A Surf Photography article I wrote sometime back for all those aspiring surf photographers who are going to the 2011 Billabong Surf Classic.
Each year the small sea side town of Jeffrey’s bay becomes a hive of activity as the world’s top 40 surfers descend upon it to pit themselves against each other at the world renowned Super Tubes point break. A weather window of 10 days is allotted each year around July to allow the famous winter swells that visit our shores to provide the perfect 8 ft to 10 ft walls and tubes at this, one of the worlds top surf breaks.
As an aspiring surf photographer, I wait in anticipation for the first week of July to get the opportunity to create some of my best work with these great masters of the surf. The event is held over the best three days of the period. Each day starts just before sunrise with the call being made by the organizers whether the day would be a competition day or not. By getting to the venue before this time on the non event days, I was afforded the opportunity to capture one of the best kept secrets the eastern cape has to offer, a perfect sunrise. One has to make every effort to capture nature’s beauty when presented with moments like this. While capturing a few images of these great rocks and water swirls, I looked up across the bay and noticed some activity in the water. I fitted a 2X converter to my 500 mm and hoped that all I had read on the forums about image quality were true and I was pleasantly surprised at the results.
Canon 1D Mk 3 and 500 mm F4 L on a tripod, 2x Converter ISO 250 @F8 , 1/250th – Manual
One of the most challenging factors facing a photographer at this particular surf spot is that the light is not favorable for the most part of the day. Late afternoon normally provides superb lighting as the winter sun sets with that golden light falling on the glassy wave faces! Think outside the box and you can be rewarded………. As if scripted, Bobby Martinez launched himself off the top of a closing out section at Super Tubes to offer me this exquisite moment.
Canon 1D Mk 3,400 mm 5.6f L lens, F 5.6 ISO 500@1/1250th hand held, Aperture Priority
Shooting in raw and using neutral settings on the recorded files, I am a firm believer that the photographer, when shooting in JPEG, should be responsible for the end result and not the camera. This again is a personal preference and works for me. I found that the above images needed only minor post processing work to show what the natural light in the images captured.
Super Tubes is a long wave to ride in the right conditions, affording the photographer an opportunity to move up and down the beach to get a slightly better angle on the early morning sun and certain sections of the wave where the wave masters go about their business. I worked the entire section of the wave to capture images for most of the day. In doing this you also have a larger variety of images to show for the long hours spent behind the viewfinder. By changing your distance from the action you can also get various perspectives of some moves surfers execute while trying to score the most points on any specific set of waves. Below is a series of images taken from the same point of the beach. You can see how you can vary your compositions with timing.
Canon 1 D Mk 3, 500 mm F 4 with 1.4 converters, F8 ISO 200 – 400
Canon 1 D Mk 3, 500 mm F 4 with 1.4 converters, F8 ISO 200 – 400
Canon 1 D Mk 3, 24-105 mm F 4 , F 16 ISO 320 @ 1/125th handheld, Aperture Priority Mode
Basic camera settings vary from genre to genre but for surf photography I believe that the most important tool we have at our disposal is the cameras histogram. Exposure is the key to creating a good or superb image. I also use basic aperture priority mode with anything from F6.1 to F9 with my shutter speed above 1/1000 at all times to freeze the moment. This also ensures that if your focus point is in the correct place, the whole subject and his board will be sharp and in focus. My sport photography mentor once told me that to get a sharp image is better than not getting one at all. In other words, get that shutter speed up and capture the moment before you get creative! Another very important consideration when taking action images, is the platform one shoots from. I mainly use a tripod with a video head or Wimberley when shooting from the comfort of the beach. When I need to walk along the rocky shoreline or stand knee deep in the water, a mono pod in a sport shooters belt pouch does the job. I do this not only with the hefty 500 mm lens, but with the other smaller lenses which may be necessary to create images. It improves image quality and my keeper rate.
One thing that really can get on my nerves is the total disregard for others by some spectators and photographers that have short lenses and move very close to the waters edge on the exposed reef at low tide. Sometimes standing directly, and deliberately it seems, in front of photographers behind them. All along the beach, groups of photographers set up near each other and the majority of the spectators steer clear! Unfortunately there is always one individual who has no concept of consideration and has to ruin it for the rest of us. Remember that when you are taking photo’s at a very public event like this, consider your fellow photographers!
Canon 1 D Mk 3, 500 mm F 4 L, F 29 ISO 250 @ 1/60th, aperture priority mode
I found it very easy to shoot in aperture priority mode, using the dial to increase F stop to lower the shutter speed to experiment with finding an optimum slow speed while remaining focused on the high speed wave riders. Not the most technically correct method but I got the results and technical data I wanted.Most of the time, it pays to follow a surfer all the way along the wave right to the bitter end even if you don’t have a great angle. I always do this in anticipation of some crowd pleasing dismount or in case he busts a huge air. A little trade secret I have learnt is to follow the press before a major event to find out who’s hot and who’s not! There are also other useful tips and hints as to who is renowned for a specific move… most times they are spot on!
Canon 1 D Mk 3, 500 mm F 4 with 1.4 X converter , F8 ISO 250 @ 1/800th
Here is one of my favorite shots of the the many years I have spent photographing surf events ………..Kelly Slater stands in awe of the famous point break… SUPERTUBES
“when we are doing what we love, we don’t care about time….. for at least at that moment time does not exist and we are truly free…” – anonymous
I hope you find this help full and will share this journal with your friends…………..AA