Behind the Lens: This is Nate Lawrence

posted by / Magazine / December 21, 2011

Bali/ Santa Cruz-based photographer is humble and skilled behind the lens – when he decides to take photos.

Nate Lawrence

Photo: Lawrence

“I try to take pictures as little as possible,” says SURFING senior photographer Nate Lawrence. “Otherwise I find myself getting burned out. If I go on a surf trip with friends, I leave my camera behind. I want to experience the world, too, not just be behind the lens. Then when I do pick up the camera, I’m more excited to shoot. It’s fresh again.”

Nate’s full of surprises. But he’s clearly doing something right. Scan the last few years of the mag and you’ll see his work covering a myriad of styles, locations and approaches, from wave pools and river waves to NorCal slabs and Indo perfection. “I don’t want to specialize in anything,” he explains. “That’s not what I’ve set out to do.”

The key to a good water shot? “Being in the right place at the right time.”

Preferred equipment? “You can shoot an entire trip with a 70-200mm lens.”

He’s a funny guy to ask about photography. No favorite images. No inspirations. Not much to say with technical advice. “When you take pictures of good things,” he says, “they usually turn out pretty good.”

You have to look at the images for the real story, and even then it’s unpredictable. He nailed a Bali cover shot on his first Indo surf trip, though he was really just there to surf. But that’s when he got fired up. With little more than hobbyist experience, he returned home to Santa Cruz and started shooting in earnest. A trip to an Oregon big-wave spot with Peter Mel and Adam Repogle triggered a bidding war between US mags, and Nate was on staff with SURFING a few months later.

In those days, every mag needed a man in Santa Cruz. Nate’s mentors, Patrick Trefz and Dave “Nelly” Nelson, were also his main competition. Then he started splitting seasons in Bali, and it was D.Hump and Jason Childs he was up against. “Dustin’s photography in those years was amazing,” he says. “The way he told a story with his images was second to none. He helped me a lot at first, and then something changed and he didn’t. I learned from that, too.”

These days, Nate spends his summers in Bali and his winters in Santa Cruz, ensuring consistent swell, fresh perspectives and plenty of personal surf time. And as much as we’d love to carry on with our favorite Nate stories, he surely prefers to just let the images tell them for us. —Nathan Myers

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