Each year for the past five years I have covered the World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play Championship. Yes, it is quite a mouthful to say.
The first year I was pretty excited to shoot it. I have played golf occasionally and a few times had the opportunity to play on the very course that the top 64 golfers in the world will be playing on this week in Marana.
But photographing the tournament is a challenging experience meshed with excitement and paranoia.
On the golf course, I have found myself walking directly behind top-named golfers like Luke Donald, Tiger Woods and even Woods' enemy fellow golfer Phil Mickelson. But then again, there were 30 other photographers from around the world doing the same thing who are all trying to get "the shot."
It is inspiring to rub elbows with photographers who shoot for Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine. I have found myself next to golf announcer David Feherty, whose voice I have listened to as I have played video games where he has critiqued my Xbox 360 putting abilities, or his Bob Ross-like soothing voice has put me to sleep on a lazy Sunday afternoon while watching golf on TV.
Those parts are a blast. I love that challenge of trying to get something that no one else is getting. I find a lot of pleasure in finding a shot that I have never seen before, which is really difficult after five years.
When photographing a golfer, the unspoken rule is once the golfer has addressed the ball, meaning he or she has positioned themselves to where they are getting ready to hit the ball, you are not to take a picture until the golfer has hit his ball. If you have a large enough lens and can put some distance between yourself and the golfer, then you can... I guess.
I found this rule out my first time out photographing the tournament back in 2007. I was really excited to follow Tiger Woods on his warm-up round. I found this place nestled behind the tee box. In front of him were dark stormy clouds with a little blue sky peaking through. Other than a row of spectators that were way off in the distance, it made for a picture with a clean background (I will touch on "clean background" later).
Woods addressed the ball and just as he started to pull his driver back, I clicked the shutter. Had this not been a warm up, I would have probably been thrown into a cactus by his then-caddy Steve Williams who was known for roughing up photographers.
Both Woods and Williams turned and looked at me with such disgust and anger one would have thought I had set the Mona Lisa on fire.
A short time later I asked a fellow photographer what that look was for and he told me about "the rule."
When golfers start doing poorly on the course, I have noticed they tend to look for something to blame it on. It is usually the photographers who receive that blame even if there wasn't anything done.
But what all of us photographers are looking for is a unique photo with a "clean background" and in golf that is surprisingly difficult. A clean background consists of just that, the area behind the photographer is free of spectators, ropes that line the course, officials with their arms raised to hush the crowds, camera crews that are on the course following the golfers, or any number of distracting elements that take the viewer's attention away from the subject of the photo.
So, in order to do this, us photographers usually carry three or more cameras with a long telephoto lens, a medium range telephoto lens and a wide-angle lens. Having three camera bodies allows for the ability to quickly take a photo rather than having to fuss with changing lenses. But, carrying all of that gear gets pretty heavy.
Usually photographers are carrying about 30 to 50 pounds of equipment, fast walking ahead of the golfers and then kneeling and getting ready for the next shot.
I usually walk five to seven miles each day of the tournament, while carrying the gear and essentially doing lunges.
I am not looking for sympathy, because I know I wont get it. I simply would like to apologize when we kneel in front of where you have camped out for the day with your hot dog, beer and cigar. Just, please don't refer to us as the paparazzi. Those guys are idiots with cameras that are just trying to get a photo of someone in a compromising position and then sell that photo to some tabloid magazine. We are photographers who are working for our own separate publications. Yes, we are very competitive and no, we usually don't share.