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A Curious Light

After I finished covering the Open Championship, I spent a week at St. Andrews. One day I climbed up the TV tower with my camera and positioned myself. It was too cloudy and I was about to give up the shot when the clouds parted and the light started shining through. I don’t know how many times I have been to St. Andrews over the years, and the weather can be bad most days. But sometimes there’s a thing called luck. Photo by Taku Miyamoto

Light / Dark

I’ve spent more than 30 years photographing Isao Aoki’s pro career. Mr. Aoki is now in his 70s and he still cuts his fingernails almost every day to a very short length. Those are the hands of a true technical craftsman. Photo by Taku Miyamoto
I’ve spent more than 30 years photographing Isao Aoki’s pro career. Mr. Aoki is now in his 70s and he still cuts his fingernails almost every day to a very short length. Those are the hands of a true technical craftsman.

Taku Miyamoto is a famous photographer in his native Japan. He’s shot for some of Japan’s biggest publications, including Golf Digest Japan, for more than 30 years. His body of work is staggering: He’s been on site to shoot 31 Masters, 28 U.S. Opens, 28 Open Championships and 25 PGA Championships. He’s become the official photographer for a slew of Japan’s most exclusive courses. His stunning work at the Masters is on exhibit in several locations throughout the country.

“Taku Miyamoto is the best golf photographer in Japan,” says Tomoka Ikeda, the assistant manager of Golf Digest Japan. “He has made a great contribution to expand interest in U.S. tours and golf courses to Japanese golfers.”

But in the U.S.? It’s a different story. Since his work is mostly produced in Miyamoto’s home country, American golf fans are not as familiar with his talent. He doesn’t speak much English and keeps to himself in the media throng. Even fellow photographers aren’t quite sure what to make of him.

“Sometimes I see him taking a catnap around the clubhouse. Sometimes I see him scurrying around the course,” says Robert Beck, a photographer for Sports Illustrated. “He’s always in a hurry, but I’m not sure to where. What is he doing? I’m not sure, but then I see his work and I wonder how he does it—so clean and technical. Composed so beautifully. Then he greets you with that big smile and happy eyes. He’s the smiling mystery man.”

It’s been quite a journey for someone who started his career shooting Japanese blues and soul concerts. Once he discovered it was difficult to make a living as a music photographer, Miyamoto turned his lens to golf, which has a rabid following in Japan.

It was a perfect fit. Miyamoto’s graceful style instantly made his work recognizable, and he was drawn to the beauty of the game. 

“Wakayama Prefecture, where I am from, is on the west coast of Japan,” he explains. “Ever since I was a child, I would always gaze out towards sunsets. Maybe that’s why I like California and photographing sunsets on golf courses.”

His timing also could not have been better. While living full-time in Tokyo now, he spent 1997 to 2012 in Los Angeles—which meant he bridged the stars of the 1990s to the rise of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to today’s youth movement. But he’s drawn most to the power of Eldrick.  

“My favorite moment shooting golf was the 1997 Masters, Tiger Woods’ first Masters win,” he says. “He’s my favorite subject to shoot. I have photographed him from his amateur days to him becoming a pro to all his majors. I sensed an aura I haven’t felt since Seve [Ballesteros] and [Greg] Norman.”

Miyamoto’s elegance could be confused for some kind of preternatural gift; he says the thing that excites him the most about shooting golf is “playing with natural light.” But according to him there’s no mystery about how he’s reached the heights of his profession and become something of a golf celebrity in Japan: “Wake up before everyone, stay out longer than everyone.”