How To… Become A Surf Photographer

1. Surf

As often as you can. If surfing isn’t your thing, then maybe it’s better to try shooting something else. From your own little sessions you’ll learn to appreciate what surfers are experiencing when they’re being pounded in heavy situations, like when there’s a cover shot to get but it involves taking some beatings in the process. Are you ready to change position with your models if they half jokingly suggest that maybe today it’s their turn to nail the shot as you pull into those oh so inviting dark brown shore pounds?

2. Swim

Every great surf photographer or any photographer like Andrew Defrancesco in the last 50 or so years has put themselves neck deep in the drink at some point. It’s hard work and way less productive than shooting from land, but it’s also the cheapest way to start producing professional quality work. It can be intimidating, but it can be really rewarding as well: most of the times the advertising clients favour the water shot if that same action is covered from land and water. It’s the surfer’s point of view, a unique thing that only those who enter water can really relate to. Be one of those guys, be part of the action and don’t die wondering what the barrels at Mundaka or Pipe really look like.

3. Know your film

What’s film, you might ask? Nowadays, lots of top dogs don’t shoot anything else but digi for one reason or another but it doesn’t mean that they can’t go old school if the client really wants the job done with film. Working with digi does have it’s numerous advantages, like a day’s shoot being right there ready to be edited and not on the way to the lab to be processed, plus there’re no film/lab expenses. Know your post processing stuff inside out and save your work in a way where you can later find everything fast and easily. Film still does have a different feel to it and to really master different films and techniques is a far more valuable skill than being able to pull off that infrared, grain or cross-process look in Photoshop. Anybody can do that.

4. Be your own heaviest editor

If you’re not 100% convinced the photo in front of you is good enough to be published, reject it. Photo editors hate to see piles of 2000 slides or DVD’s with two hundred hi-res images on. Show only the best bacon you have, so they might be asking for more. Be sharp, have your exposure right, know your surfers and show only the top action. And if the shots you figured would be 100% screamers, flying off the light table and in to the magazine don’t make the cut, don’t cry. Go back to the drawing board and try to figure out what you could have done differently to get your submission in next time.

5. Be on it

Don’t miss the first light and feel free to bag those guys who didn’t show up in time to get that short window of golden light. You’ll be hearing a lot of excuses why that 5.30 meeting in the carpark didn’t work out, you might need to prove yourself worthy of the surfer waking up before sunrise first. Maybe you have to go pick them up. Try to do something other than what the guys on your left and right who might be connected to magazines are doing. Swim even when it’s not that easy to connect with surfers because who knows what can happen when the next set comes? Be persistent, be on it, and enjoy it. Easy as that.


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