Surf Photography for Beginners – Equipment, Techniques and Tips

Being eaten by sharks, broken bones, getting run over, or even drowning; these are just some of the risks involved in surf photography, but when you get that one shot, it is all worth it! Here are some tips to use so that you can go out and try surf photography for yourself.

Equipment for Surf Photography:
You do not have to have the most expensive photo equipment to get a great a surf photo. If you are just starting out and want to get your feet wet, excuse the fun, Fuji and Kodak both make throw away waterproof cameras. These are great to learn and practice with. They are an inexpensive way for you to get used to the water and the surfers coming at you.

If you prefer digital, Pentax and Olympus both make digital underwater cameras. Remember with point and shoot digital cameras, there is a lag before the picture is actually taken. The trick to making better pictures with these is to learn how long that lag time actually is, and then you can estimate when to push the button.

Timing is everything in surf photography. Moving up the price scale are water housings. These are basically boxes that keep your camera dry. Water Housings can be made for many different kind of cameras from point and shoots to SLR’s.

Surf Photography Technique
So now you have the equipment, how do you get that great shot? What makes a good photograph from a great photograph? 99% is the lighting. If you pick the right time of day to shoot it will make your photo that much better. It can be that simple. So what light is good? Early morning sunlight is amazing for surf photography. Most of the photos you see in the magazines use early morning light also called “front lit.” 

Shooting around sunset time will give you “back lit” light. The colors are often great. It usually will silhouette the surfer and look very artistic. The worst time to shoot is around the middle of the day. This is when you get to surf. Sun is a surf photographer's best friend but what if it is cloudy or overcast? Try switching to black and white. Color is pretty dull when it is overcast or cloudy so a good way to solve that is to take away the color.

Shooting from the Beach
If you want to have a go at surf photography but don’t want to get in the water here are a few tips shooting from land. You don’t have to have the $10,000 telephoto lens to get a great surf photo. A little creative positioning will give any camera a decent chance of getting the shot. Shooting from piers is a great way to get closer to the action. Also beach breaks usually break closer to the beach. This is perfect to get you close and personal. Be creative and do not always think you have to be close. Push yourself to look for opportunities to shoot something in a different way.

  • Try walking down the beach to shoot at a different angle.
  • Try wide shots, meaning do not always be zoomed in.
  • Use depth of field to your advantage.
  • Put something (an object, person, etc) in the foreground and have the surfer in the background.
  • Use a tree branch or something to crop the top of the photo to bring the viewers eye to where you want them to look.

Practice, practice, practice
Surf photography is all about timing. It takes a lot of practice to get in the right position while linking up with the surfer. This will be something you really learn the more you go out and shoot. With the boom of digital photography, it is very inexpensive to take a lot of pictures. Go back and critique your work. Take note of what you did right and wrong, this is the great way to learn and improve your surf photography.

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