A Guide to Taking Surf Photos2 comments
All too often, people assume the only way to take great photos is to have the best equipment. While this will help if you need to take billboard-sized commercial photos, or magazine covers, it is not the recipe required for good quality photos. Good photos come from good composition, and appropriate camera settings.
You're photographing surfing right? So what do you want to convey 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 standing on a hill… behind a tree… 100m away from the water's edge… At best you will get 'atmospheric' landscapes that just happen to contain a surfer.
So you need to think about where to take photos from relative to the surfer in the water. Everybody takes photos looking straight out from the beach, and sometimes it's impossible to get any other angle due to the terrain, but always try to find a vantage point close to the break and preferably at an angle to the waves. If possible, try to get an angle looking down the barrel (i.e. the surfer is coming toward you) so it gives the impression they are deeper in the pocket and adds drama to the shot.
Also consider your distance away from the surfer. If you can get closer -DO! Most of the shots people take are too far away and you miss out on the extra detail a camera can capture. You want to see the expression on the surfer's face just as the lip is coming down in a closeout! You want to see the rainbow of spray coming off the back of a wave in strong offshore winds.
Also remember to make the surfer fill the camera frame. If you have lots of water around the surfer, it's not usually going to be an exciting shot (unless it's a wave face filling the space around the surfer!) so zoom in, and get close!
Depending on the camera, you should be able to control some basic functions manually, and this can make or break your session of photography.
It's no good having a camera that takes 1 full second to take a photo from when you push the button, because the surfer will have moved, and the moment you saw will be gone by the time the camera captures the shot. Therefore it's best to limit what the camera needs to do before a photo.
On SLRs, this is easy. Put it in manual mode! On point and shoot cams it is a bit more tricky. Often there isn't a manual mode, so you're stuck using the 'scene' modes built into the camera. Always choose the 'action' or 'sports' mode. These are designed to give you the fastest camera shutter speed and focus settings available for the given conditions without using a flash (useless for any photo further than 20ft away). Of course, if you aren't yet comfortable with the manual settings of your SLR, the sports or action modes will work fine too!! It won't give you as much control as manual, but it will allow you to take reasonable photos most of the time.If this is where you are comfortable, then you can stop reading now, as the remainder of this article deals with settings on SLR cameras and cameras that allow full manual control.
Regarding manual mode, there is a significant advantage to be able to use a single shutter speed and aperture for all your shots. Because surfing photos are typically high contrast (unbroken wave is dark, while spray and whitewash is almost pure white) cameras automatic modes tend to either overexpose (by metering for the dark water in the face) or underexpose(by metering for the whitewash) so after a series of photos, many will be of poor quality due to the variability of camera metering. I usually take a couple of test photos and have a look at the exposure, then set the camera manually to use the settings from the photo that looked best. Of course if a cloud comes along and blocks the sun, you will need to change your settings to adjust to the change of light.
Now, how do I know what settings to try? Read on.
Shutter Speed and Aperture
Because surfing is a fast moving sport, and there are drops of water flying everywhere, I try to freeze these in the photo to be clearly seen. To do this I use a fast shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second or faster. This then determines what aperture I can use, and what ISO speed I can use. With kit lenses, it is usually better to use an aperture somewhere around f/8 because the sharpness of image will be much better than at say f/5.6 and the depth of field in focus will be greater, thus allowing you to keep more of the surfer and wave in focus. Now consider the ISO of the camera. If it is anywhere between 100 and 800 ISO you should get reasonable photos. The lower the ISO, the better, because the ISO will determine how much 'noise' is introduced. Some cameras (usually expensive) can go above 800 and look fine, while others (usually older models) may look terrible even at 800.
So what if the above settings aren't able to give 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.
If it's too dark, then you can only adjust the ISO and aperture f numbers if you still want to freeze the motion of the surfer. This is where the biggest differences between pro and entry level gear will be seen. You may find that you are at the lowest aperture your lens is capable of, and have the iso of the camera at 800 and it is still too dark, especially late in the evening. You need to decide whether to use a slower shutter speed -down to 1/500th sec is OK, but it will be tricky to get sharp photos without motion blur, or to go up in ISO.
With pro equipment, you have far greater ranges of aperture (down to 2.8 for zoom lenses) and much better sensors capable of relatively noise/artefact free operation at high ISO speeds up to ISO 3200 or above!!
on Jun 11, 2012
|A big thank you to Jimi for taking the time to put together this guide. Cheers!|
on Jun 18, 2012
|Hi! This is sooo useful and cristal clear! I will talk about this in our website with a link redirecting to this page. Great job!|