The Secrets of Surf Photography


when your photographing surfing you want to convey something in your photos? wave shape, surfing style, spray from turns, and above all, you want a connection with the surfer in the shot.
This is tricky if you’re 100m away from the water’s edge… At best you will get ‘atmospheric’ landscapes that just happen to contain a surfer.

shots are all taken straight on from the water’s edge looking out if you can get an angel on the surfer looking down the line of the wave so looking into the tube this gives a much better perspective not all costs will allow you to be able to do this beach breaks in particular,

also think if you can get close do it it will be less strain on your lens an result in better images.


The setting colour positioning and what’s in your scene is not going to change that much when shooting surfing , a cloud might come over and that changes the look of things but your shooting the same break the same wave at the same angle, most cameras will have a scene mode and you can find that scene that best suits your area, even auto mode will give a good round settings for your scene,

Your two main priories are speed and focus many points and shoot cameras will not have a manual mode but its sport mode the faster shot and fast focus the camera will determine, if yours using a SLR go manual like I previously said the settings will not change too drastic when shooting surfing and better yet once you have some good settings for a particular beach on a sunny day save those settings, so you don’t have to waste time adjusting the next time you come again.

so when shooting the wave unbroken is dark while the spray is bright white so high contrast, the reason for wanting to use manual mode most auto features on a camera will want to overexpose for the dark of the wave or underexpose due to metering for the white spray.

it will take a few test photos to work this out where you want your balance to be. take a range of different settings and look what pictures had the best exposure and hold on to those settings, when clouds come over and reduce sunlight you will have to adjust settings again.

What settings to try?

surfing is a fast-paced and water move kinda quick you want to capture that moment and every drop of spray so shutter speed and aperture
you want a fast shutter speed 1/1000th of a second or faster. this determining what aperture I can use and what iso I can use. if you try to keep the iso between 100-800 this will reduce noise the better your camera the better the range you can go above 800 with little noticeable difference


getting the correct exposure?

If it’s too bright, then make the ISO as low as it goes first. If it’s still too bright, make the shutter speed faster, or finally make the aperture f-number higher (this reduces the amount of light entering the camera), but try not to go above f/16 as you start to lose sharpness.

with pro gear and equipment a lens with 2.8 for zoom and a sensor capable of relatively noise free photos at iso speed of 3200 or above !! but don’t be disheartened entry-level photography shots can seem just as good shots as pro equipment if you get your settings right.


People always want to know about the gear so here is a rundown of what we use.

Nikon Canon and some Sony mirrorless cams have a great range of lenses and each has there purpose benefits and draw down to each

70-200 and 16-35mm are in my usual lens kit. Also a 50mm and 400mm telephoto. And always a fisheye

My advice would create a style that is recognisable. Something the viewer will know is your image without seeing the photo credit. I think it’s so important these days, especially with how many people are out shooting surf and action sports images to create work that is meant to last. Don’t be so focused on logos or how good the action is, but more on the emotion in the image.

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