Photography and disc golf: Action doesn’t have to be hard to capture

Capturing action shots with disc golf is always cool, but one doesn’t need high-priced camera equipment to capture the essence of the game.

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about disc golf photography. The rest of the series will continue in the coming weeks.)

By P.J. Harmer — Staff

I’ve been lucky over the years to be able to submerge myself into photography. From having a dark room growing up, to working for a weekly newspaper where I had the chance to learn all facets of a camera.

Over the years, sports has always been a big part of my photography. Whether it’s being close up at a baseball game or trying to find the right angle during a football game, sports photography can be tricky.

This post, however, won’t be about the technical parts of disc golf photography (I’ll save that for another day), rather the basics of what to look for, where to stand and other things you can do.

The reality is cameras are more and more affordable, so everybody can enjoy taking disc golf photos. And with camera phones (such as the iPhone) getting better and better, the ability to take disc golf photos is becoming easier and easier.

Action shots don’t always need an SLR. Take this shot that I snapped with a Motorolla Droid X of my brother playing. There’s a slight blur to the disc, but it captured the action well enough.

That’s the beauty of it, too. You don’t always need an SLR camera to take action shots. Is it nice? Will it capture the action better? Most definitely. But, does it hamper you? Absolutely not.

Disc golf has many facets when it comes to photography, but everything seems to bundle into a couple main themes.

When I think of photos for disc golf, there are two types I associate with it — action and artistic. Though the two can sometimes mix, the two are usually quite different.

For this edition, we’ll discuss action shots. And by action shots, I mean the true shots where the action is the focal point. Because, truthfully, artistic shots can include action. We’ll cover that in another part of the series, however.

The action shot is, obviously, the one that many people like getting. But, it requires timing, faster shutter speeds and, often times, a zoom lens or the capability of zooming.

There are right and wrong ways to do actions shots, though.

I’m sure many of you have seen the common action shot — the person on the tee throwing his or her disc. The photo is taken from behind and you can see the disc, but the only thing you see from the person is their backside.

Personally, shots like that are frustrating.

Action shots are beyond the action. The action shots also can show emotion. Look at some of the best sports action shots you’ve ever seen. I’m willing to bet the majority of them have the face of the person in them.

I realize, too, that many people can’t rush ahead 200 feet or so in the fairway to snap that shot. But these shots can be taken from the side, too. Just try and get yourself out of the sight line of the person throwing.

When I was at the Vibram Open, one place I took advantage of was a hole on the front nine. The players took their first shots from a tee pad that was slightly elevated and about 100 feet or so behind a stone wall. I ducked behind the stone wall and shot that way. I got some wonderful shots from that vantage point.

Casual rounds often give you chances to really hone in on some action shots, especially around the basket.

That type of spot isn’t always available. Especially if you are also playing and just want a few shots of you and your buddies out on the course.

The other thing with action shots is never be afraid to take chances with your images. There are times I switch things around. I’ll use a different lens or try and set up totally different just to experiment. If it’s not a tournament setting, take your time, play around and find a killer shot.

One of the best spots for action shots is around the basket. Because so much action goes on there — and it’s often slightly slower — you can get some good shots. And often be really close up, or have the ability to get in tight with some zoom. And, if you frame the shot right, you can get a cool-looking image.

Finally, framing.

Framing is key in most facets of photography, but especially with action shots. Think of it this way — when you are seeing something unfold in a photo, do you want a lot of other things in the photo distracting your eyes from the main part? I know I don’t.

You don’t always have to be in front to take a solid action shot. Just try and make sure you can see the person’s face when taking the image.

Action shots often are good with a tighter crop — so get zoomed in or as close as you can. Sometimes, the shots can work with a background, such as a big crowd watching. And, well, sometimes you can’t avoid a distracting background as there are often factors beyond your control. But, look around and often you can find a way to position yourself to make the action the total focal point of the shot.

