Deal 9: Hacking Photography mega-deal
This introductory tutorial on Surf Photography has been submitted by Ryan Cardone from Ryan Cardone Photography.
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!
I have been a surfer for most of my life and it was only natural for me to take my love for photography in the water. Surf photography really gives me a feeling that is indescribable.
I am dealing with the same elements that the surfers are dealing with. If they are getting barreled, most likely I am getting barreled. Just that feeling is an enough rush for me, but when you get the film back or see the photos on the computer it is that much better.
Every shot I have taken from the water has a great story. Here are some tips to use so that you can go out and try surf photography for your self.
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 pun, 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; they run in the $300 price range. These work great and I have shot with both and have been happy with the results.
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 ($300-$1000) and shoots to SLR’s ($1000-and up).
I use a SPL water housing made for my Nikon Cameras.
Here is a list of Manufactures Websites:
Other equipment I recommend are a good pair of swim fins and a helmet.
So now you have the equipment how do you get that great shot?
What makes a good photograph from a great photograph?
I would say 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. I love this kind of 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 photographers 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.
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.
I can’t stress this as the most important part of surf photography.
Like I mentioned before 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, I believe this is the great way to learn and improve your surf photography.
The last tip…. Be safe, know your limits, the ocean can be very dangerous and lastly HAVE FUN!
October 22, 2012 09:16 pm
Great article. You pretty much covered all the great points I like to cover when instructing someone on the art of surf photography. Well laid out.
One thing I would like to add for anyone getting started is if you are shooting from the beach and want to use one of those big $10,000 lenses. Rent one. If you are traveling there may be a camera store that rents them at your destination or there are plenty of online lens rental companies that ship.
Here are some photos I just shot recently of the Hurley Pro at Trestles.
October 2, 2012 11:22 pm
Great post, thank you! Lots of valuable info! One of the world's top surf photographers Jon Frank recently spoke to Alrik Swagerman about shooting in 25ft Shipstern Tasmania. For anyone who's interested, check out:
February 3, 2012 06:49 pm
Ive just purchased a second hand canon 400d to start off with but with a 18-55 lens, surfers are just a dot on the screen. Recommendations on a new lens for when I'm sitting on the beach. I dont mind paying but i want to get the right one. Please
November 16, 2011 10:41 pm
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July 11, 2011 03:07 pm
Have you seen the award winning documentary Fiberglass and Megapixels. If not check it out, its an incredible story about a classic group of photographers and surfers who live a life completly based around surfing. It features some of the best photographers, cinematographers and surfers in the world and is shot on location in Hawaii. Aloha.....
June 24, 2011 05:42 am
I have a canon rebel XS or 1000d entry level and a 300mm canon lens. I am beggining to understand some of the settings . Is is advisable to shoot surf mainly on sport setting until I get a better handle on apeture and DOF to shoot on manual , or is there a basic setup that one can use on P or Adep
January 9, 2011 02:26 am
What zoom is good for beach shots? im looking at a x15 and Im not sure if thats enough
December 5, 2010 01:27 pm
@Jake, Look into the 16-35mm f2.8 L II. Since the 5D is a full frame sensor it's a true 16mm to 35mm. Even at 16mm you don't get the exaggerated distortion of the fisheye on medium to long range subjects (although you do have some barrel distortion on subjucts close up). In all the non 5D and 1Ds (1D less than Mark IV) camera with APS-C and APS-H cropped sensors the effective focal length of the 10-22mm lens works out to be about 16-35mm (of which you can't use the 10-22mm on a full frame sensor body).
I've got a question, has anyone used a long throw sports reflector on an high powered Elinchrom Ranger RX or Profot 7b strobe from shore or on a pier? Similar to how snowboard and ski massive air shots are done. Obviously the break would have to be relatively close to shore or the pier.
September 1, 2010 11:22 am
Olá tenho uma nikon D3000 gostaria de saber qual a melhor lente para tirar foto da areia??
seria 70 - 300mm? obrigada
August 23, 2010 06:10 pm
Hey Ryan, great advice, thanks.
I have been using a Canon 15mm fisheye on a Canon 5d in SPL housing for nearly a year now and love it... However, I want to get another lens. what do you suggest for the best surf photography in the water? Check out my photos www.jakemoorephotography.co.uk/gallery_292113.html and you will notice most curve with the fisheye. is there a better lens for this?
[eimg url='http://www1.clikpic.com/funkylemon/images/we.jpg' title='we.jpg']
July 6, 2010 02:23 am
...And how about a lens AF VR NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED lens? or a Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM APO Autofocus Lens???
