It is not so much about the surfer as it is the wave. Yes, surf photography is the art of capturing someone riding a wave, but it's the wave that is the real star of the show more often than not - especially when it comes to wide-angle water photography. Surfers want to imagine themselves on that wave or in that barrel, so the job of any surf photographer is to make the wave as alluring and beautiful as possible - taking nothing away from the wave in question and showcasing it in all its glory. How do you do this? Here are a few helpful tips I have found that work for me.
Never shoot with your subject in the centre of your frame. This often cuts out a lot of the lip which is the most important and powerful part of any wave and photograph. It also leaves your photo feeling flat and "dead". Instead leave some space on the leading side of the surfer which adds a sense of movement into the open space. Interestingly enough there is a big drive and trend internationally toward unusually composed or cropped framing. Land photographers are pulling back their composition and placing surfers right on the edge of one of the four sides of their photographs.
Tilt your housing slightly up at your wrist to further accentuate the lip. This also shows off the real height of the wave, if not making it look slightly bigger. Cut the top off the wave and the opposite is true, and the final result is far less appealing.
Extend your shooting arm out as straight and as far as possible. This will get your camera in the best possible spot - and your head as far away from the action as possible. Once you know your housing is in position, and to avoid contact with the surfer, pull back your shooting arm and follow the action as best as you can.
Always approach a wave with some momentum. There is nothing worse than finding yourself rolling around the whitewater, entangled in a surfers leash and bumping heads. He won't be stoked and you may well smash your housing on their board. Never swim backwards. You will either be going over the falls or creating an amazing foam-ball for the surfer - for which they won't be stoked. Swimming towards the action ensures you can put yourself in the right position and have the momentum to punch through the wave once you've nailed the shot. If you're going over the falls you're doing something wrong.
Get to know and read your surfers body language. This will make the world of difference when anticipating what someone will do when. From something as simple as knowing if a set is approaching, to knowing if they are comfortably in control of a big manoeuvre. Reading someones body language will both keep you safe and get you the shot.
Good luck and looking forward to seeing more photographs from around South Africa. Don't forget to register and load up your best surf photographs onto www.shotbru.co.za and stand a chance to win a Go Pro2 or Hurley hamper.
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