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A Beginner’s Guide To Surf Photography

By on March 22, 2013
surfing photography tips

Surfing, like any other activity, can be learned with some basic knowledge and a bit of practice. From a technical point of view, it looks really hard, but in reality, it’s really very simple to learn, as is surf photography.


Surfing is an extreme sport because of the dangers that the water present. Sharks can be swimming near the beach, huge waves can suddenly form and wipe every surfer, and there is always the possibility of drowning. But when one accepts the possible dangers of surfing and tries his best to prevent such things from happening, then surfing becomes a life changing experience.

As an additional challenge and to further increase my enjoyment, you can add photography in the mix. There is no greater joy than having a great surf photograph. The whole day of surfing is ended with the best souvenir ever and you can’t help but feel happy and proud of your achievements.

surf photography 300x225 A Beginner’s Guide To Surf PhotographyIf you are getting interested in surf photography then let me share with you some of the tips and techniques that are vital to any aspiring surf photographer.

I’m guessing you are reading this article because in one way or another, you are interested in surfing. If you already are a surfer then you have at an advantage. If not, then there are still some ways to photograph surfers but your options are limited. So my first tip is to love the ocean and be a surfer. The best surf shots are done in a POV or point of view style which is usually a few feet from the surfer.

Let’s just assume that you are a capable swimmer and a decent surfer and you want to capture some images in the water. The best thing I recommend at this stage is that you bring a disposable water proof camera or a water proof point and shoot camera. Disposables are relatively cheap and water proof point and shoot cameras are a bit expensive (around $300) but if you like swimming or any water related activities I’m sure you’ll use it a lot. Starting off small will benefit you because it’s easier to carry and won’t distract you too much from actually surfing. Point and shoots produce great images; just remember that when dealing with these kinds of cameras that your timing should be perfect.

When you feel that you have mastered capturing images using smaller cameras then you can upgrade to a DSLR. Buying a water proof housing or getting one made specifically for your camera should be on top of your list. For the lens, the most common one that is used is the fish-eye lens. Just imagine you’re inside the tube and you get to capture a surfer with your fish-eye. If you think that’s a bit hard then you can use a jet ski or a motorized boat to photograph a surfer.

best camera for surf photography 300x236 A Beginner’s Guide To Surf PhotographyThis will give your more freedom with your camera and more stability. The downside is you’ll be a few feet away so you need to use a longer lens. A camera housing can be installed on the surfer’s board and provide you with pictures with a different perspective. You’ll control it via remote control from the beach or a boat near the surfer. It’s a bit of a hassle to use but the resulting images are unique and beautiful.

Now there are other ways of having excellent surfing pictures while not being on the water. A telephoto lens preferably 600mm and up will give you the advantage of taking photos from dry land. Shorter lenses are okay for zoomed out photos but if you really want to include face action shots then you should invest in a decent telephoto lens. There are other ways of getting closer to the water and it depends on the layout of the beach. Having a tripod is a requirement since super telephoto lenses are very heavy.

An extreme option of having excellent surfing photos is renting a helicopter. The high cost of using a helicopter makes it an expensive choice but it is the most productive way of capturing those superb action photos. You can be a bit closer than usual to the surfers when using a helicopter so all you need is a 70-200mm lens. Just don’t get too close as the elevation can actually flatten the waves.

surf photography equipment 300x300 A Beginner’s Guide To Surf PhotographyThe best time for surf photography is the golden hours, 2-3 hours after sunrise and 2-3 hours before sunset. If you catch yourself on the water during the off times then leave your camera behind and enjoy the surf. If it gets cloudy then it’s the perfect opportunity for some black and white photographs. Surfing produces a lot of fast movement so use a fast shutter speed. Shooting in burst mode should also be frequently done to increase the chances of having a wonderful action shot.

There is no need to bite the bullet and splurge on the most expensive gear when you want to do surfing photography. As I’ve said you can always start small and just try it out for a couple of times and get the hang of it bit by bit. Then if you’ve mastered everything that you can and you find yourself really enjoying the experience, then it’s time to break the bank and invest in some proper photography gear.

One last piece of advice is to never forget to have fun. Removing your eye from the viewfinder from time to time will help you see where the real action is, so it’s time to get out there and have a blast on the waves.

About Mike Chase

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