Joann Dost: The Art of Golf Course Photography

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Riviera Country Club Photo by Joann Dost

When Kodak needed a photographer to capture on film the beauty, drama and stories behind each of its 30 Kodak holes on the PGA Tour, there really was only one person to turn to: Joann Dost.

Over the last thirty years, Joann Dost has turned golf course photography into an art form usually associated with “serious” landscape photographers. Her work has led her to gain the sobriquet “the Ansel Adams of Golf.”

And that’s only appropriate, because Ansel Adams actually had a hand setting in motion Dost’s career as a golf course photographer: When Clint Eastwood asked Ansel Adams to do a tabletop book commemorating the 1982 US Open, Adams declined, but agreed to help find an appropriate artist. After an assistant showed Adams photos Dost had taken of Pebble Beach, Cyprus and other course, he interviewed her, then recommended her for the job.

That recommendation from the Master was the culmination of an almost unbelievable sequence of coincidences.

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Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge. Photo by Joann Dost.

Dost first met Adams’ assistants in the mid 1970s, while she was playing on the women’s minor-league Golf Fore Tour in California. She expressed an interest in photography, and they took her under their wing, helping her to learn the craft.


Her interest in photography had been flamed by the founder and sponsor of the Golf Fore Tour, Judy Horst. Horst was a partner in Bo Tree Publishing, a company that specialized in calendars. Dost stayed at Horst’s home, where she was surrounded by cameras, and once took a trip with Horst to photograph Mount Hamilton.


With that inspiration, Dost began taking photographs of the tournaments in which she played. She learned from the tournament photographers who were covering events for the wire services, magazines and newspapers, improving her work. Soon, she began making money selling the photos for publication.


Actually, the photography bug had bitten Dost some years earlier, when she was a player on the Australian Tour. Wanting to record her adventures, Dost bought a Yashica 35mm camera and spent time Down Under taking photos of players and courses.


And looking back, Dost has said that she probably was “infected” as a child. Her grandfather worked for the Auchincloss/Bouvier family in Virginia, and she remembers having her photo taken by Jacqueline Bouvier (yes, THAT Jackie), who worked at the time for the Washington Times-Herald.


Dost had a respectable (but likely unprofitable) playing career. Starting on the Australian Tour, she moved on to the minor league Golf Fore Tour, and to the LPGA. In five seasons there, she carded several top tens, shot as low as 66, and finished third at the Ping Championship.

But after a missed putt in a 1980 tournament, Dost hung up her cleats for good. She got a commission taking photos of the Walker Cup at Cypress Point for the USGA. That led to other jobs, and soon to the Adams recommendation.


Since then, Dost has shot hundreds of tournaments and countless landscapes. She has her own gallery in California, her work is sold at Pebble Beach, and prints of her photographs apparently sell for as much as $4,000.


And if you can’t see it in the photos, that price tag tells you that these aren’t snapshots. They’re art.


“If you’re doing work for purely for art, the photos have got to be compelling. People will look at a course, and sometimes the beauty is there and people just don’t see it. What I do is to see a landscape, and there just happens to be a golf course there,” Dost said.


In photography, as in golf, to be successful, you must be totally committed to the shot. Dost has that commitment, and will spend countless hours waiting for just the right moment.


“You have to be really patient. You have to be committed. I can be 14 feet up on the top of a ladder for an hour—two hours. I get cramps, but I absolutely love what I do.”

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Colonial Country Club. Photo by Joann Dost


The right moment for Dost is one where the light and contrast, angles and the “rhythm of the landscape” come together. Clear blue skies are not for her. Dost is looking for drama from the heavens—theatrical lighting on a biblical scale.


“Photographers need to be meteorologists. You have to watch the weather. Right now I’m finishing up at Pebble Beach. I have my computer on, and I’m watching the radar. I hope for bad weather on the edge of a storm.”


That does create problems, however, as when she was taking photos for the Kodak Challenge at Colonial: “We had some severe electrical storms.”


Note to people on the coasts. Storms in flyover country are serious business.


