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Golf Course Photography
by Aidan Bradley

The Art of Golf Course Photography

My name is Aidan Bradley, I am a golf course photographer. Originally born and educated in Cork, Ireland, I presently reside in Santa Barbara, Calif., from where I travel to golf courses far and wide. I have been photographing golf courses exclusively for the past 25 years and I am a regular contributor to golf magazines, ad campaigns, books, and marketing materials for various layouts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Definitions of what makes a good photograph are as varied as the personalities who offer up such advice. For me the rule is very simple: Does the image stop me long enough to take a second glance or spend a few seconds reading the accompanying copy? If so, the creator has succeeded.

So how do you create such an image? It always helps if you start with something that is easy on the eye. In golf courses you have nature's very own palette with which to play. However, the secret missing ingredient is "light" and more importantly, the quality of that light. Without light you are merely documenting; with light you are creating. Early morning and late-evening light are your friends. Soft warm light is more appealing than the harsh realities of the mid-day sun. The former also helps to illustrate the undulations, shapes and textures of the course.
A very important question to ask is: "What is the purpose of this photograph?" If it is merely to document, then go ahead and point and shoot. The same applies if you wish to illustrate a certain feature of the design. However, if you want to create an image to hang over your fireplace, include in your marketing materials or submit to a magazine representing your product or facility, simple, hire a professional. However, if you don't wish to help send my kids to college I have a few more ideas that may help you.

A good golf course photograph should be like a journey and you get to tell the story. There should be a beginning, middle and end. Let's start at the end. What's the goal of the game? To put the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes. What do we use to help golfers find the hole? A flag. The flag represents the end of the journey. Rule No. 1: the flag should always be illuminated as it is the punctuation mark on the photograph. The beginning of the experience can be the tee box or 150 yards out or wherever you choose just as long as there is balance in your image. I try to incorporate as many elements in the image as possible without creating a busy scene.

Remember, it's just a walk to the flag and you get to choose how involved or how simple that stroll can be. But always try and make it inviting. With regards to equipment, just use what you are comfortable with. Analog, digital, it does not matter. Having different lenses gives you a choice in the perspective you can create in your images. The bigger the negative/slide or file size, the sharper the image should appear (in theory). I am not a big fan of special-effects filters; for me the key is simplicity.

Do you always have to photograph towards the pin? Of course not. Sometimes its fun to see from whence you have come, shooting from behind the green looking backwards to the tee box, for example. A view from the side will remind you of how many times you missed the green left or right, a position I know I've been at least twice! Don't be afraid, experiment, have fun. Someone recently asked me to give them some tips on creating a good photograph. Like the game of golf itself, start with good equipment. How do you split the fairway with your drive? Get some instruction, practice and have a little luck.

Taking good photographs is no different. These days, with digital cameras, you have no excuses. Keep shooting until you are happy. It doesn't cost you a penny. That said it helps if you avoid shooting into the sun to minimize glare. If you must do so, try and hide the sun behind a branch or some leaves. If you shoot with the sun behind your back the image will tend to be a bit flat and devoid of depth. If you must shoot in this direction, wait until the last of the sun to get a really warm image. Before you get ready to create some new photographs always check the settings on the camera. 

You may have changed the ambient light settings recently to accommodate the lighting somewhere else. Failure to do so may alter the color temperature of the images. For clarity of the files always make sure you are shooting in the highest resolution mode. When in doubt about the correct exposure, bracket. 

Always focus on the object of your photograph. It may help to turn off the auto-focus mode once it is initially locked in, but don't forget to turn it back on for the next shot. If shooting at less than 1/100 of a second I would recommend a tripod or find something to brace against to avoid camera shake and the subsequent soft focus in the image. 

After all of the above, the only other word of advice I would tender is practice, practice, practice. It works for Tiger, it works for Padraig Harrington, it could work for you. Good luck, have fun and don't forget to experiment. In closing I would suggest that if you are serious about improving the quality of your golf course images look at what others have done. There are plenty of beautiful books and magazines that regularly illustrate the work of some very accomplished photographers, or you can even check out my website at  

Find some images that you admire and then ask: "What is it about this image that appeals to me?" That alone should help you in your quest to create better golf course images. Thank you for your ear and please keep in mind that the above is just the opinion of one Irishman.