An Interview with Matt Ward

B A C K G R O U N D E R   . . . 

Mark Alexander is an award-winning photographer based at the Home of Golf in Scotland who has shot over 150 golf courses in 16 countries across six continents.

 His work has appeared in all major golf magazines, including Golf World, Today’s Golfer, Golf Monthly, Golf Illustrated and Golf Digest. Beyond photographing golf courses, Mark also captures beautiful landscapes and on-location portraits for magazines and corporates. His work has featured in art galleries, theatres and restaurants as well as appearing in offices and homes in the form of fine-art prints.

Old Course, St Andrews

Old Course, St Andrews

T H E   A L E X A N D E R   S T O R Y  . . . 

I was brought up in St Andrews, the Home of Golf, so it seemed inevitable that I would do something in the golf industry, although at the time I didn’t put the two together.

After living in London for a number of years, my wife and I returned to Scotland and I started working for various golf magazines as a writer. One of my editors asked me to interview a pair of golf course architects and, if possible, take a photo of them. While I was waiting to conduct the interview, I decided to take some pictures of the course where the interview was taking place. It was then I realized golf course photography was really landscape photography with a golf course in it.

It sounds simple enough, but it was a revelation to me. Until then, I had been shooting landscapes and had completed a couple of modestly successful exhibitions. This revelation gave me something to focus on – an area of specialism.

MATT WARD: What’s the single most important attribute a top photographer has to have to be successful?

MARK ALEXANDER: Like any form of photography, it is crucial to have a passion for what you do. Having a true passion for golf helps when capturing that all-important shot. This means getting up at 3:30 am to get to the course at sunrise or staying out until 10pm to get the sunset. It also means you have a good understanding of what excites your audience. Taking a picture of a golf course at 12 noon with bright blue skies, just won’t cut it. The picture has to be special.

Dundonald Links, host of the Scottish Open in 2017.

Dundonald Links, host of the Scottish Open in 2017.

MW: If you had one mulligan to take regarding photos you might have taken or taken even better — what situation comes to mind?

MA: There are only a few occasions when I have left a shoot with that feeling. Generally speaking, I don’t leave a shoot until I am happy. The nearest thing I can think of is revisiting some shoots at the beginning of my career. That would be fun.

MW: When you got started in your career who were the photographers you most admired and wanted to emulate?

MA: There are a number of talented golf course photographers who have inspired me and continue to do so. But I have also interviewed a lot of photographers as part of my job as a journalist. It is fascinating to dip into their worlds to find out what makes them tick. People like Danny Green, Flavio Bandiera, Henning Sandström, Joe Petersburger, Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Ziv Koren all have different experiences, goals and tales to tell. Their styles differ entirely but what we all share is a passion for photography.   

MW: Was it more challenging taking photos years ago or in today’s age?

 MA: A lot of people believe the digital age has made photography easier. I disagree. There seems to be a notion that because we all carry cameras in our phones, anyone can do it and photography has somehow been demeaned because of it. In my opinion, professional photography should be elevated because of the knowledge and experience we call upon and the equipment we use to produce images that stand out. Without clear and engaging imagery, businesses fail to connect with their clients and future customers. Effective and emotive imagery has therefore never been more important.

Streamsong Blue in Florida, by Mark Alexander

Streamsong Blue in Florida

MW: Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?

MA: By a very kind man named – John Imlay, who was custodian of the Robert T Jones Memorial Trust Scholarship. He only met the great man once during a courtroom hearing when Imlay had reacted rashly to provocation from an opposing lawyer. Jones provided the young Imlay with some advice. “’I want you to go in there and nice them to death,” he said. It changed his life and has always resonated with me.

 MW: What’s the best advice you can give to those interested in photography — especially in golf and sports?

MA: As a golf course photographer, I am 100% dependent on natural light. So the age-old rules apply; shoot first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The problem I find is racing round a golf course trying to get to the right place at the right time to take full advantage of that light. On a commissioned shoot, I map out the course beforehand so I know where I need to be and at what time. This can, however, be a frustrating process – especially if the weather or the clouds don’t play ball. You have to be patient. But when it goes right, it can be a great thrill to know you got the shot you wanted.

MW: Your most favorite golf locations are what and why? 

MA: The next one! I enjoy the challenge of traveling to new venues with their own particular nuisances and finding a way of capturing that beauty. It is always different and always challenging, but that is exactly what I like about it. If I had to choose one location, however, I must admit I have a soft spot for the west coast of Scotland.

Kingsbarns Golf Links photo by Mark Alexander

Kingsbarns Golf Links

MW: Among the golfers you have photographed — who came across best way via the lens — both male and female? 

MA: I have photographed plenty of professional golfers at tour events around the world, but in these circumstances you keep a respectful distance from the action. This isn’t the time to befriend your sporting idols. An organized shoot can be different. I photographed Rory McIlroy a couple of years ago and had 20 minutes to do a cover shoot, instruction sequences, equipment shots and internal reportage-style photos all with Rory’s people telling me they had to get going. Add in a dull, windy day, and you have the odds stacked against you. It wasn’t the best day at the office, although Rory was extremely polite and courteous. A better day was with Sandy Lyle at a luxurious castle in the Highlands. Sandy had already given an extended TV interview but was still generous with his time, joking around and being generally very pleasant. The Rory shots made the front cover of the magazine, but I prefer the Sandy shoot. 

MW: Is there any specific course that remains on your bucket list you wish to photograph?

MA: I suppose it would have to be Augusta National. Despite it being one of the most photogenic golf courses in the world and therefore shot from just about every angle, I feel there will forever be a gaping hole in my portfolio until I shoot it. How I do that and make my images unique, I’m not sure, but I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve. 

MW: Complete the sentence — Mark Alexander is —  

MA: Forever seeking good light and great courses to shoot.