10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers

Golfers and caddies in late afternoon light.

I’m back in the swing of things.

The other day, with all the Royal Wedding stuff going on online, I decided to take the day off from all things electronic. I went to the golf driving range instead, to hit balls for the first time since being caught up in a whirlwind 18 months of photography taking up all my time.

Getting back into golf, at least into hitting golf balls, was exhilarating. After about 20 balls, muscle memory took over, and I started hitting with some 80 percent accuracy. It was a great feeling, but also got me thinking about how similar my two passions are: photography is not that different from golf. Here’s why.

1. You have to banish fear.

Taking risks and not being afraid to experiment is something golf has in common with photography. If you approach a shot with fear, the fear paralyzes your creativity. You become plagued with the “what ifs”—what if I have the wrong lens? What if I should be at a different vantage point, what if the way I go about this shot is all wrong?

Entertaining all these disturbing thoughts do just that—disturb your concentration, make you stumble over the technicalities, and render a poor shot. Banishing fear, and trusting your skills, gives you more chances of success, because you’re focusing on the positive things that will happen as you take the shot.

reflection of golf driving range on steel golf clubs
Use your other hobbies to reflect on your craft, and learn something new. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

2. You have to trust the hours of practice.

At the moment of truth, taking the shot, you have to trust that the hours you’ve spent practicing have schooled your muscles and your mind to all that you needed to do before you take that shot. Again, doubt will only get in the way. So, trust that your hands know what to do. Trust the hours spent practicing. This helps you relax, and your body can better obey the thought you have as you take the shot.

3. Unclutter your thoughts.

In golf, thinking about too many things when you take the shot interferes with your body’s ability to perform at an optimum, relaxed level. I believe it’s the same with all activity, including photography. Removing the obstacles mentally by focusing only on the task at hand, helps your body to perform the necessary skills to get a shot. Clearing your mind and focusing only on allowing your hands to perform the necessary actions to get the shot you want.

4. Visualize success, then work toward it.

I spend a few seconds before starting my golf swing, to visualize how the ball will travel and where it will land. I pretend my eyes are looking through 400mm lens, and aim my swing toward a single blade of grass in the distance. This sort of visualization is not a new thing; athletes practice it, and I think photographers should, too. Visualization is a proven way of mandating success in the way your body responds to a challenge. Visualizing a shot before you start the process in taking that shot will only add to the possibility of brilliance once it is executed.

5. Be patient.

Golf takes a few hours. You’re always playing with other people, and every one takes their turn to make shots. Photography demands this kind of patience. Waiting for light or an expressive moment is one of the skills photographers have to practice. Honing this patience helps you to appreciate the moment when it arrives. This patience also often gets rewarded; whether you are patient with yourself as a person learning photography, or patient with waiting for the right moment, your shots will show the value of patience in the results.

6. Accept the mistakes, and learn from them.

Who hasn’t made a bad exposure, especially in the early days of learning this craft? Accepting that learning is a process is the best gift you can give yourself as you learn how to take good shots. Mistakes are more memorable than never making one, so you need to accept them as learning opportunities, and a way for the technique to reveal itself to you.

Often in golf, people come back because of that one good shot that felt like a hot knife cutting through butter—what we call a ‘pure shot.’

This purity can be part of your photography, too. From your mistakes, you will learn how to make that super shot. And when it happens, you will feel so good you’ll always want to take that walk, simply for the chance to make a good shot.

7. Invest time in practice.

Yes, reading about photography and watching videos are great ways to learn about it. But nothing beats doing it. Investing time to practice your skills allows you to discover, to feed your passion, and to find joy in making good shots.

8. Use all your senses.

Photography is a visual activity—but it isn’t only that. One of the best ways to learn and love something is to saturate yourself in it.

In golf, it means being able to use more than just the visual to help you make a good shot. Feeling the wind direction and strength. Feeling the weight of the clubhead in your hands. Listening to the sound of a good shot versus a bad shot.

You know how you can tell if your shutter is dragging? You don’t have to look at the shutter speed to tell you that. And paying attention to the entire sensory environment can help you make an image with ethos—the feeling of how it was being there, in the midst of that scene. If you can translate all the sensory information into a visual image, you can make images that transcend time and reach into the human experience.

9. Celebrate the good shots.

Celebrating the good shots in golf gives the golfer a memory of something good—and what it holds is a possibility for next time. This positive memory holds in it the power to make you perform at an optimal level, again.

It is so easy to remember the bad ones—those shots that made you cringe. But it is a great motivator to remember the good ones. These are the ones that will keep you coming back, keep you learning, and ultimately, help you become better.

Golfers and caddies in late afternoon light.
Can you see the caddies in bright pink? Copyright Aloha Lavina.

10. It’s the journey, not the destination.

Remembering that photography, like golf, is a process or a journey will help you to continue taking the challenge of making good shots. Focusing on the shot at hand, you give yourself more opportunity to swing into the flow, and you might find that the result you’ve always wanted will take care of itself.

Photography is my passion and golf is my metaphor, what’s yours?

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