AUTHENTICITY The Cambridge Dictionary defines authenticity as “the quality of being real or true.”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about authenticity. I try to be an authentic person, and I certainly prefer hanging out with people who are authentic, but that’s a topic for another day.
I’m talking about authenticity as it relates to photography. So… “the quality of being real or true.” Hmmm. There’s a movement in photography that some refer to as photography with “No Filters”. Often, these images are ones snapped with smartphones or point-and-shoots that show up on Instagram, celebrating the fact that the photographer used “No Filters”. The truth is, though, that these types of cameras are doing tons of processing. They set white balance, white point, black point, contrast, exposure, sharpening, noise reduction and more to create what the manufacturer thinks will be an optimum shot. Sometimes these cameras make great choices. Sometimes not. But this type of “No Filters” photography is a myth, and a strong case can be made that these images are neither “real nor true”.
The first four months of 2020 haven't really been a vacation, as much as an opportunity to work at improving my craft. At the end of last year, I planned to spend a couple of months in my studio to work on new editing techniques, focusing on landscape images I’ve captured over the years across the country, as well as to China and Iceland.
I love sunrise. I believe everyone loves a good sunrise, but not everyone gets up in time to see this glorious wake up call. Golf Course Superintendents and their staffs see sunrise every day, but with important work to do they seldom have time to fully appreciate this wonderful new beginning. Happily, it's part of my job to photograph this, my favorite time of day.
So I’m back from Hong Kong, and a good time was had by all! "All" being me. The photo shoot, itself, was challenging on many levels, but incredibly rewarding. And the overall experience was one of those moments in life that ranks among the most treasured.
I’ve been back for about a month, but I've waited until now to write about the trip in any detail because I didn’t want to come up for breath until I’d completed the studio work on this wonderful project. 276 finished images. Whew!
Many, many thanks to Ian Gardner, his wife, Karen, and the entire team at Hong Kong Golf Club. First, I sincerely appreciate being given this experience of a lifetime. And second, thanks for keeping me clothed when Air Canada decided that my luggage would prefer not to accompany me on my flight to Hong Kong! The club and the property are gorgeous, but when one takes into account the culture, the history and the warm and welcoming way the entire staff took care of me, the whole adventure was as good as it gets.
As is usually the case when one dives into a new culture and locale, I learned a lot. Such as…
In years past, aerial photography required the use of helicopters, cranes or at least bucket trucks. And the costs, the time and inconvenience of resorting to these machines limited the use of aerials to only the most prosperous golf clubs. With the advent of drones, though, aerials appear to have become more accessible… and are sometimes more affordable than traditional, ground-level shooting. The reason I say “…sometimes more affordable” is that the more professional drone photographers are actually teams.
(NOTE: The image on the left is not an aerial. It's a shot taken from the top of the waterfall on The Waterfall Club's signature hole. Gorgeous shots from altitude don't always require drones or helicopters.)
In 2006 The Waterfall Club, in the North Georgia mountains, was the first golf course I ever photographed, and last Summer I returned to photograph this beautiful golf course, designed by Scott W. Pool, to give it another go.
My first taste of golf course photography came courtesy of Scott Pool, who was introduced to me by mutual friend, Jack Sauers, as the “best golf course designer you never heard of”. At the time, Scott was building two courses for Killearn, south of Atlanta… Eagles Brooke and Durham Lakes. I was designing web sites, and Scott hired me to build one web site for his golf course design business and a second for GreenScan 3D, his revolutionary LIDAR scanning service for the golf industry.
Honestly, I can't recall whether Scott asked me to photograph his courses as part of our web development agreement or whether I sold him on the idea. But I had a camera... my sole qualification... and an interest. And that's how my golf course photography career began. Not a bad thing to have such a beautiful property as my first subject.
