WHAT'S A TYPICAL PHOTO SHOOT LIKE?

17th Hole, Columbia Country Club, Columbia, MissouriAUTHOR'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.  

1. ALWAYS SHOW UP  Sometimes the best image... often one that comes as a surprise simply as a matter of being in the right place at the right time... lasts only a few seconds or minutes before shooting conditions deteriorate into gray boredom.  So when a shoot is scheduled, I'll be there.
2. TURN AROUND  It's easy to get drawn into a scene and in the throes of focused tunnel vision, to ignore what's going on outside the focal area.  For instance, sometimes a sunrise is a disappointment as I focus on the rising sun, waiting for the angles of light to produce some morning magic.  At that same moment, though, I've often found the colors in the sky to be spectacular away from the sun.  Magic happens.  I never know.  Until I turn around.

Dawn on Crooked Stick Golf Club's 15th GreenBeyond those two rules, I have a typical schedule that I stick to on most golf course photo shoots.  I show up on site the first scheduled day, early- to mid-afternoon, meet the folks I've been dealing with over the phone or via email and get out on the course to shoot my reference images.  (I do this so, when I’m back in the studio I can identify the particular holes I’m working on.)  Then, about 2 hours before sunset that first day, I begin shooting in earnest and continue until the light is gone.  The next morning, if access is available to me, I'm on the course about 45 minutes before sunrise to capture the sunrise.  That session usually lasts until the light goes flat.  Depending on the time of year and the location, that could be 9am or 11am.  The light is the determining factor.  Depending on how many images my client is looking for, and the quality of the shooting conditions, those two sessions may be all that's required.  If more time is needed, that schedule holds for the remainder of my stay.  Also, since I often am asked to do some architectural or resort shooting, I will schedule those subjects right after or just before the on-course seasons.  

For local shoots, here in the Metro Atlanta area, I schedule one day at a time because there are no travel issues and I can select the best day to be on the course.  For out of town work, I prefer... but don't require... to schedule at least 3 days on a property, so both the client and I can be confident that I'll have ample time with ideal shooting conditions to capture the number and quality of images we both expect.  I have a terrible fear of flying to the wilds of Canada for a one day shoot and being washed out by gray, nasty weather, when what my client needs are great shots of a beautiful golf course!  What a waste of my time and my client's resources!

A one day shoot (two shooting sessions) will usually result in 40 to 50 images for my client to review.

Kapalua, Bay Course, 16th HoleHOW MANY PHOTOS AND FOR WHAT USES?

When I plan a photo shoot, the first question I ask is how are the new images to be used?  A pro photographer (please insert my name here!) can shoot to meet a client's specific needs and keep costs under control.  So whether only a few images of signature holes are needed, or a complete collection of images is required, I can schedule the proper amount of time to build a collection to meet those specific needs.

Next, I want to schedule my visit properly, so as not to interfere with scheduled events, such as an annual aerification, a Member/Guest tournament, or the presence of PGA Tour crews constructing viewing stands and hospitality areas.  And then there are seasonal issues to consider.  Perhaps capturing early Spring color or Fall foliage is important to my client and the club’s members.  Or maybe that early summer green is the goal.  I'm easy.  I enjoy my relationships with my clients, and am happy to return multiple times during the year to build a year 'round catalog of images.  I see beauty in golf courses at every time of the year, I'll schedule accordingly.

A DAY ON THE COURSE…

My typical shooting schedule allows me to avoid having any impact on play.  My goal is for golfers to not even know I've been on the course.  I'm on property before the sun, and shoot for 2 to 3 hours in the morning.  Then I'm back very late in the afternoon and shoot until almost dark.    

Once my onsite work is completed, I schedule studio processing time.  Since Spring and Fall are my busiest times of year, my schedule is heavily weighted toward travel and shooting from May to July, and again from late September thru November, so I am not always able to turn a collection of photos around right away.  I always try to be flexible, though, so if my client has a particular deadline or time frame, I try to accommodate.

15th Hole, Druid Hills Golf Club, Atlanta, Georgia…BECOMES 4 DAYS IN THE STUDIO

Why, you ask, does it take so long for me to process my photos?  After all, Walmart can turn your snapshots around in a day, right?  My techniques more often than not require the use of elements from multiple exposures, and I use a variety of blending techniques to finish images.  From full HDR processing to more refined techniques that retain the character of a single exposure but expand the dynamic range dramatically, I work to bring out what I saw and felt.  And since the human eye can see so much more than even the finest lens, it takes time.  

MY STUDIO WORKFLOW

The first thing I do in the studio is to go thru the entire shoot to identify the best images, and those I think will show a golf course at its best.  A normal day on the golf course results in somewhere between 1000 and 1500 snaps of the shutter.  But remember… I shoot multiple exposures of each setup, so a day's shooting really only yields between 350 and 500 images from which I select only the best to process.  I usually find that I'm pleased with 30% to 40% of my shots, so a collection could be as few as 30 images or as many as 50 images per day of shooting.