Friday, March 9, 2012

Photographing a golf tournament: Proper camera settings, composition and ideas

If you are a regular blog reader here, you know that I have photographed many different sports over the years, but until yesterday I had never actually photographed golf. You would think that, living in California where we have year-round golf, that I would have done this already, but nope. Not until yesterday.

My son recently added golf to his list of school sports, and he and the team asked me to come out and shoot images of them at a local tournament. I decided that this would be another great chance to break out the new Sigma 120-300mm 2.8 lens and put it through it's paces.

Here is what I brought with me on the course:

Canon 1D Mark IV (it really helped to burst at 10 frames a second to capture all aspects of their golf swing)
Sigma 120-300mm 2.8 lens (although a 70-200 would have worked as well)
Gitzo GM5561T monopod (since I wasn't about to handhold the big Sigma lens for 3 hours)
Lexar 128GB 1000x CF card (more than I needed...but what the heck!)
LowePro ProRunner 350AW bag

I also brought a Canon 5D Mark II and a 24-70 lens but never ended up using those.

After arranging a golf cart (which I really needed to follow 3 different teams throughout the 9 holes), I was off and shooting.

I shot most of the images with the lens wide open at f2.8 to separate the golfers from the background. It was nice having the 300mm reach so that I could stand back and still get nice tight shots of them.

Like any good photography, your foreground and backgrounds are important. In the image above, I wanted to show the golfer in the background but include some of the birds that were on the course in the foreground.

Most people would shoot images of the golfers from the front, but I thought that it would be interesting to include a shot from behind them. I did this on this hole for two reasons:

1. I liked the straight fairway with the trees and blue sky in the background.
2. The late day sunlight was coming from behind them and it would not have been a good shot from the front. 

I did my best to include shots of the kids, teeing off, hitting from the fairway, and using their putters on the green.

As you can see from this image, the sun was very low in the sky and shining right into their faces as they teed off from the 7th hole. This made it difficult for them to spot the ball, but I was happy to have this golden light. And hey, it is all about the photographer, right?

I really wanted to get some shot of the kids hitting out of the sand traps, to get that shot with the sand spraying all over. I positioned myself in front of my son to get this shot. Not as much sand as I was hoping, but hey, it was a really nice shot that put him on the green. (Photographer's note: most of my "picks" were images which include the golf ball in the shot. This helps tell the story, just like including the puck in hockey images and the ball in football or baseball.)

Going back to the foreground and background topic, I positioned myself with the flag in between myself and the golfer so that the viewer would know what was happening. If I did not include the flag, you would not know that he was chipping onto the green.

Most of the images that I took were centered in the frame, but I know better than to do this in every shot. I knew that Connor was putting up this hill, so I focused on him (fixed focus - not servo) and then repositioned the camera to have him far to the right of the frame. I then waited for the ball to move to the left of the frame and shot this image.

I had a challenge with the first pair since my son is left handed and his partner is right handed. This meant that whichever side I shot from, I would have the back side of one of them.

Waiting is part of the game too...

I saw that the golfer was going to hit from behind this sand trap, so I got low to the ground and shot this photo, just showing his upper torso with his club high and the grass flying.

Finally, towards the end of the day, I got my shot of the sand flying from the sand trap. I know that he was not happy being in the sand trap, but I was happy to get my shot. :)

A photo of the short game of golf.

These last two shots were tough since the sun had already set. You can't tell from these shots, but it was actually pretty dark. I had to crank up the ISO of the camera to 2000 and brighten these in Photoshop.

And then, as I was driving the golf cart to the last hole, I turned to my left and saw something coming over the hills in the distance. I thought to myself "Is that the moon?" and sure enough, it was.

I was so blown away with this opportunity that I waited a couple of minutes for the moon to rise over the hills and shot this image. Even though I was there to shoot golf, this was one of my favorite images of the day. I love the composition of this image, with the moon not completely above the hills, framed by the trees, and with some of the golf course in the foreground. If you look closely, you can even see a couple of the golfers in the distance. (Photographer's note: Since I did not have a tripod with me, I had to shoot this on my monopod. I set the ISO to 500, f/stop to 2.8 and then stopped down to -2 in exposure compensation to keep the moon from blowing out. I knew that this would darken everything else, but I also knew that I could brighten up the trees and grass in post production.)


Lower Back Pain Relief said...

In photography is really difficult to shoot. There are things to be consider. I like the photos you had shared to us, it was perfectly shot and it was good. Good job!

JDMalavce said...

Thanks for posting your blog about photographing golf. I just started shooting golf as well. I have been fortunate to gain access to a couple of European PGA tournaments here in Spain. Lucky indeed, but I think that I jumped into a tank of sharks by going this route. It was sort of like jumping into the big leagues without ever playing pee wee ball. I took it in stride. Golf is a great sport to shoot in my opinion. The photos we create promote the action and emotion that exists in golf. You did a great job on your first shoot. If you ever have a chance, stop by and check out my first golf outing @ I think they came out pretty good.


JD Malavce

Unknown said...

Great article Jeff. I am photographing the 2015 Saluki Invitational Women's Golf tourney this coming weekend.

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Cliiford said...

Hey there! It's great to see you trying out something new and exciting like photographing golf. Living in California with year-round golf opportunities, it's a fantastic choice! It's even more special when your son and his team asked you to capture their Vegas Golf Game at a local tournament. The Sigma 120-300mm 2.8 lens sounds like the perfect companion for the task. Have a fantastic time capturing those unforgettable moments on the green!