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Talking with a professional photographer will never bore you — especially ones that shoot golf. It’s like opening a pack of baseball cards when you were a kid. You never know what you are going to get, but you could not be more excited to dive in. As the conversation begins, you can be sure of one thing though. Their stories of chasing the world of golf with a camera in one hand and a club in the other will have you daydreaming to do the same.
This has been us on numerous occasions. As G&E Magazine has grown, we have been fortunate to interview some of the most intriguing individuals who spend their days behind the lens on the links.
Whether it was a world traveler like Kevin Murray, who told us about his storied career and his goals to shoot as many top 100 world courses as he can. Or the licensed golf course photographer for Pebble Beach Resorts, Channing Benjamin, who delved into his days as a roadie before finding his ultimate career path. Every story will have you hoping they randomly join your Saturday tee time.
It is a pleasure to add this week’s feature, Mark Alexander, to that list. Mark is a journeyman who has been in the industry for over a decade. He has a hole named after him, and his photography business allowed him to travel to over thirty countries. In today’s conversation, we discuss how a gentleman from St. Andrews found a passion for photography and journalism and turned it into a career.
Can we get some general background on Mark Alexander, the photographer?
I am based in Fife, Scotland, close to St Andrews where I grew up. We live in the historic village of Falkland where Outlander is filmed, in a beautiful rural location with incredible views. I live with my wife Yvonne, two sons; Euan and Callum, and our dog Harris. We specifically chose this central location because it gives us access to the whole of Scotland, as well as two international airports.
What is your professional background?
I have worked as a professional photographer for more than 10 years with much of my early work focusing on architectural and property photography which started when I got a weekly column in a property newspaper – I also work as a journalist. Back then, I visited high-end properties to get the story behind the ‘For Sale’ sign. It was my first opportunity to combine writing and photography, which is what I enjoy most. As my images were used for the magazine’s front cover, I quickly learned the significance of taking eye-catching images.
What is your golf background? How did you get into the game?
I was brought up in St Andrews, so golf has always played an important part in my life – Pringle jumpers were a fashion statement when I was at school! Following university and after working in London as a journalist for a number of years, my wife and I returned to Scotland and I started working for golf magazines. I wrote my first golf article in 2005 for Golf Monthly magazine interviewing Kyle Phillips, amongst others, for a feature about golf course design. I followed that up with a profile piece on another architectural firm. My editor asked if I could take some photos of the interviewees, which I did. I also took some pictures of the golf course where the interview took place. That’s when I had my eureka moment. I realized golf course photography was simply landscape photography with a golf course in it. It sounds simple, but it was a revelation to me. Until then, I had been shooting landscapes and had a couple of modestly successful exhibitions. This revelation gave me something to focus on – an area of specialism.
What has been your favorite location to shoot?
I have traveled to over 30 countries across six continents, but a lot of my commissions come from the UK and Europe. I am lucky because I have a lot of great courses on my doorstep, many of which I am still to shoot but the more miles I rack up, the more I realize that the lesser known places are often the most surprising. For example, in California on the Monterey Peninsula, Pacific Grove Golf Links is a public course split between a sheltered front-nine and the spectacular seaward stretch. It shares the same dramatic coastline – and designer – as Pebble Beach, and yet the green fees are a fraction of what’s charged along the coast.
Similarly, in Scotland, I was commissioned to photograph both the Kings and Queens courses at Gleneagles in 2015. I had already photographed the Centenary course which hosted the Ryder Cup, and this was a follow-up project. It was phenomenal, and I was very proud of the images I created, and yet while there, I found a number of Highland golf clubs dotted that deliver a similar experience. And I guarantee you’ve never heard of them. Comrie, for instance, is a cracking nine-holer with stunning views that you can play for £20 all day long! This summer I was asked by Golf Perthshire to photograph three more of its courses, which gave me an opportunity to explore some of these lesser-known courses, which was a real treat!
Shooting some of the big venues can also have its rewards. For instance, last year I was commissioned to produce a portfolio of imagery for a tourism campaign, which included photographing Carnoustie. The shoot went well and later Sky Sports asked to use my image of the 16th as their main holding graphic for its the week-long presentation of The Open. That was particularly pleasing because they have access to a range of photographers, but chose my work.
