The Ryder Cup is the highlight of the golfing – if not sporting – calendar every two years as Europe battle the USA for glory.
Gleneagles in Scotland hosts this year’s tournament and, if it’s anything like the 2012 Ryder Cup when Europe staged a remarkable comeback, the event is likely to produce some dramatic moments immortalised in stunning photographs.
It takes years of practice, perseverance and hard work to be a professional golf photographer, but if you’ve a passion for the sport, it’s never too late to start snapping for fun.
Marc Aspland, chief sports photographer at The Times, who has photographed the World Cup final, Wimbledon and the British Open golf championship and freelance photographer Eddie Keogh, who covered his first Olympic Games in Los Angeles at the age of 21, offer their top tips for capturing fantastic golf photographs.
Tip 1: Understand the rules of the game
An understanding of the game is an absolute must when capturing any sport; however, golf is more complicated than most. From ‘fourballs’ and ‘foursomes’ to ‘dormies’ and ‘gimmes’, if you don’t know what’s going on or understand the rules of golf, there’s a good chance you won’t know where the picture is going to happen.
Tip 2: Get to grips with event specifics
The Ryder Cup provides some of the best golf pictures of the year. Unlike the majority of golf competitions, where the standard format is strokeplay, The Ryder Cup is a team game based on matchplay. Being part of a team and playing in such an intense environment results in the players showing a lot more emotion than we usually see in golf tournaments.
Furthermore, the fact that the players wear team colours every day produces far better pictures. The fans also really help to bring the atmosphere alive. Not only thanks to their vocal encouragement, but also by dressing up and carrying team flags – this brings a lot of colour to the course.
Tip 3: Respect event etiquette
You could be the greatest photographer in the world, but if you don’t understand the etiquette of golf, you can quickly find yourself getting in trouble with golfers, stewards, fans and, most embarrassing of all, fellow photographers.
Once the golfer addresses the ball, it’s a no noise and no movement zone. The next time you can take a picture is when the golfer hits the ball. This can make a nice frame as the ball leaves the club, but getting the timing right to achieve this takes practice. Be wary that your camera doesn’t bleep as you prime the focus. This can normally be turned off in settings or by using AI Servo mode.
Tip 4: Choose the right kit for the right environment
For shooting golf at the Ryder Cup, my preferred kit would be two Canon EOS-1D X bodies with a 16-35mm Canon lens, and a 200-400mm lens on a monopod as my long lens. I also like to carry a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 lens in a pouch hooked on my belt.
My preferred kit for golf would be two Canon EOS-1D X bodies – one with a 24-70mm lens round my neck and one with a 200-400mm lens on a monopod as my long lens. I would also carry two other Canon lenses in pouches: a 70-200mm f4 and a 14mm f/2.8.
This may not sound like a lot of kit, but just remember, we’re on the course from sunrise to sunset during bigger tournaments such as The Ryder Cup, and that involves a lot of walking.
Tip 5: Be prepared for all weather conditions
When shooting golf, clothing can range from T-shirt and shorts, to full waterproof kit and boots. Don’t be put off by bad weather; some of the greatest golf pictures have been taken in awful weather conditions.
Tip 6: Know the course
Get to know the course before you start shooting. If possible, it’s a good idea to take a stroll around the course the day before to check out some nice angles. Another tip is to look out for higher vantage points; when the stands are not too busy, it’s possible to use them for elevation and the chance to shoot from a different angle.
On some tees it’s possible to lie on the floor a couple of metres behind the golfer. With a dramatic sky, this can make a great frame as they tee off. Some cameras have a silent option, so it’s even possible to take a picture on the golfer’s backswing. Beware, do not get this one wrong as you are within striking distance of a golf club!
Tip 7: Focus on the background as much as the foreground
Setting up shots with a fantastic background should always be in the back of your mind. As an example, when a player hits a shot onto the green, the first thing a photographer does is check the line of the ball to the hole so they know which way the golfer will be looking. The next thing to consider is, what will the background be like for that picture? If it’s an ugly TV tower or hospitality marquee, think about moving left or right by a few meters until you know the background is cleaner.
Tip 8: Look beyond the obvious shots
Our overall, top tip for photographing the Ryder Cup would be almost the same as we would offer for any sports: look beyond the obvious. Photographers should be constantly keeping an eye out for details, searching for wider views and capturing their own unique image, rather than taking the same, obvious picture as the photographer next to them.