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Photography: Documenting Your Life’s Work

Great golf course photography tells a story. Frequently, the story is one of light and shadows, anticipation captured as morning reveals the course, one ray of sunlight at a time, or the restfulness that creeps silently across the fairways as evening slowly dims the lights. At times, photography chronicles the solitary golfer engaged in conflict not with the course but with himself.

Most often, the message best delivered through golf course photography is that of the superintendent, the agronomist, and the crews who envision the experience, shape the earth, pamper the grass, battle the elements, and then arise the next morning to do it all once more, always striving to create a singular moment of golf that inspires players to accept the challenge and then return to do it again.

If it holds true that “we eat with our eyes,” then surely we also experience golf courses through masterful photography. Exceptional photos of your golf course serve as powerful communication tools and become documentation of your life’s work.

Inevitably, great golf course photography translates to media coverage. Beautiful, high-resolution photographs of your golf course become bait, drawing editors, writers, bloggers and others in the press to tell your story. Journalists recognize that no matter how skillfully they write, nothing communicates golf as well as remarkable photography does.

Few publications have the budget or the time to send photographers to shoot your course. When they do, it is unlikely that the staff photographer tasked with the job will have the experience necessary for capturing your golf course the way you want it to be seen. When the website for your golf course or your own professional website provides a file of downloadable, high-resolution images easily available to the media, you move to the head of the list for articles journalists want to write.

As an agronomist, golf course superintendent or other course maintenance professional, your life’s work is fleeting, changing with the seasons and, sometimes, even changing by the hour. Photography establishes a record of your projects, one you can easily share with others at conferences or seminars. A collection of high-quality photos makes it easier to communicate with your club’s members or to make your case with your Board of Directors. Ultimately, it also serves as a much-needed reminder of how far you’ve come and how much you have accomplished.

Photography: Through The Eyes Of A Golfer And The Lens Of An Artist
Master golf course photographer George Peet recently sat down with the Golf Course Trades to share some of the insights he has acquired over a lifetime, looking at both the imagination and the technical skill required for creating noteworthy photographs of a golf course. Growing up in the Houston area, part city boy, part wannabe cowboy, George was playing golf by the age of ten. As a young man, he began his career path by studying math and engineering at San Jacinto Jr College, Syracuse University and The University of Houston until one day, the camera he had bought for fun began to lead him in a very different direction.

An aspiring young photographer, George took full advantage of opportunities to engage with giants Ansel Adams, Jerry Uelsmann, Wynn Bullock and other famous fine art photographers. Passionate to learn and improve his skills, George left the sunshine of the Lone Star State behind and headed for snowy New England where he lived and studied in the Boston workshop of the legendary Minor White.

As George’s skills grew, so did the scope of his subject matter. George began seriously photographing both architecture and people, and with Gabrielle Keller produced the National Gold Medal Award winning book, Courthouses of the Commonwealth, an architectural study of the historic courthouses of Massachusetts. Soon afterwards, both the Revere Arts Council and the Massachusetts Council for the Arts awarded him grants, designated for creating a photo documentary of Revere Beach, Massachusetts, the oldest public beach in the United States.

As George explained, “Originally I was primarily a landscape photographer using black and white film. It wasn’t until the 80s that I married my two loves, photography and golf. It was an effortless transition. A golf course is really nothing more than a landscape with a flag in it. My background in shooting architecture and people also made it easy to comfortably shift from photographing courses to photographing club houses and golf course staffs.”

Recognizing that many talented photographers fall short when it comes to shooting golf courses, Golf Course Trades asked George to share what distinguishes the average golf course shot from one that captures the eye and then captures the imagination.

“When I look at golf course photography, the mistake I see repeated most often is that people seem to just stand on a tee box and take a picture of the hole from the starting point. They shoot with little regard to the amount of just plain green grass that will occupy fifty percent of the foreground in their photo. To make it worse, they are usually standing with the sun at their back, which tends to visually flatten any contour the hole may have.

“More often than not, a fairway needs shadows to occupy the spaces, shadows that are present either in the early morning or late afternoon. The exception to this comes in the early spring and late fall months when the sun doesn’t reach the ‘peak’ in the sky. During these times of the year, the sun swings around at a lower point to the horizon and allows for shadows most of the day. Autumn is my favorite time for photographing most golf courses.

“When I was teaching at the Montserrat College of Art in New England, our basic photography class had an assignment we called ‘Rhythm,’ in which there was no actual subject, but our focus was more about movement of lines within the rectangle of the frame. This exercise helps train the eye to recognize lines or movement within the frame that leads the viewer to your intended subject.

“This skill applies well in photographing golf courses. In the case of a golf hole, you might want to visually utilize the line created between the fairway and the first cut as the foreground that leads you to the green or the flag. Lines created by bunkers are also very useful.

“Most players standing on the tee boxes of holes they’ve played before have a view of the hole in their mind’s eye that differs from what they can actually see from a ground level, standing perspective. Bunkers and hazards that may be hidden from view, but they know are there, and they see them in their head when they envision the shot. A little elevation–simply using a 10′ to 16′ ladder–can bring some of these elements into the photograph without having the image feel like an aerial shot. Of course, there are some flat land golf courses that just need to be shot from the air.”
The Golf Course Photographer: Your Secret Weapon
On the subject of digital photography versus film, George points out how well digital technology serves golf courses.

“Digital technology and Photoshop specifically have changed the approach to golf course photography. It’s important to maintain the integrity of the course design and intent of the course architect, but courses can be photographed when their conditions are less than ideal.

“I like to think of myself as the Course Superintendent’s best friend with the ability to improve areas immediately that they may be struggling with and that, in actuality, need several weeks before those areas will be photo-ready, so to speak. Courses can even be photographed with golfers on them, eliminating the need to shut down play. We can remove people from the photos after the fact. We can rake the bunkers, remove rakes that may be visually distracting, repair divots and even remove unsightly objects such as homes or buildings in the background or high-tension wires that might be running adjacent to or through the course. Photoshop has put us on the same playing field with painters. If a painter doesn’t want a home in the painting, they just do not include it. Photographers can now simply edit a building out of the photo with the same artistic license.

“I’ve found the most challenging projects are publications celebrating historic milestones of country clubs or courses such as Centennial Books. These projects require that every hole be represented, and rarely will you find every hole picturesque. I’ve been involved in four of these projects, and I’ve enjoyed them all; they can challenge your creative skill and sometimes your mastery of Photoshop when the goal is chronicling eighteen–or more–engaging golf holes.”

A Fresh Perspective
In the book, Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible, author Pete Shoemaker suggests that golfers should “pick up their heads and look around,” as they walk between shots. George draws from this quote, noting how frequently golfers drop their heads and look at their feet as they walk between shots and how much of the course experience they miss because of this practice.

“Many courses, either by design or by chance, offer beautiful views of other holes as seen from the hole you’re actually playing,” said George who frames golf photos from a variety of vantage points, including sometimes shooting from green to tee.

A lifetime of shooting amazing golf course photos, yet George keeps clicking, motivated to capture photography as art that inspires others to look at golf courses with a new perspective. In the end, he sums his viewpoint up well, “Behind every amazing golf photograph stand a good photographer and a remarkable Golf Course Superintendent, both of whom see the course in ways that others sadly often miss.”

Linda Parker has been writing professionally since the 1980s. With clients in finance, sports, technology, change enablement, resorts, and nonprofit global initiatives, Linda helps organizations communicate their stories in meaningful ways to the people they most want to reach. She has authored, ghostwritten or contributed to more than a dozen nonfiction books. You can reach her at: linda@glindacreative.com.

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