What has been your favorite commissioned project?
One standout commission has to be Prestwick. Many photographers have visited Prestwick, but none had been officially approached by the club. It was, therefore, a great honor when the secretary got in touch and explained the club wanted to hire me. We arranged the shoot which coincided with Open Championship week. I thought it was quite appropriate as Prestwick hosted the first Open and I was the first photographer to work with the club officially. More importantly, it turned out to be a great shoot which included sessions with the pros, the caddies and in the clubhouse. We even got the Claret Jug out! But the star of the show was the course and the incredible evening light that you get on the west coast of Scotland. Unfortunately, at that time, the club didn’t permit buggies which meant I had to run up and down the dunes like a madman to get that light. It was a bit hectic, but it was worth it!
Do you do anything differently than other photographers that makes your work unique? Techniques, equipment, etc?
That is a tricky question. It’s difficult because I don’t compare myself to other photographers. My number one objective is to create imagery that pleases me. If I stand back, review what I’ve done and feel my images have an impact, then I’ve done something right. I don’t concern myself with what other photographers would have done. I think it is important to focus on your own skills and abilities and bring these to the fore to create a portfolio of images you can be proud of. Saying that there are a number of talented golf course photographers out there, so when I see shots that tick all the boxes in terms of composition, light, and subject, I get inspired.
What challenges or hurdles have you overcome in your journey as an artist?
I love photography, especially golf course photography. For me, it can resonate and inspire. Unfortunately, some golf clubs disregard photography and are happy to use images that do the opposite. Phone images, shot in the middle of the day showing a waterfall or a flower bed, won’t inspire people to play golf. Now, a visceral shot of a fairway showing all the undulations and challenges of the hole ahead does. I get a buzz out of taking images like that. Getting the right angle, with the right kind of light at the right time of the year; that takes planning and preparation. But more importantly, it has to tell a story. Like any form of photography, you have to connect with your audience. When I take a portrait or architectural photograph, my objective is the same; you have to make a connection with the viewer and say something. Otherwise, it’s just a snapshot.
Have you received any awards or accolades you’d like to mention?
I don’t submit my work to competitions, although I probably should. Unbeknownst to me, however, my wife submitted one of my images of Turnberry to an annual business awards event a few years ago and I won the best commercial photographer category. That was a real thrill. I haven’t submitted anything since thereby maintaining my 100% record! More recently, however, a very private resort near Carnoustie named its concluding hole after me, which is an accolade I was not expecting at all.
What is your vision for your photography?
Like any landscape photographer, I am 100% dependent on natural light. Not only that, it has to be the right light. So the age-old rules apply; I shoot first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. The real challenge is being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of that light. On a commissioned shoot, I map out the golf course so I know where I need to be and at what time. Although this can be frustrating, especially if the weather doesn’t play ball, when it all comes together, it’s one of the greatest feelings you can get. My job is to make sure this happens on every shoot.
What is your vision for your brand looking to the future?
Much of my work comes through word of mouth or people seeing my images in ad campaigns or in magazines. To be honest, I don’t market myself as much as I should. I use social media (my hash tag is #Markphotography) which only goes so far. You simply can’t beat meeting people face to face and chatting over a project. The real difficulty is locating clients who value good photography. In an increasingly visual world, I find it incredible that people are willing to pay for accountants, taxi drivers and cleaners but find it almost inconceivable they should pay for professionally taken photographs. Don’t get me wrong; these other professions provide a valuable service, but so do photographers. Without clear and engaging imagery, businesses fail to connect with their clients and future customers. Communicating this is one of the pressing issues in photography. Another is letting people know they can buy prints from me directly, which I may have accidentally dropped in there!
18 holes with anyone, who would it be?
Tom Watson – I played a round with his brother in California once, which was inspiring. Playing with one of my childhood heroes would be awe-inspiring and I might pick up a trick or two.
Favorite club in the bag?
“I love my driver, but only when it behaves. My favorite club is either my 60 wedge which often accompanies me on my shoots or my nine iron for some bump-and-run action.”
Bucket list course?
This is a question I always ask my playing partners because it usually prompts some interesting debates. For me, however, it would be The Eden in St Andrews; the place where I learned to play the game and first appreciate the landscape on which it is played.