July 6, 2010 01:21 am
Hello. I want start to take surf photos. I need buy all equipment, I cheked on B&H website, maybe I will buy a Nikon D90 whit a couple of lents and a underwater housing, but in this store I can find diferents housing than show here on links. It is good the next housing for surf photos ?http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/586297-REG/Ikelite_6809_1_6809_1_iTTL_Housing_f.html
I am from Argentina, but in two weeks I will go to San Francisco, where place I can buy a good equipment, camera, lenses and housing in San Fransico or other city of California?
I will so thankfull to recomendation about the best equipment and stores (camera, lenses and underwater housing) about I can find in CA, to buy like Nikon D90 or similar and accesories with $3000 or 4000 aprox.
Thanks and good waves and pictures to all!
April 8, 2010 03:39 pm
I live in costa Rica and over the last 4 years , my portfolio has tripled with the amount of surf fotos i have taken. I have had the ability to take an assortment of pics ranging from the local groms that rule the surf to visiting tourists trying to hone their skills, to some of the worlds best pro surfers , stopping by for a weekend visit with friends or just coming to check out some of the local talent.
I have been limited to shooting from the shore and on the waters edge and would like some info on some higher end i n water cameras and housings. I shoot with canon gear and an looking for a solid , reliable housing for those or something along the lines that you would see the photogs in the mags using.
Any info would greatly be appreciated, i love the school and the fourms, keep up the good work and thanks for setting us all free to explore what life has to offer.
March 12, 2010 12:49 pm
[eimg url='http://i921.photobucket.com/albums/ad52/fidelp11/diego-3.jpg' title='diego-3.jpg']
Not sure if my last message timed out, just wanted to thank you for your great support on this blog. I am now addicted to watershots, lost 50 pounds in 1.5 year, work with magazines as a hobby / job and have been able to meet , shoot and show my native country to some of the best surfers in the world (machado, fisher and others). So technically your blog has made a impact in my life. Quick question, trying to make my own ports, sean's are great but he needs me to send the housing every time and takes time and lots of $. Is there any info you can suggest on how to make a port? and link for material? Cheers! Fidel panamasurfphotos(dot)org
February 17, 2010 10:42 pm
It is exactly what I have needed, tnx a lot.
One question: What do you mean by saying "surf line up"?
January 2, 2010 11:22 pm
Great tips and advices man! I've just come back from taking a few 700 shots of my friends surfing but out of the 700 sequenced shots, maybe 20 were sharp and in focus. I am using a Canon EOS 500D with a Sigma 18-200mm lens and i tried different shutterspeeds but all tended to give the same thing. I even bumped up the ISO to 800 and shot at 1/1600 and that helped but didnt do it THAAT well if you understand. Do you have any ideas or tips that you can share with me? That'll be a great help! thanks man!
December 25, 2009 10:24 am
Hey there and thanks for the tips Ryan Cardone, I found it very interesting, but there is just one thing I don't know if I understood right:
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.
Do you by that mean like having a branch lying on the beach pointing towards the surfer as to "guide" the viewers eyes in the direction of the surfer in the water?
Also how big a lens is required for taking photos from the beach to get a clear shot of a surfer maybe up to a 100 meters away?
Thanks for a great web page, ... and we're still in time to say happy holidays, merry x-mas
December 18, 2009 10:25 am
Thanks for sharing all those info Ryan, very interesting Blog.
Do not use Rain X it will damage plexy guaranty.
I have a Canon 20d and a water housing for sale.
October 26, 2009 06:03 pm
I haven't been photographing surfers very long but I've been a photographer for ten years. During this period of time I have come to learn a few things. One is that, if your going to hold yourself out as a professional, unlike other people say...that you don't need expensive equipment, to take good shots; I'd have to take issue with that. If that was the case all these pro photographers standing on the beach, or the golf course or football fields would not need the equipment they use.
I suppose it's how you define good. In order to isolate a subject by using short depth of field and a fast lens to get the shot, a camera body that is capable of shooting off at least 6 preferably 10 frames per second, without the need for the camera to take time to buffer and over heat. You need quality, which means expensive.
So it's really not exactly true that you don't need expensive equipment. It's like with any job, if you specialize you need the tools to do the job.
There are certain skills and knowledge that come to play that are honed over time just by doing it over and over and you learn the subtleties, of on shore vs off shore winds, times of day best suited for shooting surfers for example, following as they drop down shooting and anticipating the direction and how the wave is forming or breaking up. You learn lighting, back lighting or lighting from the front , light coming through a wave face, staying on one guy who is really good vs bouncing all over.
