Water…one of Earth’s most powerful natural phenomena. For millions of years it has shaped our lands, forming mountains and sculpting coastlines. It is required by organisms to live, yet it can also be the culprit of destruction for some villages and towns. But there is also joy to be found, as we take vacations just to be near bodies of water and many recreational activities & sports revolve around it.
One sport in particular, surfing, might be the most fascinating and daring water activity of them all. Across the globe, thrill-seeking surfers catch oceanic oscillations as the swell breaks upon nearing the shoreline. Not only does this activity require skill, but photographing it can be just as challenging and dangerous.
Scroll down to see some incredible surfing images and tips from the pros. You may just want to move to the coast after viewing them all.
By Seth Stafford | Kiron Jabour surfing Backdoor Pipeline in Hawaii
Q: What is the biggest obstacle to overcome in surf photography?
“The single biggest obstacle with surf photography is the short reaction time you have to the fleeting moments the ocean offers. You wait and wait and the moment you’ve been waiting for can come and go in less than a second.” -Pat Stacy
“The biggest obstacle is trying to find big waves, I am from California and we normally get 3-4 footers, occasionally we have some decent swells and I love shooting big waves!” -Jeff Dotson
“The biggest obstacle is making your surfing photography look different from everyone else’s. That means shooting with an off camera remote flash, shooting at dawn, shooting from a different vantage point, using a slow shutter speed. The list goes on.” -David Orias
“Weather is a huge obstacle. In constant pursuit of that perfect wave from that perfect storm.” -Chris Burkard
“The constantly changing ocean conditions. You must learn to adapt quickly.” -Seth Stafford
By Seth Stafford | Clay Marzo surfing in Peru
Q: What essential equipment do you always bring with you?
“A fisheye is a really fun lens for water shots.” -Pat Stacy
“A fast camera to shoot at a minimum of 5 frames per second. Inside the water the more frames the better, and the most popular cameras among professional water photographers even make 12 to 14 frames per second.” -Rafael Calsinski
“Besides a camera probably having a good roll of toilet paper is essential.” -Chris Burkard
“A waterproof bag or case and a good wetsuit if the weather is cold.” -Joe Hsu
“For my surf photography I shoot with a Canon 5D mk3 using a EF 70-200mm F/2.8L USM and a EF 17-40mm F/4L USM Lens.” -Jeff Dotson
“A water housing. I use SPL water housing, to keep my camera dry. and a nice comfortable pair of flippers so you can quickly maneuver around in the sea.” -Seth Stafford
Q: What dangers are there to be aware of?
“Shooting in the water is the most dangerous because you can be hit by a surfer or if in the wrong location, be pitched over a wave. Some surfing breaks have a very high local vibe and are not always that friendly to photographers.” -David Orias
“The sharp pointed surfboard with sharp pointed fins heading straight toward you, combined with the powerful waves tossing you around.” -Seth Stafford
“Each beach has its own dangers, from angry surfers who don’t want their surf spot photographed to the possibility of drowning… then of course there’s always sharks.” -Pat Stacy
“With surf photography, there’s not much in your control. It’s nature and the only thing you can do is keep an eye out.” -Jeff Dotson
By Pat Stacy | Mark Healy in the North Shore of O‘ahu
Q: Any other tips or advice?
“Always remember to relax and have fun with what your doing, or why do it?” –
“I always wake up in the early morning and find that the best light in a day is while the sun is rising.” -Joe Hsu
“Protect your gear! I use an Outex housing for my above and underwater photography.” -Jeff Dotson
“The more time you spend in the ocean the more comfortable you will become. The more comfortable you are, the more clearly you will think so you can create stunning images.” -Seth Stafford
A special thanks to all of the photographers whose images were featured in this article!