7 tips for beginner underwater surf photographers


Underwater surf photography can be as exciting as riding a perfect wave. Here are some tips on how to photograph surfers from and below the surface of the ocean.

Photography and surfing go hand in hand.

Believe it or not, taking an iconic photo could be as difficult as becoming a surfing world champion.

Shooting surfers seems relatively easy, and it could be. In fact, taking great photos doesn’t have to be complicated.

However, getting “the hang of” is a rare thing.

Just think of some memorable surf photos that are stored in your mind forever. Can you identify five shots that you will never forget? It’s difficult, isn’t it?

So if you really want to get into surf photography under and in the water, get ready to go with the flow and move with the waves.

The secret lies more in keeping your eyes and creativity wide open and less in the rules of composition of material and photography.


Chat with surfers and plan shooting strategies that keep everyone safe and comfortable. It’s a good start.

And check your gear before you go out.

Make sure everything is set and ready to go on the water – batteries, lenses, filters, waterproof case, and memory cards.

A pair of bodysurf fins are always useful and will help you move faster and save energy.

Positioning and timing are two fundamental skills that you must master if you are embarking on underwater surf photography.

If you shoot surfers in a point break with fast waves, you will need to find the spot where most riders get stung.

Otherwise you will miss the magical moment where the water cylinder flakes along the line with the surfer inside the tube.

Finally, get out before sunrise – photograph the scenery through the waves before the surfers come in and perform their dance.

The following tips will help any newbie underwater surf photographer capture their first unforgettable photos.

For more information, check out the ultimate surf photography guide.

Surfing: a great sport to photograph underwater |  Photo: Shutterstock

1. Choose your equipment wisely

If you are a novice photographer and want to take your first underwater photos, then don’t spend huge amounts of money on expensive cameras and photo equipment.

Take it step by step.

Start with a quality waterproof sports camera and a handle or wrist strap. Today, these portable cameras are equipped with excellent lenses and shoot at 5K.

Once you’ve got used to swimming in the surf area, diving, finding the best angles, and creating your first masterpieces, then consider evolving and upgrading your photo and video gear.

2. Wear a helmet

While you wait for the best time to photograph the surfer, you need to pay attention to all the variables that are actually going on around you.

There can be dangerous rocks, reefs, several floating surfboards with sharp fins, marine life, kelp, boats, jet skis, jetties, etc.

And surf photographers erase hard too.

Sometimes they get stuck inside, go through multiple wave holdbacks, and get thrown to the bottom of the ocean while still having to hold their gear.

So wear a helmet – it’s always a good idea.

Underwater surf photographer: always wear a helmet |  Photo: Shutterstock

3. Read the ocean and the lineup

If you are going to be photographing surfers on waves, pay attention to the programming before going out.

Analyze ocean conditions.

Where do the best waves break? What are the surf forecasts for the next few hours? Is the tide rising or falling?

Will there be changes in wind speed and direction? Where are the tears going? Is there a canal nearby?

As you watch the ocean and waves watch out for the best. Who are they and what are their positioning patterns?

Where are they sitting in the queue? Which way are they going?

The more you study the composition, the better your shots will be.

4. Invest in a quality camera water housing

In the early days of surf photography, people built their water cases to measure.

However, they quickly became obsolete, heavy, and didn’t always keep the camera and lens dry.

Today, photo equipment is too expensive and needs to be protected.

So whether you’re shooting with a Canon, Nikon, Sony, or any other professional camera, be sure to buy a reliable waterproof case.

The most popular water cases for surf photography are from SPL, CMT and AquaTech.

Surf photography: switch from manual focus to auto focus depending on the type of shot you want to capture |  Photo: Shutterstock

5. Switch between manual focus and auto focus

Manual focus and autofocus exist for different purposes, so you need to learn when to use them in the surf.

For example, if you’re in a relatively stable position where you know you’ll get the best shot from a surfer riding the barrel, preset the manual focus to five, seven, or ten feet, then squeeze the trigger when you want it. wish. .

When swimming in a fixed position, you don’t want to check focus all the time – it’s all about preset your focus point and taking pictures in burst mode.

However, if you plan to shoot underwater, switch to autofocus, change your focus points, and switch to continuous shooting mode.

Ultimately, there’s nothing quite like experimenting, making mistakes, learning and improving every time you get back in the water.

6. Adjust your shutter speed

Shutter speed is a very relevant variable when shooting action and fast moving objects.

You will need to decide how long the camera shutter will be open, thereby exposing light to the camera sensor.

In other words, it is the time spent by the camera to take the photo.

Long / slow shutter speed exposes the sensor for a significant period of time, resulting in motion blur.

You might want to do this in some cases, but often times you want a crisp, crisp, perfectly frozen moment of a surfer riding the barrel or throwing himself in the air.

So for a medium action shot, you can safely set your shutter speed to 1/1600.

Remember that you will also have to combine it with the other two fundamental characteristics – aperture and ISO.

Aperture is the ability to enlarge or reduce the diameter of the lens aperture to allow more or less light to reach the camera sensor.

ISO is the setting that allows your camera to take a brighter or darker photo.

Surf Photography in Water: Adjust your shutter speed to your needs |  Photo: Shutterstock

7. Stay in shape and manage your breathing

Are you a confident swimmer?

You must be. You need to be prepared for the toughest conditions, abnormal waves, rough currents, and unexpected weather changes.

Can you hold your breath for 20 or 30 seconds?

Whether you’re trying to shoot a surfer a few feet underwater or get pounded by a strong wave, you need to know how to control your breathing underwater.

Are you able to stay in the water for an hour or two?

Swimming and diving require considerable energy and require a physical condition incompatible with inactivity and sedentary lifestyle.

Are you comfortable with swimming fins?

The fins will not only allow you to move faster but can also help you move away from a current or escape the guillotine of a breaking wave.


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