The Art of Surf Photography with Paul Gill

Surfing with Chris 'Guts' Griffiths

Pic by Guts. Paul Gill the man, the myth, the lens!

PAUL GILL IS ONE OF MY BEST FRIENDS AND SURF TRAVEL BUDDY. HE ALSO HAPPENS TO BE ONE OF BRITAIN’S TOP SURF PHOTOGRAPHERS. HIS SHOTS HAVE REGULARLY FEATURED IN BRITAIN AND EUROPE’S FINEST SURF PUBLICATIONS. ENJOY HIS INSIGHTS INTO WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A GREAT SURF PHOTOGRAPHER.

If you’re thinking of making a career of surf photography make sure you have a back-up job, as it won’t be too long before you need an alternative income stream. My advice would be wedding photography because you’d probably earn as much in a month as you’ll earn in a year taking surf shots.

Water shots are the most difficult to capture. You have to swim out into the surf and put yourself in the firing line, snap a couple off quickly then dive, dive, dive! The boy paddling out looks on and adds depth to the shot

A grey winter’s day for most but not for the surfer on a milky smooth wave at Crab Island. A brief shaft of light and the photographer gets his fix too

I’ve been into surf photography since the 70s and it has subsidised many of my surf trips, but above all I’ve treated it as a hobby with benefits. I have also shot a lot of video and have been invited to major surf contests, mainly around Europe and further afield, all expenses paid.

Surfing lovers and lovers of surf

No matter how much you spend on camera gear you will be unlikely to get a good result unless you are in the right place at the right time, and that doesn’t come without a lot of background knowledge on surfing.

Paul Henry, surf warrior. in the wars again!

The intricate dynamics of surfing are dependent on many factors aligning themselves, such as tides, winds, weather systems, light and surfers. That’s before you even get your camera out of the bag.

To understand these complex variables is essential. It has been my lifelong quest to get that elusive shot of the perfect wave and surfer in harmony. Surfing is not a sport, but more a lifestyle, a state of mind, an art form which transports you into a liquid world where incredible images are indelibly etched into your conscious-ness. A surf photographer’s work is to attempt to convey this moment into an everlasting image for all to see.

You’ll need a camera, but don’t go to mad to start. You don’t want to be Joe pro with all the gear and no idea. What you need is a telephoto lens, due to the distance involved between the shore and the surf line. All the best photo locations have waves that break unusually close to the shore, otherwise a boat or surf ski is required to get you up close for a decent shot. Alternatively, you’ll need to get yourself a water housing for your camera or an action cam like a GoPro.

Dancing amongst the frothing turmoil against a backdrop of green

But let’s not get too carried away – buy something with a substantial zoom lens, whether it’s a compact camera, a bridge camera or a digital slr with interchangeable lenses. Some of the new ‘bridge’ cameras have huge zoom lenses in relatively small packages. Aim to buy something with a minimum of 400mm at the telephoto end; that should get you pretty close to the action at most surf breaks.

A digital slr is a good option if you have plenty of cash to spend on high quality telephoto lenses. Used equipment is the best way to buy, but do your re-search first. Amazon, WEX, MPB photographic and Mifsuds are a few good places to look for equipment, new and used.

The jagged Gower rocks and shallow depth of field add drama to this shot while the invisible shallow limestone reef lies in wait for a mistake just below the surface

Before heading to the beach, have a look online at some surf magazines and surf clips to see what sort of angles might be interesting to go for, at your chosen beach. It’s not all about a super close up shot either. Go for different angles and include backdrops, or shoot from way back with foreground interest.

Explosive moves and a splash of colour make for a great action shot. Swansea boy Adam Bentos always performs when in front of the lens

Go for variety and you’ll end up with a mixed bag of snaps that you can take home to edit on your computer. Then, when you are satisfied with the results, publish them on social media to see what sort of reaction they get.

Ultimately though it’s all about enjoying your-self down at the beach in the fresh air with your camera and possibly striking a deal with some new found friends. Everyone likes a good shot of themselves, surfers are no different.

Read your camera manual and make adjustments accordingly, once you see the results on the screen. Take plenty and delete plenty until you are happy with your results.

With my 40 years surfing, photography and local knowledge, I am doing guided photographic tours of Gower.

For further information please contact me on: icapturegower.com

 

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