Surf photography always seems to be the preserve of professional photographers shooting pro surfers doing the pro circuit for nice glossy surf magazines.
Weâ€™re inundated with editorial about how they get amongst it all and take pictures beyond the grasp of the enthusiast photographer. But if you own a camera with a reasonably long lens and have a bit of â€˜attitoodâ€™, surfing photographs are not beyond your grasp.
Most beach and point breaks around Australia and other surfingÂ countriesÂ generally have a few hot grommets shredding their local waves, which can make for great fast action photography. Or you may have friends who enjoy surfing or other â€˜extremeâ€™ sports whoâ€™d appreciate some photographs of themselves in motion. Whatever your choice of sport, it can be an invigorating rush to capture a sportsman or woman in the midst of a radical manoeuvre.
Of course you can spend oodles of money on terrifically long lenses or expensive waterproof housings for your camera, which are great if you can afford them. But in general, an average SLR and an 80-200 or 300mm zoom lens will do the job for most point and beach breaks, and you donâ€™t even need to get your feet wet. If youâ€™re film-based, youâ€™ll need some faster speeds, such as 200 or 400 ISO. You may wish to use a tripod, but itâ€™s not absolutely necessary, as youâ€™ll need to use fast shutter speeds to capture the motion anyway. A polarising filter is also handy to cut down the glare and reflections while saturating the colours of surf and sky.
Try and choose a surf break where you can position yourself within about 40-50m from where the surfers are catching the waves. Naturally, the further you are away, the longer the lens youâ€™ll need. So if the waves are breaking a long way out the back, say 80m away, you may need a 500mm lens â€“ or look for another beach or point break where the waves are closer to the shore. Youâ€™ll be able to gauge the distance if the surfers look too small in the viewfinder. Remember that distant surfers can look a lot more exciting moving in the viewfinder than they actually will in a still, two-dimensional frame. Gaining some height to shoot from, either on some rocks or possibly a headland, will also be to your advantage.
Open the aperture as wide as itâ€™ll go and set your shutter speed as fast as the TTL (Through The Lens) light meter in your camera will allow (1000 sec and faster is recommended).Remember to spot meter off a surfer whoâ€™s out beyond the break. Be wary of your metering, as the white wash will fool the meter, especially if itâ€™s a sunny day. Now the next part is where perseverance is needed. Following a surfer riding a wave through your viewfinder can be tricky.Focusing and keeping him or her in the frame is challenging, to say the least. If you have a continuous auto focus, it may be wise to use it. But it doesnâ€™t always guarantee sharp, infocus photos. Expect to take a few dud shots. Anticipating how a surfer will move and flow across a wave is the key to capturing great action shots. As with all things, the more you do it, the better youâ€™ll become at reading the waves and pre-empting the surfersâ€™ manoeuvres.Some cameras have a continuous firing mode, usually measured in frames per second, which can be handy for sequence shots. But be cautious if using film, as you can burn through a lot of frames in this mode.
Determination, patience and perseverance will eventually fetch some great surfing pictures. It helps to have a passion for the sport you photograph. Surfers are generally not shy about their surfing, so donâ€™t be afraid to point a camera in their direction. If you get a chance to talk to them, youâ€™ll find that most are quite friendly and will probably want a copy!