Monday, April 1, 2013

Photographing Golf At The 2013 Tavistock Cup

R to L, my buddy Steve Gustafson, me & Pete Collins (Kelby Media's Photoshop Guy and my credentialed guest on Tuesday) at the 2013 Tavistock Cup. Not sure who took this cell phone photo of us.

As a sports photographer, one of the sports I shoot is golf. As with any type of photography or sport, each genre has its ins & outs, nuances and idiosyncrasies that aren't necessarily difficult to grasp - you just have to be aware of them before you head out to shoot your first  time.

A few years ago, I took a Flip video camera with me to the Tavistock Cup in Orlando, Florida since I wanted to do a Blog post on shooting golf. I thought a video would provide a better visual idea of photographing golf for those who have never done so. I posted the video on my YouTube channel and in the video I covered many of the basics, including equipment and shooting positions. Feel free to take a peek at the video before reading on.

The Tavistock Cup is a two-day PGA sanctioned event that I have been photographing for several years and it's one of my photography highlights of the year. One of the things I enjoy most about Tavistock is how laid back  everything and everyone is. Players are much more relaxed than at your typical PGA event as in reality Tavistock is more an exhibition than a competition. Sure there are teams, pride, and even financial reward for playing well - over $2.1 Million in total purse,  each player on the winning team takes home a cool $125,000, $100,000 for each 2nd place team member, no less than $50,000 for the worst finishing team member, and the low medalist on the 2nd day scores  $100,000. But it's primarily a chance for the players to tune their games up before the Masters while playing with a star studded group of 24 players. Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell, Adam Scott, Tim Clark, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Freddie Couples and Bubba Watson, to name a few, took part this year. Collectively, the field racked up over 1,000 worldwide tournament wins and 67 Majors through 2012. That's serious company. 

The event is televised live by The Golf Channel and gracing the course on both of the days are golf's most irreverent commentators, David Feherty and Gary McCord. What a duo. If you had a chance to view the video above, you get a flavor for what these two are like, but  the video doesn't begin to do them justice.

On Monday, while waiting for the first group to arrive on the 1st tee box, I asked Feherty and McCord to pose for me in a way that would be "memorable". McCord immediately got this gleam in his eye and he whispered something to Feherty. Before I knew it, they headed over to the giant bronze statue of the Wall Street bull that sits between the 1st and 10th tee box. McCord told me to stand to the side and he positioned himself so that from this vantage point it would look to me like his head was ... well ... inside the bull's rear end. Feherty then ran behind him and pretended to extract McCord from the bull's rear end. Can you imagine how this would play at Augusta?

Matt Kloskowski, the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet, an incredible photographer and a member of the Kelby Media team (my credentialed guest on Monday), and me. Photo by Steve Gustafson.

How I Shoot Golf

But enough of this background stuff. Let's talk about actually shooting golf. Check out the image above - I've got one of my Nikon D3S's on my favorite daytime, long sports lens, a Nikon 200mm-400mm f4 on a monopod. I own and often use a 400mm f2.8 lens for sports but for golf, I much prefer to go with the 200-400mm. Golf is shot in plenty of light so I don't need the speed of an f2.8 lens and the 200-400mm is significantly lighter than the 400mm f2.8. That's important when you have to walk/run/sprint over 6-7 miles of golf course during the day while carrying your equipment. 
Photo by Matt Klowskowski

I always carry a 2nd camera body strapped on with my Black Rapid 2-camera strap. In the photo above I have a D3S with a Sigma 15mm f2.8 fisheye on the strap as I was shooting some artsy fartsy type stuff before the players arrived on the tee. Before heading out on the course, I switched to my D300 and an 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 lens (as shown in the photo on the right) for my second camera body/lens combo. For a long time, I lugged my 80-200mm f2.8 on a second camera body when shooting golf but I switched to this setup a while back for two reasons: 1) the 18-200mm is way lighter and smaller than the 80-200mm lens; 2) it covers the same focal range; and 3) it's greater focal range avoids the necessity of lugging my 35-70mm f2.8 and my 17-35mm f2.8 around the course. Knowing that I'm going to walk/run/sprint over 6 miles in a day, I'll take the lens' slower focusing ability and speed over carrying three  significantly heavier lenses any day. For occasional use I do take the 15mm f2.8 with me.

On Monday (Day 1), the weather was expected to range up to 72 degrees so I opted to wear shorts and my Think Tank belt/pouches. the fisheye went into one of the belt pouches and snacks/water went into the other pouches. On Tuesday, the weather report called for windy, much cooler temperatures, but I knew that as I had checked the long range weather report before driving down to Orlando and packed accordingly. I wore pants, a windbreaker over my shirt and a photo vest in lieu of the belt/pouches. Everything I had in the pouches went into the vest with all of its pockets and I was comfy. A Gilley hat was the final piece of gear which prevented my face from getting sunburned. I hate wearing sunblock as that creamy stuff usually gets all over camera bodies and lenses but that's me. I'm Cuban so I was born with genetic sun tolerance.