The aspect I'd like to know more about is getting my work published and or getting opportunities to shoot for a company at surfing competitions etc.
Now with huge sums of money going to these pro surfers, more competition means a need for more qualified shoots. That's where I come in. www.OCsurfingphotography.com
I will photograph: Competitions, Surf Camps, One on One lessons, or commissioned to photograph a surfer for public relations or even fine art photographs.
I also have design training, so I can create what amounts to a mach up magazine, just like the real thing.
October 24, 2009 04:26 am
stolen gear in Huntington Beach on oct 15
canon 20Dwith grip, tokina 10-17, tamaron 19-35, white water housing.
October 22, 2009 03:26 pm
Check out my surfing and body boarding photos. www.OCsurfingphotography.com
Besides, good lighting and a long lens to give shallow dof...and focus on the surfer, what set's aside a photo that's chosen for a magazine vs. one that a freelancer might shoot?
I'm having difficulty getting noticed by magazines or other surfing related companies.
Anyone have any suggestions? I live in OC California, so competition is heavy and often it's not how good your shot is but who you know at the editors desk.
October 6, 2009 06:27 pm
i want to know if you know anything about the equipment i would need for surf film/photography?
October 1, 2009 04:34 am
I am selling my gear too
Canon 20D with batery grip + 2 batteries
if interested fell free to contact me at email@example.com
August 31, 2009 06:17 pm
im selling my entire setup at the moment.
canon eos30d body
15mm fisheye lens
dave kelly water housing
if interested contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
July 23, 2009 02:48 pm
i love surf photography and am still elarning all the techniques, the photos that are in the article are amazing special to downward veiw of the board being ridden, sooo cool. i'm guess you took all of these photos.
July 21, 2009 01:25 pm
I am looking for a used set up... with camera and housing for surf photography. Is anyone interested in selling their gear?
July 9, 2009 02:30 pm
Whats going on guys.
So I've been trying to take pictures in the ocean but not exactly sure where to position myself in the wave as someone is taking off/ going down the line. Does anyone know where the best spot is to get that perfect shot without getting in the way of surfers?
February 28, 2009 04:08 pm
You write you have a friend/slave swimming with the flash in the water. Which flash and kind of housing do you use for this? And how do you trigger the flash? pocket wizard?
Thanks for this!
December 12, 2008 03:28 am
Does that company have a case for the Nikon D90?
October 22, 2008 04:22 pm
I've been told the starch from rubbing the meat of a potato on the housing surface will cause the saltwater to sheet off the housing surface.
October 17, 2008 10:45 am
Ive been wanting to buy a waterproof housing for my dslr for a while. they are way to expensive so ive decided to stick to land shots. i am sixteen years old and live in new jersey. These are the photos ive taken so far in the last year. check it out.
July 24, 2008 06:24 am
Good article! I've been doing surf photography as a hobby in my spare time in Fernandina Beach, FL for about a year and a half now. I shoot with an Olympus E-500. I can't afford a water housing (poor college student), so I shoot mostly standing in about knee deep water.
Do you have any suggestions on how I would go about getting some of my shots published? I think I'm going to try and send in a few to MundoRad! or ESM. Also, if I was interested in getting a job doing this, what sort of steps would I need to take? As far as I can tell, getting in with large surf companies is pretty tough (most are already well staffed). My guess would be to shoot at local contests and then send the pictures to some of the Sponsors of the event? Also, should I start some kind of portfolio of my better shots? Or maybe should I try to get sponsored myself? I'm not really sure how that would work, but I was thinking I could become a sponsored surf photographer for some of the local surf shops. I take photos for them, slap their logo on the picture and then they can display them in their store however they want.
Let me know your thoughts!
Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!
March 8, 2008 04:02 pm
Im looking for a camera, I am 15 and need a new or semi new camera. If anyone has an offer call me at 808-394-0110 or 392-0383. Thanks and once I get a camera Ill reply with a more decent comment
February 15, 2008 05:16 am
hello my name is jodi and im starting surf photography i got a cannon 400d but i want to no what lens i should get because i dont want to buy one and its the wrong one as its very expensive
February 10, 2008 03:01 am
Can anyone suggest a good set of fins? I need good agility and power so something kind of short would be best.
February 10, 2008 02:34 am
Check out www.wpsurf.com (World Photos - Surf)
World wide site where surf photographers have a free account to post and sell their shots. Photographers can upload breaks and images to over 800 maps. 235 photographers from all over the world now involved with 33,000+ images already uploaded. .