Golf is a sport of the wealthy. Golf gobbles up resources, especially water. Pesticides on golf courses are poisoning the earth. Yada yada yada. How many times have you, if you are working in this wonderful industry, felt duty-bound to apologize for your involvement in it? Well, stop it! You have nothing to apologize for!
Clearly, this isn’t a forum for social commentary… I’m a photographer, for heaven’s sake! But the current political and cultural climates of "haves" versus "have nots", of "victims" and "victimizers" has so skewed folks’ perspective that in some circles… especially in environmentalist circles… golf is seen as a villain and golf’s use of land and resources is criticized as the thoughtless pursuit of a group of out-of-touch rich people responsible for drought, global warming and poverty. The environmentalist war on our industry is not new, and it won’t be going away any time soon.
This is another one of those steps along the road that, on some levels, don't mean much... but on other levels, mean a lot. Especially to a geezer golf course photographer. The cover image for the upcoming 2016 Sports Illustrated Golf Wall Calendar is one of my shots of Crooked Stick Golf Club, in Carmel, Indiana. It's now out, and it looks great! Must be the cover photo.
In the meantime, you can pre-order the calendar online, at Amazon. Somehow, I don't think it'll offer any stiff competition to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar, but it's still a nice boost to the geriatric ego. Thought I'd share.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This post was originally published over three years ago, but as my techniques and skill sets have evolved, so has my workflow, both on the course and in the studio. So it seemed reasonable to me to edit the original article to reflect those changes, though it didn't make sense to begin from scratch. But back to the question, "What's a Typical Photo Shoot?"
The short answer: There’s no such armadillo. With so many different kinds of golf courses, so many distinctly different sets of weather conditions, and differing light conditions in different latitudes at different times of year, “typical” changes from day to day. Plus, over time my techniques evolve. Things change. But there are some constants. Sort of.
I have two rules for photography. 1) Always show up, and 2) Turn around. They're pretty simple to understand.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent at Crooked Stick Golf Club during the 3 years my wife and I had a home in Indianapolis while she worked with Indy's school system. Crooked Stick is a wonderful course, Tony Pancake and his staff are all great to work with and frankly, it was a shining light of inspiration in an Indiana landscape somewhat short on visual appeal. I like Indiana. Nothing against it whatsoever. But Utah, it's not.
Of all the professionals I work with in the golf industry, the ones I find most impressive are the golf course architects. Nobody has more hats to wear. A golf course architect is a visionary, a counselor, an artist, an engineer, a salesman, an agronomist, a developer, a landscape designer, an urban designer and more. Frankly, the overwhelming set of skills these folks must have in order to succeed in a very difficult business makes me want to take a nap! But the work they do also makes me wake up every morning with a giant smile, knowing I get to photograph the wonderful landscapes they design.
East Lake Golf Club, in Atlanta, has been on my Bucket List of courses I’d love to shoot for some time, and last May I had the privilege of crossing it off that list. East Lake’s ad agency, tasked with revamping their web site and other aspects of their marketing communications package, went on a search for a photographer, and Bingo! My name came up, along with two other golf course shooters. When the dust had settled, with the recommendation of the ad agency, I was given the project. Happy camper alert!
In the golf course industry there are many folks, male and female, who contribute to the immense pleasure we all share when we step onto a fine golf course. Clearly, the owners are where everything begins. Many are truly visionary, and all have the entrepreneurial wherewithal to finance these risky enterprises we call golf clubs. Then there are the golf course architects, who turn the owner’s vision into reality, moving thousands of tons of earth… or not… specifying grasses, sand, shrubbery, trees, railroad ties, boulders, waterfalls, drainage and sprinkler systems, and anything else their imaginations conjure up during the design process, to create a playground unlike any other. Golf courses, after all, are not like football fields with very specific parameters that must be met to satisfy league regulations. The PGA Golf Professionals are the front men and women, establishing and supporting the culture around their courses. They teach, they encourage and they welcome members and guests, creating an overall great experience for their clientele.
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