which the ball travels. A shutter speed of 1/1250 was not a fast enough to freeze the ball completely in the images in which it moved left to right.

 Angles

Choosing an angle for each shot was a lot of fun. Keeping in mind not to disturb the golfer, try moving around the green to see what works and what doesn’t. At the beginning of the day, I was trying to get an angle that I could see the golfer’s face and capture their swing all at the same time. As the day progressed we started to try new things like standing behind the golfer to capture the ball in the air as well.

Gerald, my PIC, had the neat idea to get people to swing toward me and not actually hit the ball. There’s also an opportunity to get in front of a golfer while they putt. Once again, we were able to have some fun with the golfers on the course that day because the game was meant to raise money for charity. Feel out the golfers you’re photographing before interrupting their game or distracting them.

Photograph the Details

After going over the shot list with the client, you’ll probably discover it’s not just action golf photography they’re looking for. Often if the client is an organization, they will want images that feature their brand. This is a great opportunity to try something new. Like getting low and photographing a ‘hole in one’ or using selective focus to capture a team trying to find their ball.

Be Creative

Sometimes with photography jobs it’s easy to get bogged down with all the responsibilities. Making sure your settings are right, the stresses of equipment malfunction, getting all the images on the shot list, etc. It’s easy to race through the day making sure you’ve done everything right. Advice I always tend to give is to have fun with it. Don’t just do the same shot over and over again. Try new things. Zoom into somebody’s face. Photograph the moments behind the golfer. Capture people being silly. Have fun and watch how your photo stories and assignments come to life.


About Julie Whelan

Julie Whelan, professional photographer of over fifteen years, has had the opportunity to shoot all over the globe--from capturing portraits in Vanuatu to shooting off rooftops in Maui to photographing products in Calgary. She now finds herself in Ontario photographing outdoor adventures and the active lifestyles of athletic individuals and athletes in competition & training. Julie has also worked with professional athletes such as Don Cherry, Darryl Sittler, and Roberto Alomar. When not behind the lens, Julie likes to unwind with a good book or spending time in the garden.

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