January 24, 2008 08:10 am
Hope you are well my friend. My GF just told me that I had a mail from a person regarding the port drops, etc which she deleted accidentaly. That this person was traveling to Panama soon. I was wondering if it was you as it would be a pleasure meeting you. I also started a blog on surf photos www.panamasurfphotos.org and in case I would like to post some of your pics in my blog and maybe post some of mine (if worth it) in your blog as well. I would for sure put on my blog that due to you and your page I am now the first Panamanian Water Surf Photographer in the Panamanian surf history, jajaja. So now im the coolest in the world! (cocki)jajaj just kidding! I never though about it like that but im pretty sure its true, I will make some research and see if there were any other panamanian surf photographers in the water before ...
January 19, 2008 05:31 am
For shoting in the water what lens will you take?
1.Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM
2.Tokina AF 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 AT-X DX Fisheye ?
January 18, 2008 02:50 pm
A simple way to keep water off the port it to use your spit. Not the most attractive thing but it seems to work. As I am swimming out I lick my port. Also if you can keep the port in water until the last minute that should help. I am happy you got an SPL, Sean makes great housings.
Hit me up on my blog.... www.tidalstock.blogspot.com
or my stock photography site: www.tidalstock.com
If you have any questions or want to show me some of your work I would love to see it....
December 12, 2007 09:37 am
hi, i've wanted to go into this as a profession for quite sometime, but i've always just thought of it as a dream, because it doesnt seem practical. If i did decide to pursue, how difficult wuld it be to actually live off of, like as a career? im just curious.
December 6, 2007 10:43 am
Can someone tell me how to keep drops out of the pictures or the housing's port? I have problems when there are sequence.. The first shots after dipping the camera are good but the last ones are bad... Fidel
December 6, 2007 02:51 am
Thanks! Very helpful article and encouraging comments. I have just started surfing photography on the "Left" coast and wonder about metering settings. I have an Olympus 510 with a Zuiko 50-200 lens and am not sure which settings are most optimal with respect to metering options (spot vs center weighted).
Shot the other day with spot metering and high ISO and the surfers came out very black and crystal clear to the point where they looked like added images or a logo in the waves.
All suggestions welcomed.
November 15, 2007 12:23 pm
Just to let you know I got the Cam.. Went for a Canon 40 d with an SPL waterhousing from Sean. It will be here soon and will send you some pics... Thanks again for making this website..
October 5, 2007 01:43 am
hi guys...i'm a italian and I don't speak very well english..but in my person vocabolary..search two word and... this picture is beautifulllllll!!!! complimenti!
ciao vi voglio bene!
September 7, 2007 09:55 am
Thanks for the info man! Its pretty amazing that I had never really heard about the possibilities of enjury in this sport as such. At the time 22 years of age surfing 4 days a week at least makes you sort of ripped and indestructible.
After this injury happened its when I started the research and found out that there are many people out there worst than my self , such is the case of Jesse Billauer which I just learned about.
Panama is definetly a country filled with world class surf breaks and not many surfers.
1 year ago I planed a boat trip with a group of surfer friends in the exploration of the pearl islands. After only a day of search with found an amazing lonely spot in a tiny island.
Unfortunately I did not get to surf it. However, It was good enough to see my friends having fun on a trip I created.
You can see a video of this wave here:
I would like to thank you again for the information provided on your page and liferollson.org which would help a lot of people in my position. Today is not as bad and I can paddle out and stand on a wave. This is why when ever you want to travel down here just give me a ring 00(507) 6617 6974 to give you advice on anything for travel.
Now I am wondering if $1,200 could buy me a good set (Camera + Water Housing ) even if used?
I thank yah, god or what ever you guys want to call it for not putting me in a wheelchair and encourage others that are to try anything they put in their minds.
Panama Marine Group, Inc
August 31, 2007 05:20 am
Wow Fidel !!!
I am sorry to hear about your injury, I am glad you like this article and I hope it helps you on your road to recovery. I have been to Costa Rica many times and I think Panama is similar with amazing scenery and waves and surfers. I think you will have plenty to keep you busy! Also I shoot for a non-profit organization that you might want to check out. www.liferollson.org
They are all about spinal cord research and getting surfers back in the water who have suffered similar injuries. Maybe you can get something going in Panama. Good luck on your adventures!!!
August 25, 2007 04:35 am
This page is my first step to taking the best desision in my life.
2 year ago I herniated my spinal chord very bad after being a full time surfer in Panama Central America. I got to the top of the sport in my country (uncrowded barrels, aerial practice all the time, etc, etc) and loved it as a hobby. Contest only in favorite local spots and friends = FUN.
In present day I am recovering still from a surgery. Its been 3 years now and definetly a psychological change. From being a taned, good looking guy extroberted (22 years old) surfer to a chubby, pale nerd looking (25 year old)business owner looking to go back in the water.
