How to Get a Great Surfing Action Photograph

Various ways to get the shot

Dane Reynolds. Channel Islands

There are many ways to get a great surfing photograph, but the best way is to luck onto a photo trip with a skilled photographer to an exotic location like the Mentawai Islands in Indonesia. Doesn’t happen often, but if it does you’re going to need to know how to optimize your chances of getting a killer shot, as the opportunity might not arise again. Here’s some advice to help you get that amazing photograph that is going to sit on your fridge or become your Facebook profile for life.

Hooking Up

This is the term used to refer to the action of a surfer and a photographer getting close enough to each other on a good wave and busting a good move for a tight shot to be taken. There are still the variables of photo quality and focus, but to be in the game you need to be hooking up. Look for the photographer and keep him or her in eyesight. Check which waves are running toward the photographer and those that are running away. Don’t select the running away waves.  If the photographer is swimming in the water you need to get really close to him (or her) without putting anyone’s life in danger. If the photographer is in a boat then there is less of a need for close proximity, and if the photographer is shooting from the land, then there are no rules whatsoever—just surf as hard and as high as you can. Always remember to buy the photographer lunch or a beer afterwards.

Color Me Bad

While some surfers might balk at the idea of wearing bright colors or adding brightness to their boards, it does help when on a possible photo shoot.

Sometimes the color adds that little bit of contrast that is needed on overcast days and sometimes, it’s just a bright piece of board that might appear among a whirlpool of spray when shot from behind a wave. A white board, while cool and mellow, might be lost in whitewater while a little bit of color might just be the tiny variance that the camera is looking for.

Surfers with black wet suits and white boards don’t seem to get too many photos taken. Apart from Dane Reynolds, that is. No need to go totally luminous on us or to get a spray of The Incredible Hulk on the underneath of your board, but maybe even just a colored rash vest will suffice in getting you noticed and your photo taken. Heaps of graffiti on your board might help a bit as well, but it looks lame.

Where You Turning?

You need to always do your turns traveling towards the photographer. It wont help if you’re surfing away from all the action, the photographer wont even know what you’re doing. Photographers will try and situate themselves in a prime spot that is open to moves, or just on the barreling section of a wave, so you need to keep track of them at all times and set up your waves accordingly. If you’re just an average joe surfer and not going to huck a huge slob air in front of the, then a nice and tight re - entry right next to the photographer will work just as well. Just keep it tight, and as mentioned, don’t ride over the dude.

What Not To Do

Don’t make a face at the photographer. Don’t stick your tongue out. Don’t pull an ‘up yours’ and don’t give a middle finger. Don’t shut your eyes.

Don’t have a roll of fat sticking out from under your rash vest, and make sure the bits aren’t exposed. If you crash and burn right in front of the photographer that’s not such a bummer—serious wipeouts make good photos.