Want to start taking photos of the surf but need help figuring out where to start?
I’ve got you covered with ten tips guaranteed to have you taking perfect shots in no time.
Let’s jump straight in with some solid advice on getting to grips with the gear you’ll need to make a start.
1. Getting Your Settings Right
There’s no golden rule for the settings on your camera, but when you’re just starting, it’s good to keep things simple.
Here are some helpful guidelines for taking shots from the shore to get you on the right track.
Shutter speed: Use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action of the waves and/or surfers. A shutter speed of 1/1000 or faster is a good starting point.
Aperture: Use a wide aperture (low f-stop number) to create a shallow depth of field and blur the background.
ISO: Use a low ISO to reduce noise in your photos. Start at ISO 100 and adjust as needed.
Lens: Use a telephoto lens to get close to the action. A focal length of 200mm or longer is recommended
Once you’ve taken a few shots, feel free to start to play. The goal is to get a natural feel for how the different settings affect your shots.
2. Get A Tripod
From balancing your shots to keeping blur to a minimum, a tripod is a must if you’re shooting from land.
You don’t need to spend a fortune here, and anything is better than nothing.
If you want to stay really quick on set up and like to move around a lot, you could try a monopod which just gives you a single support to reduce shaking and help you level your shots.
3. The Rule Of Thirds
The rule of thirds is a fundamental principle of composition in all photography, not just surfing.
You do it by dividing the frame into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, resulting in a grid of nine equal parts.
The idea is to place the subject or point of interest (think surfer or wave) at one of the intersections of the grid lines rather than in the centre of the frame.
This creates a dynamic, intriguing composition, adding balance and harmony to the shot.
4. How To Use Natural Light & The Golden Hour
Light is one of the most critical factors that can make or break a photograph.
The sun is your primary light source, and its position in the sky will make a massive difference to your photos.
My favourite time to shoot is during the golden hour, just after sunrise or before sunset.
The light is soft and warm and creates long shadows, adding depth you just can’t get at any other time in the day (plus, who doesn’t love those morning offshores).
*Pro tip – Shooting with the sun behind lights up the surfer or wave with no harsh shadows. Shooting into the sun can create a dramatic effect, with the surfer in silhouette. Don’t be afraid to try different angles and positions to change it up.
5. Burst For the Win
Burst mode is a camera feature allowing you to take multiple shots quickly by holding down the shutter button.
This can be a bit of life save when it comes to surfing photography because it allows you to capture a sequence of shots, reducing your chances of missing that perfect shot.
With great power comes great responsibility, and taking too many shots can quickly fill up your memory card, so don’t go too wild.
Plus, burst mode can hammer your camera’s battery, so make sure you’re fully charged or have a spare battery on hand.
*Pro tip – Burst is epic for barrels. You can capture awesome sequences that really tell the whole story and bring it to life.
6. Befriend Good Surfers
Photography is all about the subject; finding a great subject will level up your shots.
Some of my favourite images are massive aerials with surfers throwing themselves high above the lip of the wave.
Sadly, this kind of aerial acrobatics is reserved for a small percentage of the surfing population.
The chances of seeing this stuff happening at your local beachie are rare, so why not put yourself where the shredders are?
Surfers love seeing themselves surf, and if you offer to document their sessions, you’ll be surprised how many new friends you make.
Aim to befriend a sponsored surfer. They’ve got the backing of massive global surf brands, and they’ve normally got plenty of time to go surfing, unlike us poor 9-5 folk.
I recommend getting a group chat together so you’ll always know where to head if you want to capture some high-performance surfing.
They might even introduce you to some local secrets. Just make sure to keep it hush-hush!
7. Think About Adding a Drone To Your Quiver
Drones are getting popular in surf photography, and it’s not unusual to see one buzzing overhead in the water.
You can capture some pretty unique angles and perspectives when using a drone, and it’s heaps of fun flying the thing.
Just follow all local regulations and guidelines, and always fly at a safe distance from surfers and waves if you want to avoid your drone becoming a submarine.
8. Take Your Photography Into The Ocean
There’s no better feeling than peeling on your wetsuit and getting stuck into some real raw surfing.
I strongly recommend getting out in the lineup and trying to capture some surfing up close and personal.
It’s going to bring your skills to a whole new level, and you’ll be amazed at how fit it will keep you. Between swimming and treading water, you’ll sleep well that night.
9. Learn How To Surf!
There’s no better training for learning how surfers and waves interact than surfing itself.
You don’t have to be a pro, you don’t even have to be that good, but knowing how waves work will be a serious advantage when it comes to planning and timing your shots.
You’ll also get a great idea of the basics of surf etiquette and how surfers rotate and take turns to share waves.
Armed with this, it’s much easier to pick who will catch the next wave, giving you more time to plan and frame your shot.
Now you’re ready to get to your local beach and start taking shots like a pro.
Be friendly, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you become part of a local surf community.
Don’t miss our other great posts on surfing all across the Isle of Wight below.
Surfer / Owner – Honest Surf.