Wide Angle Images

I mentioned fisheye artsy fartsy imagery earlier. Here's an example of something at which the fisheye really shines as it turns a somewhat ordinary scene into a much more interesting one.

But the 18-200mm is no slouch when it comes to supplementing tight action shots with pageantry, artsy fartsy or just solid wide angle images. On at least one or two holes, I will position myself behind the player and shoot from behind with a wide angle lens, sometimes at a slight angle to the player and sometimes directly behind him.  These vantage points produce something different from the typical out-in-front stuff and  I believe such shots add variety to the collection of images I turn in. I may sit on the ground and shoot up (1st image) or stand/kneel (2nd image), but given the proximity to the players I wait until they have hit their shot to fire the shutter. Don't be fooled by the images on the left.  As with rear view mirrors, objects are much closer than they appear when using a wide angle lens, so you MUST be careful not to fire the shutter until after the players have hit the ball - unless of course you dream about being yelled at by the golfer or his caddy. If you don't believe me, fire your shutter during Robert Allenby's or Bubba Watson's backswing one time. I've seen them humiliate photographers to the point of tears.

Other uses for the wide angle set up are shown above which gives viewers a feel for the ambiance the players confront while playing.

Tight Action Images
For me it wouldn't be golf photography without some tight action shots. My goal is to capture the golfer's face and the ball in the frame and it's all a matter of timing. Fire the shutter too soon and the club head hasn't made contact with the ball which to me is a blah image. Fire too late and the ball is long gone, even at 11 frames/second. Sometimes it takes a hole or two to get into a rhythm but after a bit you find that rhythm and you get a feel for just when to shoot.

I generally position myself on the opposite side of the player's hand dominance so that as he  swings his face will be visible. For right handed golfers that means positioning myself on the player's left side, the opposite for lefties. This rule of thumb also applies in a general sense for putting images but as you will see below you can vary from this rule of thumb.

The "Pose"
I refer to the shots below as "pose" shots - images that depict the golfer as they freeze at the very end of their swing and watch the ball's flight. They're the easiest of all the shots to capture but are a great addition to an image set.

The pose can be photographed many ways as shown here. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

The Face After Impact
Hand in hand with the tight action and pose images are what call the "face after impact" shots. These shots 
freeze that moment in time when a player has made contact with the ball and is exerting maximum effort. Maybe it's just me but I believe the facial expressions that follow impact make great images.

Bunker Shots

Hands down, these golf shots are just this side of Elvis cool. I mean what's not to like? The ball is typically easy to capture in the frame as it doesn't travel as fast a tee shot or a fairway approach shot,  the cloud of sand  adds drama and action to an image, and you have many options when it comes to composition. I would be lying if I didn't admit that any time a player hits an approach shot to a green I am rooting for a big splash in the sand. As soon as I see that, I boogey for position while thinking through the kind of image I hope to get.

Usually I prefer to position myself so the bunker shot is being hit almost directly at me but bunker images can also look pretty sweet when shot from the side and the sun highlights the sand as in the 1st image above. I try to vary focal lengths as the day progresses for the sake of variety, shooting tight, medium and wide. After all, isn't variety the spice of life?

On The Green
There are various images you can shoot once the players finally make it to the green. Players placing their ball on their ball marker, reading the green (alone or with their caddy), and actually putting are just some of the many things you can shoot. If you're lucky you might even happen to catch Tiger smiling while preparing to putt.

Celebration & Art
To finish up, I would be remiss if I didn't mention some other things I look for during a tournament. At the end of the day, the obligatory trophy presentation shots are a must. These are usually straight forward grip & grin type shots but they're part of the gig.

Every now and then you get lucky as I did after Webb Simpson received the silver platter for being low medalist Tuesday (aka The Payne Stewart salver). While all of us photographers were busy scurrying around to get shots of the Albany team and the Tavistock Cup trophy, Simpson walked over to the gallery to find his wife and kids. I got my shots of the Albany team quick as a bunny and was about to head to the media trailer when I saw Simpson walking towards the green with his salver and family in tow and a huge smile on his face. The wind was blowing his wife's and kids' hair, just a perfect Kodak moment no one seemed to notice. Thankfully, I had the good sense to lock and load and got what I think is one of my best images of the day (below).

As for art shots, well they're all over the golf course. You can even create a pretty cool art shot of something as mundane as a trophy presentation by experimenting with focal lengths like I did in shooting the Payne Stewart salver up close and personal (below).

If you'd like to see more of my images from Tavistock, head over to my Google+ page. Also, check out Matt Kloskowski's blog post as well as the one by Pete Collins, both of whom memorialized their day of shooting golf. Stay thirsty, my friends.

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