Paddling into the action

Surf photographers debate

What's going through your head when you paddle into the action to shoot from the water? Surf photographers quite literally put it all on the line to bring you the breathtaking images you see in surf magazines. Swimming into huge, heavy waves, breaking over razor sharp reef, armed only with a camera. With surfers speeding past, sometimes only yards/inches away from them, with knife-like fins on the underside of their boards. And did we mention the sharks. No one can question their bravery…

Thor Jonsson

When I'm swimming out to shoot I'm focused on the ocean, feeling how the water moves, lining up with the light and riders. Sometimes I'm disappointed that I'm swimming instead of surfing, but then I think that I'm at one of the most dynamic and beautiful offices in the world, and all is good. Sometimes I feel apprehensive and frightened of the oceans power, and sometimes it is just pure joy. I try to let go of the world around me and focus, it is very much like hunting, trying to get into the good moment and catch it, observing light, style and the ocean.

Lee Kelly

It really depends on the conditions and what I'm shooting. Also who I'm shooting and the pressure that comes with NEEDING to get results. For me I only feel like we are as good as our last double page spread and if we fuck up focus, or there is water on the lense, or whatever, the riders feel like they wasted time shooting with us. There is a lot of pressure actually, and then there is the physical aspect too. Your fitness and knowing the waves, being confident to have someone coming at you at 100mph on a spear and having to be 3ft away from them while trying to capture something new and interesting. You can't set this shit up, it's split second stuff and if you miss the wave of the day then you've failed. Then there is every man's fear of sharks!!!

Andrew Shield

Normally just trying to stay focussed on where the best position is to hook up (connect) with the surfer on the best section of the wave.

Jack English

It all depends on where and whom I am shooting. If it's Pipeline, I am scared, worried and excited all at the same time. Sometimes I have exclusiveness to a crew of guys and the feeling is complete joy. Knowing no other photographer is around me and I will be the only one to get these shots. That means so much to me.

Dean Dampney

Get the most artistic sand moving image I can find. Avoid getting hit and hitting reef.

Greg Martin

For me it's just pure concentration, trying to read the wave and put myself in the head of the surfer. Trying to remember all the things I liked and disliked from my previous water shots. Checking and double checking my settings and looking for any water droplets on the port. All this, as well as some nerves and apprehension are going through my head, until the right wave comes, and then my head goes empty.

David Pu'u

As I am swimming out to shoot, I am generally sizing things up. Getting my bearings and picking a line for the shoot.

Elizabeth Pepin

While in the line up shooting, I am excited and a little scared at the same time. But mostly it's fun and I'm filled with joy as I begin my dance with the surfer - trying to get as close as possible for the best shots without getting hit, working into a rhythm and a tune with the ocean and someone else's movements.

Sean Scott

When I paddle out. I look for places where there are limited people, good lighting, nice sets of waves, strong colour, and unique perspective, for my goal of the day is to catch that perspective on camera, so people can appreciate the ocean's glory as much as I do when I first paddle out.

Steve Fitzpatrick

Not much, really. I'm just concentrating on getting under the sets and out the back, and staying away from high spots in the reef.

Shannon Switzer

When I'm in the water I feel like I've morphed into a dolphin! I feel so free and alive, and- yes- always trying to be in the exact right spot at the right time and not get hammered by the set looming out back makes me a little anxious sometimes too!

Mickey Smith

It depends on the session and what I'm trying to achieve I guess - what lense I'm using, how big it is, how the waves are breaking and waters moving, who I'm working with - if anyone, just obvious variables like that. Generally though, I suppose its pretty personal. I'd basically be hoping I've chosen the right rig for the way I want to work in the conditions, breathing slow and buzzing on simply swimming in the waves for 'work'! Then I'll be eyeing the lineup and my markers, hoping lady fate puts me in a position where everything else comes together to create an image of some substance (To creatively document the moment to the best of my ability, at the most crucial time, in the manner I deem functional for what I personally hope to achieve out there.) That's it really.

Clark Little

I can't wait till the bombs start coming through. The weirder the lips and closer to shore the better. I'm like a kid in a candy store out there, and I can't wait to go to the computer to check out the goods. That is, if the waves are pumping.

Ben DeCamp

I just love being a part of the wave, and getting to joke around with the surfers and encourage them and work on specific things it's more fun for me than shooting from the land. At Pipeline my first winter it was so frustrating trying to get barreled, and once I fully set into photography now I can be in the barrel the entire session!

Bookmark and Share COTW / 2007

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