There are golf photos, and then there's golf photography. Like models, some courses beg to be photographed. If you can't snap a good shot on the 18th at Pebble Beach, you're in the wrong game, my friend. The contrast of vivid green fairways, shimmering water and cloud-flecked blue skies can make an artist of just about anyone.
Unfortunately, not all courses are Pebble Beach. Or Kapalua Plantation. Or Pacific Trails. Or River Valley Ranch in the mountains of Colorado. A dramatic physical location may inspire you to reach for the camera, and the more dramatic it is, the more easily you can capture it on film (or, more accurately, on digital storage card). But no matter where you go, to make your golf course photos truly snap, you have to do a little work.
Find The "Magic" Light. This may be the golf course photographer's most vital secret. Magic light occurs when the sun is low to the horizon. This light occurs during the first hour and last hour of daylight. Try both to get a sense of how the shadows fall across the property. The golden light adds to the clarity and definition of any landscape. Be aware of your own shadow, and keep it out of the shot.
Elevation Is Your Friend. No matter how good it looks to your eye at ground level, a golf hole will look better if you can get a little bit above the features you're photographing. Prop yourself in the base of a tree. Scale a hump or hill off the fairway. Stand on the back of a golf cart. The pros take ladders, and you'll quickly learn the reason.
Compose The Shot. Sometimes it's depth you're after. Other times, you may want to highlight a specific feature, such as a greenside bunker or the general movement of the land. Compose your shot to highlight your target. If it's depth you're after, make sure there's something behind the prime subject–a tree, a mountain, a pond. Use a small aperture setting to capture it all. If you're out for a ground shot—the early morning dew on the grass or fog rising from water–use the golf course in a supporting role.
Respect The Design Of The Course. There's nothing more gratifying than finding the perfect angle to showcase a great golf hole. Odds are, you won't find that looking over at a hole from an adjacent fairway or shooting through a stand of trees behind the green. Your angles should suggest the true orientation and strategy of the hole. Get creative, but capture the real golf hole, not just a golf landscape.
Keep People Out Of Your "Beauty" Shots. That's not to say you don't want to record your friends in the beautiful places you visit. But if you're out to portray the magnificence of the course, there's nothing a person can add.