Tip: If you are out playing a round with your pals or in a more informal tournament where you can get away with it, see if you can tee off first and then run ahead to snap some shots of the others coming at you. I’ve always had luck doing that if you kind of see holes where you know you can get away with doing it.

Not one of my best action photos, that’s for sure. Too many distracting things in the image — other people spaced out, a dog, cars etc. So, when possible, try for tighter crops and make the action the star of the photo.

So a few basics to remember when trying action shots — try and get the person’s face in the shot to capture the emotion as well as the shot, so shooting from the front or side is best. Positioning is key, no matter what your camera equipment.

Think outside the box. A great action shot will always garner some kudos, but something rarely seen will be that “wow factor.”

One final thing to note — the action doesn’t always have to include the person throwing. Capturing shots going in or coming to the basket can be wonderful action shots and give you a different feel and angle. Play around and find the action shots you like best!

As I leave with this edition of the photography series, I want to share a few of my favorite shots I’ve taken action-wise over the years.

Darren putting at Central Park in Schenectady.

Dean putting at Hyzer Creek in New York.

Make sure you are where you can see a player’s face — as you never know what kind of emotion you’ll capture!

Being in front gives you the chance to grab some cool images.

Pro tournaments give you the chance to take some seriously awesome action shots, unless, of course, you are playing in them!

Part two of the series will run next week on Rattling Chains. If you have any thoughts/comments or suggestions of things you’d like to see covered in this series, let me know in the comments below!

P.J. Harmer is the lead blogger for Rattling Chains. E-mail him at: pj [at]


0 thoughts on “Photography and disc golf: Action doesn’t have to be hard to capture

  1. Thanks very much for this thread. My “Other Half” is a family photography enthusiast, so I’m forwarding this to her for her pursuit of happiness. Of course, I think we all enjoy seeing pictures as the ones provided on “Chains” and I’m certainly no exception. It’s a little cumbersome taking pictures of yourself when throwing a disc during play, especially if you’re in water, or the like — not that I ever land there. ; )


  2. Pingback: Photography and disc golf: Action doesn't have to be hard to capture | Disc Golf Information

  3. Interesting article! I’ve also thought about the fact how boring it gets when 90% of all disc golf photos are taken from behind the player. Then again, that angle opens up something interesting – the hole itself. In many cases when the photo is taken from up front, especially if it’s a teeshot, the background is very uninteresting and doesn’t highlight the sport itself well enough on my opinion. Anyways, diversity is always good.

    I recently started a sort-of niche DG photoblog: . If you guys should happen to need any pics to illustrate your future articles, feel free to use any of the photos. A click-thru link / copyright mention would be great, but if it doesn’t fit the context, it’s not too serious.

    Keep up the great work!


  4. Pingback: Photography and disc golf: Look beyond the throw

  5. Very good article and some excellent tips. I love capturing the intensity in the Disc Golfers face as they drive off the tee. Another action shot I have been exploring is during the Ring of Fire at some tournaments. I have been playing with different settings to really capture all the different discs as they come flying in for the basket. I just started an audio podcast on Disc Golf Media. I am wondering if you wold be up to doing an interview with me. I will email you directly. Thanks.


  6. There’s only one key to taking good photographs. Practice, practice, practice…. Don’t just stand there and click a shot. Change angles, low, high what ever you can think of. It might not work but you will figure out what does.

    With digital there is no excuse for not getting at least 1 good shot. With film you were limited by cost and only 36 shots per roll. Ten rolls were only 360 images.

    With digital it’s no big mystery on how to get good DG action.

    I shoot about 1500-2500 frames at a DG event. Of that I will edit that down to about 1/3 I will keep. Of that I will post 1/3 of them and of that most are average shots and only a small percentage are what I consider my best.

    It’s all about timing. Learn the rythm of the players so you can time their shots. If you shoot putting don’t fire the shutter until the disc has left their hand. Keep looking through the lens after the action for that one great reaction shot. Keep an eye out for the nice features of players between the action.

    Now go out there and get the one great DG shot…


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