photos by donovan maguigan

Aperture, shutter speed, vignette, ISO, bokeh, f-stop, macro. Bored yet?

Those are all heavy-duty photography terms that are completely unnecessary to understand in order take great photographs. Complicated setups, special lenses, filters, flashes and an expensive digital camera are also unnecessary. If you have a smartphone, the tool for you to take quality photos of your golf course has been in your pocket the whole time. Beyond a simple communication and documentation tool, your smartphone camera can be used to showcase your property, your staff, their work and the most photogenic aspects of the profession.

Even the simplest and cheapest smartphones have better cameras than top-of-the-line digital cameras 15 years ago. From the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 to the rollout of the iPhoneXS in 2018, smartphone camera technology has grown exponentially in quality and simplicity.

Blurry photos from smartphones are a thing of the past. You can point, click, edit and share high-quality photos in a matter of seconds. Cloud storage and uploading to wireless storage has replaced the need to connect a memory stick to a computer and has allowed superintendents to take photos without the fear of running out of memory or using up hard drive space.

With smartphone photography, you have the paint, palette and canvas to showcase the work you and your staff do. More importantly, you can use your smartphone to document the work you complete on your golf course, share the quality of your staff’s work and promote your property.

I am not a photography expert by any means, but I’m a passionate enthusiast. Here are some tips that have helped me take more and better photos.

1. Change Your Photo Settings

a. Turn on HDR. “High Dynamic Range,” or HDR, is a setting that takes multiple photos and combines them for optimum light and exposure. These photos are larger than normal photos but correct numerous photo errors.

b. Set your camera to take the highest quality setting. With the largest and highest quality images, you will be able to edit, share and print the photos without losing the quality of the image. When cropping or editing photos, quality will start to diminish, so it’s best to start with a large and high-quality photo.

c. Turn Off Auto Flash. In all likelihood, you will be outside and don’t need the flash. Turn on the flash only when you need it.

d. Experiment with different photo modes. All of the major smartphone brands feature multiple modes tailored for food, landscapes and burst mode. Burst mode is great for capturing a moment of something that is in motion. To take a burst photo, simply hold the shutter button. After the burst is finished, you can select a single or multiple photos from the batch.

2. Use the “Rule of Thirds.”

Imagine a 3x3 grid across the photograph. Your subject should be aligned to the intersection of those squares. To visualize this easily, turn on the “Photo Grid” on your smartphone. This will place a 3x3 grid across the image and help you compose your photo. This grid will also aide you in straightening your image by giving you a linear reference point.

3. Utilize “bracketing.”

The freedom of being able to take hundreds of pictures gives you options without having to risk a crooked or blurry photograph. Bracketing is the process of taking multiple photos with variations of the flash, brightness, angle or focus. Maximize the benefit of bracketing by waiting until you can see the photos larger on a tablet or computer before deleting the photographs.

4. Clean your camera lens (or case).

Dirt and fingerprints will adversely affect your photos just like a normal camera. A quick wipe from a soft cloth (or a golf shirt) can remove blurs or smudges that will impact your photos and the phone’s sensors. Phone cases sometimes have a cover over the camera lens and this can become dirty or scratched as well.

5. Find unique photo angles.

Golfers see the course in a tee to green direction, so take photographs from under-utilized angles. For example, down at turf level, from behind a bunker, next to a specimen tree or from the top of a course structure.

7. Become a National Geographic photographer.

Or just photograph wildlife. As stewards of the environment, your properties are filled with beautiful examples of wildlife and fauna that our courses protect in green space. Word of caution: of all the subjects to photograph, wildlife is consistently challenging to photograph. The results are typically large swaths of green with multicolored specs, so be patient.

8. Find your look.

Find a style that is unique and fun for you to take photos. About a year ago, I started taking more and more black and white photographs, to the point where it feels like the only way I can take photos. Have a golf course dog? Try incorporating your four-legged assistant in every photograph.

9. Backup to cloud storage.

Google, Amazon and Apple all offer solid automatic photo backup options for smartphones and tablets with some options at no-cost. Use this option to protect your photos from accidental loss or to view your photos on a larger screen to edit them later. Take photos and wait to review them when you have time to look at them on a larger screen.


10. Tweak It.

There are several easy to use and free apps that allow you to tweak and adjust your photos easily. There are also apps that will animate, turn your photos into drawings, or make collages. Some favorites of mine include:

a. Snapseed (Android/iOS). Great for adding filters and making adjustments with preset filters. My favorite filter is “Drama,” which accents the sharpness and the contrast between light and dark. That filter is amazing at accenting clouds or stripes.

b. Collage (Android/iOS). Combines photos together into collages. This app work great if trying to condense several photos for a social media post or for before and after photos.

c. Prisma (Android/iOS). This app will apply a unique painting style to your photos, while hit or miss, it makes some very awesome images for social media.

11. Share It.

Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook or on your blog. The list is ever-growing with ways to share things across social media and the internet. Take the time to showcase your staff’s hard work and dedication. Remember, if this isn’t something that you would want on the front page of a newspaper, it’s probably not the best idea to share it on social media. Additionally, check with your club or ownership about their guidelines for sharing content of their property.

Donovan Maguigan is the South Course superintendent at Lake of Isles in North Stonington, Conn. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @McBuckeyeAT.