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Welcome to A Quick Round. A weekly Q&A series that deconstructs the journey that golfers and entrepreneurs alike take on their road to success. Their achievements – as well as their trials and tribulations – serve to inspire us, and our goal is to pass that inspiration along to our readers.
Last week, we brought you the story behind Back 9 USA with Chris Frame. This week, it is our pleasure to introduce you to Kevin Murray of Kevin Murray Photography. Kevin has traveled the world shooting world class golf courses and players, and once you see his work, you’re going to want to learn more.
Thanks for joining us today, Kevin! Let’s start by getting some general background on Kevin Murray, the photographer.
Thanks for having me, Matt. I’m based in Haywards Heath, a small town in Mid Sussex, England. It’s a great location for me because I’m constantly traveling. Only 20 minutes south of Gatwick and depending on the M25, an hour from Heathrow.
The family consists of my wife – Anne, my daughter – Alex, my son – Paddy, and Poppy – our six-year-old King Charles Cavalier. We’ve always enjoyed our sport. It’s been a big part of our lives both competitively and socially. Alex was and is still a very good tennis player, and Paddy plays a mean game of golf… when you can get him on the course.
Sounds like an active family. So, what’s your professional background?
I studied a four year visual communications course at Art College which also included a six month photography course. This set me up to go into advertising as an art director where I would direct photographers on the campaigns we’d be working on. Because of this background, I’ve always been comfortable behind a lens as I’ve worked with some of the best photographers in the U.K.
But the transition from advertising to golf photography wasn’t planned. I was a creative director on the European Callaway Golf account for several years. There, I was responsible for creating advertising campaigns to launch products such as the ERC Driver, Rule 35 golf ball, the 2-ball putter and Hawkeye products.
I left my agency in 2002 to set up Bandit Design to purely focus on working in the golf industry. Callaway became my biggest client and in 2006 introduced me to St. Andrews Links Trust to work on a co-branded product. When I first started, I didn’t like the image they sent me, so I took a sample shot to show them the style of photography I wanted to achieve. It was a very dramatic image which I’m glad to say the Links Trust loved. They asked if I could shoot all of the St. Andrews courses in the same way, and I guess that has become my trademark as that was my first commission work.
That’s some career path. So, what’s the attraction to golf for you?
I’ve always enjoyed my sport. I played cricket, rugby, basketball, tennis and soccer for my school teams. I carried on playing tennis and soccer through my early 30’s. Too many soccer injuries, so I had to find another sport to play on the weekends. Golf was never on my radar until a buddy of mine asked me if I wanted to join him in a round at Tilgate Forest, a nearby course.
I was terrible! But my competitive spirit got me hooked, and that was the start of a great new journey.
The lowest I’ve been is a 5 handicap, but since the transition into golf photography, I’ve been steadily trending upward. I’m very lucky to have a membership at a few courses, but my home club is Haywards Heath Golf Club in Mid Sussex. Just a five-minute drive away, so I spend a lot of my time there when I’m home.
You mentioned the transition into golf photography wasn’t totally intentional, but what has driven you to continue to specialize in this space?
Right – it wasn’t a planned transition. However, when working for Callaway, I was always very frustrated with the lack of really good creative golf course photography. There simply wasn’t anyone out there providing that “wow” factor.
When I presented that first shot to St. Andrews as a style sample, I was thinking of top photographers who I could art direct to get the results I wanted. I hadn’t seriously entertained the idea of shooting full time in the golf industry myself. So when Links Trust gave me that first commission, it was a golden opportunity for me to show the golf world a style of photography that would help promote the sport in a totally new light.
My thinking was very simple. We play golf in all conditions, so why not capture that? I wanted to show both the commercial side of golf, but also golf as a piece of art.
Lofoten Links – Gimsøysand, Norway
That certainly shows in your work. What is it exactly that you do differently that makes you stand out versus other photographers?
I think in the beginning, my work was unique because no other photographer – in Europe, at least – was producing really dramatic images of golf courses. However, now there are many who have adopted this style, and it’s become the “go-to” way to promote golf courses. I still do many things in post production that I don’t see many of my contemporaries doing – but these I keep a secret!
