The State Of Surf Photography ’09

posted by / Photos / October 9, 2008

Every day I get bombarded with questions from up-and-coming surf photographers asking what it takes to get a photo published in a surf magazine. What am I looking for, they always ask. What is a good photo? What am I doing right and what am I doing wrong, they want to know. I thought I would take a few minutes in between magazine ship schedules to answer some questions for the surf photographers of tomorrow, or at least try to express which trends right now in photography are good, and which ones are (as our famous Assoc. Photo Editor {{{Jimmy}}} Wilson would say) either “heinous” or “a death sentence.” Photography trends are ever-evolving. You think the same trends that were cool in 2001 are going to be cool now? Wrong. Here’s a look into the State of Surf Photography ’09.



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CAMERAS 2009

The positives: Nikon, Nikon, Nikon. I know {{{90}}} percent of us are Canon dudes so the swap is utterly impossible, but shame on Canon for not releasing a full-frame sensor/7fps/12MP camera yet! The Nikon D300 is sick. The 3DX is crazy good too. Very noiseless images, better sensors, and they focus! Other positives are the Tokina 10-20mm lens for wide-angle shots, the Canon 50 1.2 lense for portraits, the Canon {{{300}}} 2.8 for action, the Lumix Point and Shoot for photojournalism on trips.

Negatives: The Canon Mark III. This camera has the shittiest focusing and even a shittier sensor. I thought the sensor on the Mark II was better! Hopefully the 5D II is good or else people are going to riot. Other negatives are using 1.4 extenders, long-lens housings without back-button auto-focus, 600mm’s, shooting any ISO over {{{200}}} with a digital camera, lens filters, shooting on jpeg, pole-cams and on-camera flash housings.

ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY

The positives: Gone are the days of posting up on the beach with a 600mm and hoping to get a tight-action front-on cover-shot. Those types of ’90s shots seem to be getting dubbed “Surfline photography” more and more each day. Meaning, you’ll see 200 of those photos in a photo section on their website. In other words: disposable. 2009 is all about showing how good a wave is while combining it with good action. A photo of Nathan Yeomans at T-St. doing a 3-foot air on a 2-foot closeout cropped so tight that you can see the boogers in his nose is dead. Pull back, and if the waves don’t look good pulled back, go surf! Show the whole wave, from where the wave broke to its shoulder and from top to bottom always.

Another 09 trend in action photography is shooting small waves from the water with a long lens look. A 70-200 is a great lens for this. Airs and turns look best from the water with longer lenses because the surfer doesn’t have to force a turn in front of you just for the shot. Ask Daniel Russo or Billy Morris who both worked the longlens water angle this year and both got covers. Oh man, and the fisheye, the fisheye for shooting small-wave airs and turns stinks of contrived unnatural photography. Don’t do it. It’s all about getting back to real surfing and showing the aesthetics of real surfing without having to have the surfer you’re shooting inconvenience himself or his ability just for a photo for you. Big-wave fisheye shots is another story. Those can look amazing. But for small waves, keep away from the fisheye. Also, did you know that since the digital revolution that a lot of photographers are shooting shorter length lenses from the water when shooting big barrels from the water? A la “The Flame look”. It’s back. In the early 2000s, people loved the 70-200 mm lens for shooting big waves. Nowadays people are shooting 35mm and 50mm lenses out at Pipe. These lenses are great for shooting big tubes like Pipe and Chopes.

Negatives: Shooting fisheye airs and turns from the water. I would say that maybe 1-100 of these photos look really fresh and uncontrived. Of course there’s the exceptions. Tom Carey is probably one of the only guys in the world that can be in the right spot with a fisheye and have the move and the wave look natural and not set up. 1-100 is not a good ratio. Go with the long-lens, it’s easier and your success rate is much higher. Other negatives that will make photo editors want to barf are tow-ats. Help the industry, help Mother Earth, stop shooting tow-at airshots once and for all.

PORTRAITS

Positives: I dunno. I’m no Art Brewer, but I know that the 50 1.2 lens is a great focal length for a 3-foot subject radius. Meaning, a great lens for head and shoulder shots, or a subject compressed aka…..sitting down.

Negatives: Fisheye, on-camera flash, 600mm, bright sun front-lit. Posing your subject against a wall with one leg up (that’s a burn on myself).

Hope this info helps. Best of luck with your photography is 2009! And remember: we’re always here to give you feedback.

Peter Taras
Photo Editor
SURFING Magazine

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