My problem now is that my lower body has lost a lot of nerve functionality. I have tried surfing overall but its been hard cause I have not much strengh on my legs. Swimming is boring even tho I got a new Ipot H20 to pump my self but still is nothing like the ocean.
I have been helping surfers in my country for 5 years now to get around. I made the most complete surf guide for Panama and still needs to be finished. You can read more at
Even tho its a tour company I tend to send them on their own to make it the best cheapest as possible as thru the years I have realized is the hardest way of tourism in my country an d the world. Surfing involves too much climatic factors (tides, winds, swell direction, etc) and the market is cheap. I now go for yachts where you try to identify your self with fat, rich fishermen...
In the end Its not that good as surfing and now I will go ahead and follow the steps in this webpage. Knowing the sport, the surf spots, the rippers and this page will make a change in my life as I will fix my back while doing so... Im sure my legs will apreciate this.
Panama Marine Group, Inc
June 22, 2007 07:46 pm
Yeah I use to lick on my lens to keep the water drops away.
If you don't have a water housing or a giant expensive lens try to find a good beach break close to shore.
Here is a picture of Ozzie Wright doing his thing shoot with a budget 400mm lens. This break is so close to shore that I probably would have been able to do it with a 200mm lens.
June 19, 2007 04:18 pm
Good old fashion spit shine works for me. There are products you can bye called rain-x I think. But be careful you can't use that stuff on plastic. Also if you can keep you lens wet/underwater until just before you take the photo it should help keep the water drops to a minimum.
June 18, 2007 09:09 pm
I have always problems to keep the lens free of water drops before making the pic. This is really annoying when you think you took a cool pic and then you check it on the computer and you have this spots in the pic.
How do you make it?
June 14, 2007 10:15 pm
Being a surfer and a photographer, both as a hobby this post is just great. I've seen only one problem with this kind of shooting (in the water), when the ocean is pumping no one wants to takes pictures, so I haven't used it too much. I'll try it soon after this post... for now all of my surfing picture are from the shore.
June 13, 2007 12:03 am
Fantastic article, very well written and informative. I'm adding your site to my blog for my visitors to check out. Thanks for the info.
June 12, 2007 10:46 pm
One limitation that many of us have in several aspects of photography is budget. It's rarely mentioned that you can rent alot of gear, even a whole camera system. I'm not sure if I'd trust my gear in a rented housing for fear of leaks from previous users ("dont be gentle with a rental"). But if you're shooting from the beach you can rent that $4,000 lens for a weekend. Check with your local pro camera dealer to see what gear they have for rent.
June 12, 2007 06:33 pm
Added to www.photographyvoter.com.
June 12, 2007 01:56 pm
Thanks for your comment. There are actually many options to use flash. Most of the water housings make flash housings as well. There are all kinds of options, on camera, wireless, leg mounts, etc. With wireless we use pocket wizards. You have a guy in the water with a flash and you sit on the beach and by remote the flash goes off. It gives a really cool look. I have a few examples of on camera flash photos shot from the water on my website. I hope that helps. Thanks again.
June 12, 2007 09:32 am
This is definitely an aspect of photography that it wouldn't have occurred to me to do research into.
Most of the advice you offer seems to relate to available light photography. Is it possible to do surf photography with artificial light? Zoomed strobes on the pier/beach or anything like that?
I don't think you really can, or at least not in any way that's useful. I know the waves would preclude putting anything on the water (which I've seen beach photogs do briefly for placid shoots), but I'm curious if there are any other options.
Thanks for the info, Ryan!
June 12, 2007 05:41 am
Thanks for the comments. You are all right I wrote this article talking about the west coast, California to be exact. Sorry I wasn't real clear about that. The light will be different depending where you are in the world. The main objective is to look for beautiful light and use that to your advantage. Thanks again!!!
June 12, 2007 03:46 am
This is one type of photography I still have to try...my location makes it pretty hard for me to get snaps of this activity. Someday....
June 12, 2007 03:38 am
"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 â€œfront lit.â€
Shooting around sunset time will give you â€œback litâ€ light. I love this kind of light. The colors are often great. It usually will silhouette the surfer and look very artistic. "
You might note that this is western coast specific. You would get the opposite effect (backlit morning, frontlit evening) on the eastern coast, and south facing and north facing coasts will depend on the latitude and season.
Neat article, cool pictures!
June 12, 2007 03:20 am
Doesn't the time of day to get front-lit and back-lit shots depend which coast you're on? The text seems to imply a west coast location.
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