One key to Dost’s photography is elevation. She has a custom cart with a ladder attached to the back, and shoots photos from cherry pickers and helicopters.


“Players always feel better from an elevated tee,” Dost said,” and what I try with photography is to get elevated so that you can see more—the bumpy contours and the curves. Being elevated lets you see the golf course from a design perspective.”


In creating her images, Dost says that she looks for unusual angles, taking photos from the sides, above and behind holes, rather than straight up the middle.


“I shoot the course as most amateurs see it,” Dost said with a laugh. “From angles that the pros don’t often see.”


It’s telling, therefore, that Jack Nicklaus—for whom she has done a lot of work—apparently prefers his course photos shot straight down the middle.


I’ll bet Nicklaus has no idea just how pretty a golf course can look from the woods.


Dost’s experience as an elite player comes through her photographs. It is through her lens that we see courses as both an artist and a player. That unique combination may be why her photographs have struck a chord with amateur and professional golfers alike.


A major industry has sprung up around Dost’s work. She has a staff of ten who work to ensure that all she has to do is take pictures, play golf and do public relations work (like talking to your friendly neighborhood GolfBlogger). In addition to the Joann Dost Lifestyle Gallery in Monterey, California, they produce a line of cards, coffee mugs, glassware and coffee table books. They also do images branded to specific clients, tournament photos and limited collectors editions.


Dost’s most recent project is working with Kodak and the PGA Tour to photograph each of the thirty Kodak Challenge Holes. For the Challenge, Kodak has selected a single hole in each of twenty four different PGA Tour tournaments for either their beauty or their connection to memorable moments in golf. At the end of the season, the Tour player who has the lowest score across eighteen of those holes wins a million dollars. Kodak also has created a fantasy challenge, and an amateur photo gallery for fan participation.


Dost’s involvement in the Kodak Challenge was the result of another coincidence. Dost explains:


“Kodak had come up with the idea for the Kodak Challenge at the end of 2008, and they had decided that they needed one photographer to take all the photos of the holes so they had a cohesive look for all of the marketing and materials. Their lead guy, Rich Connolly, was on a plane flight home thinking about this when he noticed an article in the Wall Street Journal. The article was about golf course photography and I had the lead in the story and the lead photo. And he read the article and said “this is the person I’m interested in.””


Photographing the Kodak Challenge Holes will take Dost through seventeen states in six months. The projects presents some special challenges.


“The problem for me with the Kodak Challenge is the timing. They set up the stands six or eight weeks before a tournament, but six weeks out the course really isn’t ready to photograph yet. This has forced me to do some creative things so you don’t see the stands.”

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Joann Dost at work


Dost’s standard procedure is to check into the tournament site for three days. She often takes a full day just to move around and see what happens to the hole as the light changes during the day.


“I have to decide what’s going on with a hole; what the players are looking at, and how I can make it interesting and compelling. I’m on the property from sunrise to sunset.”


Dost tries to reveal something of the character of the hole with her shots.


“There are ways that you can go into a golf course and shoot photos for a yardage book. You just stand up there and shoot from the ideal position for playing. But when I’m sitting for Kodak, I’m looking for something that lets you see more of the design of the hole in that one shot. I’ll try to show the difficulty of the hole for that players. But sometimes I’ll just take a shot because it has some cool texture.”


A bit of a throwback in the digital age, Dost uses 6×7 large format film camera for her work.


“When I shoot digitally, it often doesn’t come out of the camera the way that I saw it. The transparency is much closer to what my eye sees. With digital, you have to use Photoshop to color correct and fine tune. You have to interpret it.”


But Dost is no Luddite. She also takes digital photographs on the job site. It’s more work, she says, but taking great photographs is work.


What Dost likes best about digital photography, however, is that it’s “getting so many more people into photography. That’s what Kodak is doing. It’s all about digital capture now, and thanks to Kodak, people are taking more and more photographs.”


See more of Joann Dost’s fine art golf landscape photography.


See more of the Kodak Challenge.

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