What I will share is that understanding how digital imagery can be manipulated and having those skills is the most fundamental factor for any modern day photographer. The quality of camera equipment available today has improved massively over the last 10 years; however, the editing software that is available enables you to take even the very best raw images to another level. Any photographer that doesn’t embrace this technology is failing to give their clients the best end result.
How do you make sure to maintain the integrity of your photos?
That’s the real skill! Keeping your images looking real and not overworked.
Balance is a word I like to use when it comes to composition. The best images for me are the ones that are not only easy to look at initially, but also reveal subtle nuances that make the image even more attractive. I think my art director background automatically takes over when I’m shooting. It’s no accident that my images will work comfortably as a clean print, an ad or a double page spread in a magazine.
Some of this can be taught, but the best photographers have a natural talent when it comes to composition.
I don’t claim to know much about photography, but I know lighting is crucial. Can you tell us a bit about how you leverage light in your work?
Lighting is probably the most difficult skill to master. It is no small task to understand how small changes to both ambient and manufactured light can affect an image.
When shooting landscape images, I mostly shoot at first and last light to get the best results. But when I’m on location shooting player portraits, I very rarely have the luxury of experimenting with various lighting options. Practice is really the only way to hone your skills. But, what you don’t perfect in camera can be put right in post production.
Justin Thomas – PGA Tour
So of all the locations you’ve shot, which has been your favorite?
In the last ten years, I’ve shot over 400 courses worldwide. I never tire of shooting St. Andrews or Scotland in general. Mostly because the light is spectacular! I love working in the U.S., especially in the Pinehurst area where there’s an abundance of amazing golf courses. I haven’t shot in Australia yet, but it’s on my hot list. But the most breathtaking course to date has to be Lofoten Links in the Arctic Circle in Norway.
I’ve been to Lofoten three times now, and it’s fair to say that I’ve not hit a single golf shot on all three visits. I’ve been too busy taking in the amazing scenery and spectacular golf holes! My focus is solely on shooting. If there was ever a course that a golfer should put on the bucket list, this should be number one.
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve run into throughout your journey?
Well, not having a camera was probably the first biggest hurdle to get over. From the start, I’ve always invested in the best equipment available. For me, that’s Canon and Apple!
Another big challenge for me was understanding how to light shoots when working with tour players for Golf Monthly. I had a fantastic mentor in Tom Miles who is also a Golf Monthly staff snapper. His help and direction paved the way for me to be more confident in player shoot situations.
I’m sure owning a camera was a good first step! How have you been recognized in the industry for your work thus far?
I’ve been very luck to have a great relationship with St. Andrews Links Trust. Back in 2014, they made me the official photographer for the Trust. I’m the first to wear this badge, and I’m extremely proud to do so.
In 2012, I was awarded Golf Photographer of the year by the St. Andrews Golf Festival, and in 2015 at the Open at St. Andrews, I was given the longest drive in the press award by four golf legends: Tiger, Arnie, Phil and Player.
Also, in 2010 I produced a book on the 11 courses around St. Andrews called “St. Andrews: The Home of Golf.” Sadly, it was the last book that Seve Ballesteros wrote the foreward for.
Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Kevin Murray, Phil Mickelson, & Gary Player (Left to right)
Now there’s some star power! It seems you are truly accomplished. So, what is your vision for your photography and brand looking to the future?
I like to think I can carry on shooting players and courses in my style until both my battery and camera batteries run out! The plan is to shoot as many top 100 world courses as possible and build up the most creative and comprehensive photo library of golf courses on the planet.
We look forward to seeing what more is to come. Now we’re going to run through a few rapid fire questions. If you could play 18 with anyone, who would it be?
That’s a new one! I bet the Champ could smash it off the tee. What’s your favorite club in the bag?
Titleist 913 driver.
The big stick. Bucket list course?
Augusta. First to photograph, then to play!
One day… Thanks for joining us today, Kevin. All the best!