Shotmakers: Mark Cuevas on Shooting the Masters and ‘Letting It Happen’


Shotmakers: Mark Cuevas on Shooting the Masters and ‘Letting It Happen’

Introducing Shotmakers, a new series that explores the modern world of golf photography and how the people who comprise it are redefining the game’s visual language.

For Mark Cuevas the pinnacle of golf photography isn’t too different from the pinnacle of playing the sport. It’s the feeling of being in the zone, or a flow state, where everything comes naturally.

Cuevas, or Padron Smoker as he’s known on Instagram, recalls a trip to the 2023 Masters. It was his first time at the tournament, an experience commonly described as spiritual or even life changing. In the absence of most forms of modern technology (phones are famously not allowed on the grounds of Augusta National) getting in touch with one’s artistry tends to come easier. Cuevas wasn’t completely empty-handed though, he had his camera, which is allowed during practice rounds. “With golf I just let things happen…” he says, “and that’s when I play really well. The same thing goes with photography.”

This mindset doesn’t just inform his approach to shooting at the Masters, it applies to his craft as a whole. Unlike other golf photographers more recognized within the mainstream, Cuevas has a full-time job that has nothing to do with golf, managing a team of photographers for a celebrity news agency. That may be partly why his work is so well respected within the closely knit community of micro brands and creatives that are opening the sport up to a new audience. When Cuevas brings his camera to the golf course, it comes from a place of passion.

The LA resident makes a point of saying that he’s been around the game for a while, and he no longer feels the need to capture everything during his precious time spent on the course to fuel the endless cycle of content. But nonetheless, he has become one of the most in-demand photographers within the alternative and chronically online golf crowd, often working at events for Golf Gaming Club and Malbon while solidifying himself as one of the main creatives behind Students Golf’s always-stylish lookbooks.

In the second installment of Shotmakers, we teed up a conversation with Mark Cuevas to find out how he got into the sport and understand his perspective on how social media has changed the game of golf photography.

How did you become interested in golf as an artistic pursuit?

To me it was just about showcasing a vibe and the people that I play with. Early on it definitely attracted more people that were interested in the type of golf that I like to play, which is muni golf. I like walking, I like carrying my bag, I’m somewhat nostalgic in terms of fashion but also modern and somewhat urban.

I enjoy meeting new people and understanding what got them into golf or why they chose a set of clubs. Why did they choose that bag? What about those shoes? And truthfully, it all comes back to my roots of playing golf. When I first started playing, I would get paired up with random people and spend four to five and a half hours on a golf course with someone. You’re gonna start to understand who that person is, and I think that’s why golf is one of the best games in the world.

What’s your favorite place to shoot?

You know, honestly, there really is no particular thing. I definitely enjoy golf architecture and some of the roots behind some of the courses, but I’m more concerned about what time of day I’m shooting. Usually that’s twilight or in the evening before the sun goes down, because when you’re playing in the middle of the day the sun is right above you and it’s just harsh as hell.

On what basis do you typically judge your work?

I think at the end of the day it’s about emotion, the hardest thing for me is trying to capture a story within one photo.

I’ll give you a perfect example. This last week I was shooting Golf Gaming Club in Las Vegas for their Players Cup, and I must have shot 2,500 photos, but there was one from the after party that stood out because it had so much chaos going on. It featured one person who people know in that space, and it spoke to who he is as an individual and what people love about him. As cheesy as it may sound like, that to me is my favorite photo.

Are there any other photos you have pinned up on your wall?

I have one specifically at a really cool par-3 course here in LA, it’s called Terranea Golf Resort, and I would normally go there after work and play nine with a homie of mine. I got a sunset photo of him teeing off on number 8, he’s hitting towards the ocean, there’s a big oil rig behind it in the distance and the sunset is just perfect. It’s just a perfect type of photo.

Tell us what it was like to go to the Masters for the first time.

I tried to take it in as much as I could, especially just being a regular patron and not being there on credentials. But looking back, I probably preferred it that way because my perspective is always as a viewer, so I wanted to make it feel like a patron being there and seeing it the way I saw it.

I’m also not one to showcase all of my work, especially on my Instagram feed. But I literally made a post before I left and I jumped on the plane, and then when I landed my phone was just blowing up and I was just totally taken aback by the love and support. So looking back there are definitely some things from the Masters that I’m very proud of.

What’s your approach when you’re at a live event?

I try to explain it just like golf, the less that I think the better stuff that I produce. At the Masters I was on cloud nine just being on property and I wasn’t even really thinking ‘I need to shoot this person, or I need to shoot this or I need to capture this.’ I was just trusting my intuition and again, trying to think of the patron perspective and capturing what it’s like to see it in your own eyes the first time.

What other events would you like to shoot in the future?

I would love to shoot more LPGA events to be honest with you. I say that because I’ve been around golf for a long time and I’ve seen the pro game for so long, and truthfully, I’m bored of it.

I just think the LPGA is growing. It’s the fastest growing sector in the golf space and it has so much more room to grow, but it needs to be showcased a little bit more, especially to the younger generation. I also want to showcase some of these girls because they’re just so good, and unfortunately I don’t think people realize how good they are.

Tell us about some of the other work you’ve done in golf fashion, and particularly Students.

Last year I started shooting the lookbooks and campaigns for Students, and that’s basically turned into me being their photographer now.

Students has been my mainstay and I love it that (Students founder) Michael [Huynh] gives me a little bit of freedom with what we shoot, he’s very collaborative in that way. I owe him a lot quite honestly, because I never really did a lot of branding and it’s really opened my eyes to get better at that stuff. I think for the most part people would recognize me as more of a golf lifestyle photographer now and a lot of that is thanks to Students.

How different is that from the work you’ve done in the past?

Doing studio and branding kind of stuff takes a little bit more time even though it doesn’t seem like it, especially with the use of light, artificial light, location scouting and things like that. Students has definitely given me an opportunity to expand my photography portfolio.

Finally, how do you think the industry has changed post-COVID?

You know, being around the game for so long and seeing this whole new wave since social media came into play, I don’t necessarily look at it as an opportunity to jump on as opposed to a lot of people do. I think a lot of that has to do with me being a golfer first, but also being passionate about all things photography, not just golf lifestyle.

It’s definitely interesting to see the new wave of what people call content creators, I don’t necessarily look at myself like that. But it is definitely still a passion, and it’s nice that I can actually generate some income from it now as well.

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