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How to take better Surf Shots
How to take better Surf Shots

How to take better Surf Shots

Once you’ve decided what camera you are going to get then it’s time to start shooting. It doesn’t matter what your budget was when you were getting the camera, there are a series of rules/tips that will help you get the absolute most from your equipment. The old adage that the best camera is always the one you have in your hands is totally true, and if you follow a few rules you’ll be nailing great shots no matter if you have an iPhone or a four grand pro body.

So in surfing there are three main areas of shooting, the land action shot, the lineup and the water shot so here they are one at a time.

The Watershot

This is the holy grail of surf shooting, taking the viewer into the water and it has never been easier to do. These tips apply no matter what you’re shooting with, a tough cam, a GoPro or a pro setup in a water housing.

Water shots fall into two categories, the wide angle and the pulled back shot. If you’re using a GoPro, then it’s all about the wide-angle shot, it is the same as using a fisheye lens on a pro rig. Now the thing about the wide angle shot is all about getting close, so it’s better if you’re swimming and not on a board (swim fins help here), keep the camera as level as possible and fire away. That’s not to say it isn’t worth firing off a few shots from a GoPro as you’re paddling out though, as Micah Lester shows here at Pipe. Top tip though, when shooting wide-angle, it always makes waves look a little smaller than they are, so make sure you’re out in decent sized waves.

The pulled back shot is easier than the wide angle shot and is the sort of shot you can nail whilst paddling back out. This is where those tough point and shoot cams come into their own. You still have to be pretty close but it gives you the cool view from the paddle out shot. To nail one of these is to stop and sit on your board if you’re paddling, compose yourself ad the shot for a moment getting the horizon as straight as possible, and waiting for the optimal moment of a wave or action and shooting.

The land action shot

These are tough, because they really demand a semi specialist lens as described. The key is to get as close to the action as you possibly can, which in some places is fine, the waves break close to the beach, but more often you need the lens to bring the action to you. So unfortunately the lower end compact cameras are really not very good for getting this sort of shot, the more advanced compacts with good zooms can handle it a bit better, but they are not perfect. It is the mid ranged DSLRs and the more expensive cameras/lens combos that really come into their own. Fast autofocus and bursts of speed when shooting really help, but it also all comes down to timing. That moment when your mate is getting barrelled, or does a killer turn, can still be captured with some good timing. A good tip for shooting this sort of shot is try to get a bit of the environment in the shot if you can, a cool backdrop makes everything look a lot nicer.

The Lineup

This is the shot which inspires, gets you amped for the next surf trip, makes your mates jealous and is likely to be the shot you put on the wall. So it is worth getting right, it’s easy to do, but also easy to get wrong.

The cardinal rule is always, always, get the horizon straight, sure you can sort it in photoshop but that’s just more time on a computer. The next and second most important thing is composure. If you’re at a well known spot or one that isn’t secret or sensitive, try and compose the wave within the environment. Waves always look better if you can see whats going on around it, the only time where you need to ignore this is if you’re giving away landmarks and you want to keep a place secret, but most of the time that’s not a concern.
The final rule is always wait for that set of the day if you can. Luck generally will dictate that that set will turn up just as you put your camera away so try and hold on, last thing you want to do is get a perfect three foot set and then claim to your mates it was six foot! So hang on it will be worth it.

They are just a couple of tips to getting better shots, they can, with the exception of the beach action shot which needs a longer lens, be achieved with almost any camera.