'Wild Thing' John Daly plays his approach to the par-four 16th during the 2008 Hong Kong Open at Fanling; Castka (inset) introduces his exhibition at the FCC last month
Ropes Last month at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong-based golf photographer Richard Castka exhibited a selection of images from his 20-plus years of covering the major tours and capturing world-class courses. Alex Jenkins spoke with the well-travelled lensman, owner of the largest independent golf archive in Asia All photography courtesy of Richard Castka/Sportpix International
What is your favourite tournament to work at? The Dubai Desert Classic, with the Hong Kong Open being a close second. The course in Dubai [the Majlis at the Emirates Golf Club] is manicured for the event and there is always a good field. The media are also very well looked after. As with Fanling, it’s easy to swap from front nine to back nine by crossing a couple of fairways, which is important when someone makes a few birdies on the nine you’re not working on. And like Fanling, the course is easy to walk because it’s generally quite flat. I missed this year’s event as it clashed with something else, but I think I’ve covered the previous 11 events there. The US Open is my favourite major. The courses are always tough – it’s proper golf, where par should be the winning score. The field is of course excellent and media are treated very well. And your favourite course to shoot? Difficult to say as there are so many. I really enjoyed Chiangmai Highlands, as it was in great condition and the weather was ideal when I was there. Same goes for Ria Bintan. Pebble Beach was in immaculate condition when I first shot it the week before the US Amateur in 1999. Course shoots succeed or fail because of two things – the condition the course is in and the weather you have to work with at the time. Asia is usually the hardest part of the world to capture course images because of air pollution, which kills the light at the start and the end of the day when you need it most. 48
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Who are the best players to work with? Ernie Els would be one of them, as would Nick Dougherty. I went onto the Great Wall of China with Nick when he played in the 2006 Volvo China Open. He insisted on carrying his tour bag, which was difficult to do because of the tall steps and the weight of the bag. Monty [Colin Montgomerie] is good fun at corporate events, as is Tiger Woods. Swing coach Butch Harmon is also good fun to work with. And the worst? Darren Clarke is difficult to work with. If he’s in a good mood then OK, but if he’s not ... Paul Casey is another for the same reasons. It’s amazing how victory changes people. Ian Poulter was quite moody when he first joined the tour but he has mellowed considerably now. Michael Campbell would talk to everyone before he won the US Open, but after his victory he seemed to distance himself from everyone but his fellow pros. What has been your best moment on a course? Seeing China’s Zhang Lian Wei take his first tee shot at the Masters [in 2004]. It was a HKGOLFER.COM
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OK, but if it’s not, the image is generally less dramatic. The first thing I look for is what might spoil the image – buildings, fences, aerials or other such things. Clean is the key word – nothing but golf course and a deep blue sky with white, fluffy clouds.
momentous occasion for Asian golf and one that I believe has helped raise the standards to where they are now. Have you ever had any nightmare situations? Run out of film or had a memory card corrupt on you, for example? Too numerous to mention. Not checking the frame counter when using film was something that would get you into trouble – one frame left and then Tiger or someone similar holes an eagle putt and starts charging around the green. I had a problem once on a course shoot in China when the aperture ring broke inside one of my lenses. Everything looked normal through the lens but when the film was developed there were lots of black frames as the aperture had closed right up. I had to go back to the club some weeks later and re-shoot at my own expense. I also drove a cart into a very deep bunker while on a course shoot in New Zealand. The evening sun was very low and straight into my eyes, and I didn’t see the bunker! I bit my tongue and hurt my back and I also smashed one of my cameras. The golf cart was unhurt!
