Exposing the Photographer

David Scaletti

All golfers like to hear the words "Nice shot." In my case it doesn¹t very often reflect directly on my latest effort with a golf club, but rather a golfing arena recorded with a camera. The position a golf shot is played from is dictated by how well we struck our previous stroke and how strategically we planned the route to the hole. But what decisions are involved with photographing a golf hole?

Attempting to describe the evaluation process in choosing a spot to place my tripod is not easy. Photography is a subjective task and if a number of elements exist in the scene then I tend to simply take the picture. Objectively describing those elements is difficult and finding those answers is almost something I don¹t wish to know. Having a checklist of what constitutes a great image is not the kind of thing I want in my camera bag. Who knows what picture could be missed simply because the vista doesn¹t fulfil the required list? Suffice to say if it looks good to me then I will attempt to record the scene.

Surrounding scenery, interesting foreground - be that bunkers, wild grasses or water hazards - are what I look for. Generally speaking a wide expanse of fairway in the foreground looks boring to me and I try to avoid it. An exception to this would be distinct undulations in the fairway highlighted by the sun late in the evening or just after sunrise. The shapes and contours of the fairway are thus accentuated by the shadows and highlights and suddenly the boring swathe of green has interesting definition. In the absence of these bumps and hillocks, and a broader interesting landscape surrounding the hole, I try to utilise the curves of the first cut of rough to draw the viewer¹s eyes towards the flag.

A reconnaissance trip around the golf course, preferably with golf clubs in hand, is the first task and generally provides a number of suitable locations. Sourcing these spots are not the only concern, it is also imperative to consider where the sun will rise and set and thus where the shadows will fall, when the green will be in sunlight and thus whether the shot is to be carried out in the morning or evening - and then it often doesn¹t work anyway! Good photography comes about as a result of planning and being there at the right time, but having said that it is also a matter of reacting to the moment at places where it is not expected that a shot will be worthwhile. If an unexpected splinter of light suddenly illuminates the hole then a quick reaction can also result in a wonderful shot.

There really doesn't seem to be a definitive answer as to how to shoot that fabulous golf course image. It happens at times most unanticipated, but other images are the result of planning and imagining what the shot can look like then waiting for the light to be right - a kind of divine juxtaposition of elements over which we have no control. Basically, if it looks good, shoot it! Not everything works, but my aim is to show the viewer what I saw out on the course.

There are many subconscious elements to a game of golf. The camaraderie and fun had with a group of friends, the escape from the day to day hassles, the wagers etc. These elements can't be captured with a camera. But there are physical aspects of the game which are often taken for granted or appreciated fleetingly, in particular the setting of the course, and the way in which the bunkers and hazards are placed by the architect to tempt and torment us. As golfers we consider them before playing our shot and then forget them when they are safely negotiated. One of my aims is to remind the players what has challenged and caught their attention while on the course.

If golfers are taken back to the scene of past glories, made to wince at the memory of failed bravado or enticed to play a new course by the view I saw, then I consider the photograph to be successful. However this is not the only manner to gauge the performance. To a great degree the finest compliments come from non-golfers. Those who play the game can easily appreciate a photograph because they understand the aim of the game and what constitutes the challenges. But the finest buzz comes when someone who doesn¹t know the difference between a driver and a sand wedge wonders at the beauty of a golf hole. "I thought a golf course was a stretch of grass with a hole at the end. I didn¹t realise it was so varied and beautiful." That kind of surprised reaction to a golf course photograph from someone who doesn¹t play the game is my ultimate compliment.

Being out on the golf course waiting for the right light can be an exercise in patience and endurance. Sometimes a chat with the ground staff fills in the time, sometimes it¹s a passing golfer or someone out for a stroll. One couple quizzed me about what I was doing while shooting the 7th at Pebble Beach one evening. They then wandered off behind the green for what seemed an interminable time while I waited for nature to shine on the setting. They finally strolled off just as I was about to miss my shot. Another time in Ireland I was rugged up and struggling to keep warm as I waited for the sun to set. The locals, however, were meandering around the course in shorts and shirt sleeves oblivious to the conditions which had me shivering and trying to find an excuse to go back to the Bed & Breakfast where it was infinitely more comfortable. The patience and discomfort was worth it in the end when the shot at Carne worked out well.

Until recently all my images were shot on a Linhof 4 x 5 inch field camera using a 6 x 12 cm roll film back. Photographer friends for some time had been suggesting that I might find digital the way to go, but the hoary old traditionalist in me would have none of that. It always concerned me that the file size from a digital camera would compromise some of the potential usages of the images. The difficulty I experienced in having film hand-checked at airports in our post 911 days led me to rethink my ideas. After a great deal of resistance on my part, reality eventually sunk in and I took the plunge. For the technically minded I use a Leaf Valeo 22 digital back on a Mamiya medium format camera with a variety of lenses. The file size is 22 megapixels and the results have exceeded expectations. In fact the greatest surprise is the added control and expression available when coupled with a program such as Photoshop.

The camera though is simply the tool. Far more important to me is the resultant image and the enjoyment of being out on golf courses when there are usually very few people about. If the gods have conspired to bathe the course in light as the birds wake at dawn, or as the world is shutting down at dusk, then being out there ready to observe and photograph is a wonderful experience and I am blessed to be able to call such fun "work." Forgive me for thinking I have one of the best jobs in the world.

Golf Architecture
Journal of the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects Issue 8, 2005

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