Beginner’s Guide to Surf Photography: Top 10 Tips

Written by on 24th August 2016
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Lucia Griggi is an internationally respected Italian/English surf photographer who has been traveling the world shooting since 2000, working for industry giants like the WSL and getting her work published in prestigious places such as National Geographic. She is also one of the few women to swim out at Pipeline and shoot from the water. She’s basically Queen of the game.

Luc is running a surf photography workshop in France this October and will be posting a regular blogs leading up to the course on all things surf photography. Here’s the first entry, A beginner’s Guide to Surf Photography: Lucia Griggi’s 10 Top Tips.

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Photo: Lucia Griggi

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Photo: Lucia Griggi

1. Pick a great camera

In order to provide surf industry clients with the very best quality imagery a good camera body is required. For shooting surfing, the standard camera bodies most generally used are the Canon mark 1D Series. These are required due to their fast shutter speed – above 8.5 frames per second – in order to capture high-powered sequences of surfers performing. The buffer systems on these cameras are high performance and can capture anything from a 10-frame sequence upwards. The camera’s megapixels are high and perfect for high print quality for magazines and Point of Sale.

2. Pick your lenses

Choosing your lenses for your camera body is just as important as the camera – in fact even more so. A good lens can be shown in the quality of the picture; therefore it is important to have a good lens to produce high-quality magazine work. The lenses generally used for surf photography are the 600/500/400mm lenses. Nowadays, due to the increase of quality within the equipment, a 600mm is not always necessary to get close to the action. A 400mm lens will do the job just fine. For pulled-back lifestyle, when shooting the surfers or shooting line-up shots of the waves, I would suggest the 70-200mm lens. For portraits the 85mm is perfect— a great depth of field is shown with this lens and detail can be well defined.

3. Putting the hours in — get established

Being an established surf photographer does not happen overnight. There is a reason why ‘being established’ counts. It shows experience, and experience is how we become professional and professional means getting paid. It is important to put the hours in if you are working towards becoming a professional surf photographer. To become established in the surf industry can take some time. The industry is inundated with photographers wanting to live the lifestyle on the beach and to travel the world in doing so. Unfortunately, there are very few that actually do make a living from it. Those that do have been working away at it for the best part of 10 years and have earned their place. Persistence and uniqueness is what is needed today to break through the industry. Don’t bother sending a CV— get a plane ticket instead and get shooting.

5. Working in the industry

It can be hard, it’s also highly competitive and expensive due to travel expenses to surf locations. Especially when most of these locations are on idyllic islands somewhere in the Pacific Ocean! Once you have figured out how to get there, it is great fun: working on the beach, swimming in perfect surf, hanging with the surfers. It is a very small industry and once you have broken through, it is then essential to gain relationships with the magazines and brands. This is your key to selling work. It depends a lot on the relationships you build in order to get the work.

6. Keeping your rates up

The main problem with working within the surf industry is pay. It is true that the amazing lifestyle means you often have to accept lower rates of pay. To put it bluntly, there is all too often very little money in it. Why is this? Because there are too many photographers willing to give their work for free to gain a slice of paradise. In turn this can only last a few years before they realize they cannot support themselves. Keep your rates up and gain respect for yourself from the beginning. Once a brand knows you will give photos for free, you will always be that person for free; don’t believe otherwise that they will suddenly pay you because they won’t. They will pay those that charge from the beginning. Don’t be fooled. This is very important.

7. Being a Bro

Within the surf industry it is all about who you know, not what you know. It is a very tight-knit community and being ‘cool’ is part of your CV. Whether this is right or wrong it is how it is, so get your funky clothes on and book your plane ticket. If you don’t present yourself and get yourself out there, you won’t be getting published.

8. Sending your images

When sending images to a magazine or surf brand they do not want to filter through a disk full of thousands of images, and they won’t – it will go in the bin. Edit your best 10 at the very most and send as 72 DPI attached to an email. If they want the images they will be in touch.

9. Surfer’s relationship

To obtain images of the surfers you must know the surfers and have a great working relationship with them. Rule number one: Don’t hook up with them, they will most likely avoid you and you will probably contract cooties. No.2: They are somewhat unreliable, so prepare to start pulling your hair out. No.3: It takes years for them to remember you so prepare to put the time in. On a more serious note, it is vital to have a good working relationship with them, as you will need to know where they are surfing and get onboard with the trips.

10. Good luck and if anyone has any questions or would like to book onto my surf photography workshops being held in Morocco in October this year, there a few places still left and I would love to see you!

Thanks

Lucia

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