Film v Digital – is there any debate? Digital is so much sharper, and being instant you know what you’ve got as soon as you’ve shot it. If there are any problems with the equipment you know right away. What advice would you give to young enthusiasts wanting to make a career out of golf photography? Chose something commercial – the equipment needed for golf photography takes many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to achieve. Digital photography has driven rates down because low-priced equipment does a reasonable job and clients are less and less interested in quality – low price has become everything. Looking at other peoples’ work is always a good idea, but you need to develop your own style. This might be doing manipulations with software or it could be doing aerial work from platforms or model aircraft. Something new is never a bad thing. The other important thing to do is to look after key clients. Of all the photos you have taken, do you have favourite? When Payne Stewart was the star player at the Hong Kong Open [in 1995] I got a picture of the “no cameras” marshal taking a photo of Stewart while her no camera board was resting on her leg. She was breaking her own rule, which I found quite amusing. No one else got it, so it was special. The picture in the exhibition of [master clubmaker] Miura-San was also special, as it took a lot of set up and we dodged rain showers to get it done.
During events, how do you decide which players to follow? Depends on the client. If I’m working for Hugo Boss, for example, then I obviously need pictures of their sponsored players. If I’m the official photographer I need the star players in front of as many advertising boards as possible. I need the top five players every day, and with a two-tee start on days one and two plus morning and afternoon tee times this is hard work to achieve. Planning is the main thing and keeping up with leader boards, which might be a hole or two behind. There are locations around every course that provide good opportunities for clean shots, but only at the right time of day. Planning is key. What are you looking for with your action and course images? For action I need a wide spread of shots – driving, putting, chipping, bunker shots and so on. On some holes I will crank up the shutter speed to 1/2000th to try to get player, club and ball into the picture. There are standard swing shots that I have to take but once I’ve got those I’m looking for reactions from the players, which could be punching the air when a putt drops or throwing a club when they make a bad shot. Patience as well as planning is key to all of this and knowing which players are likely to do what. With course shots I’m looking for contrast and lots of shadows to show movement in the subject. I prefer a hilly or mountainous backdrop, as this is more dramatic than a flat horizon. If the flat horizon is the ocean then it’s 50
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Inside the Ropes, an exhibition by Richard Castka, ran from July 3 - 21 at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. To see more of Richard’s work and to purchase his images, visit sportpixgolf.com
What’s in Richard’s Camera Bag? I am and always have been a Nikon man. Currently I’m using the new D4 body, which retails for just over HK$52,000. As I always have to use two bodies I also use the D3s, while awaiting delivery of the second D4. Two bodies is the norm for event photography as you need to be ready for anything to happen – changing lenses is not an option, as it takes too long. Changing lenses is also the most common way that dirt gets into the camera and onto the sensor, so by not changing lenses the problem is reduced. I sometimes carry a third camera for wide-angle gallery shots, which I usually need for the final day of a major, for example.
Clockwise from top: Tiger Woods, with mobile phone close at hand, smiles during a press conference at the 2010 HSBC Champions in Shanghai. The event took place just weeks before Woods was alleged to have had trysts with a number of women, with whom he communicated via text messages; a 'no cameras' marshal in action at Fanling in 1995; master clubmaker Kasuhiro Miura; the par-three 17th of the Montague Course at Fancourt; Woods holes a putt on the par-five 18th to get into a play-off against Rocco Mediate at the 2008 US Open; taking a closer look at Castka's photo of Ria Bintan during the FCC exhibition HKGOLFER.COM
For events I normally use a 500mm F4 telephoto lens plus a 70-200mm F2.8 zoom lens. I also have a 300mm F2.8 that I use rarely and also a 200-400mm F4 lens, which is great for events such as the Hong Kong Open where the action is very close to you. The 500mm is often too long for work around the greens at Fanling, while the 70-200mm can be too loose. The 200-400mm is great because it’s so versatile. For course photography I often use three bodies with three different lenses, which start at 14mm and go up to 200mm. The 24-70mm lens is quite a workhorse for golf course photography. I also carry at least two flash units and a remote unit to shoot off camera, and I always need a mono pod for the long lens. In addition to this I carry filters and teleconverters and usually have a fish eye lens tucked deep in a pocket of my camera jacket.
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