With summer here, it’s also time to hit the beach and catch some waves. Surfers of all kind — board, body, wake — make for great photography subjects, as do the waves they like to ride. However, wave photography requires a bit of practice and some more specialized gear. Read on to get a few tips for getting started in this area of photography!
1) Know how to swim — If you’re going to be doing photography near any body of water deeper than a quarter of an inch, you definitely need to know how to swim. You might want to practice swimming with one hand as, if you’re taking photos, you’ll need to hold on to your camera with at least one hand.
2) Invest in safety gear — Get a good life jacket and some swimming fins. The life jacket can help keep your head above water if you get knocked over unexpectedly and the fins can help you maintain your balance and footing — especially if the floor of the beach is very rocky (which would instinctively have you balancing your weight precariously) or boggy with sand (in which case the fins will act a bit like snowshoes and keep you from sinking too deeply into the sandy mire). You’ll also definitely want to get some protective gear for your camera if it’s not waterproof and shockproof and a strap in case you lose your grip.
3) Observe first, then photograph — Don’t try to dive right in if you’re not familiar with the behavior of that particular beach. Find out when the tides come in and out and go out and observe them at least one time before wading in. Also spend time watching the way the waves behave throughout the day. Do they break further out at certain times? Remember these behaviors and talk to local surfers if you can to learn when the waves you’re most wanting to see will be the most prevalent.
4) Pick your spot carefully — When you’re observing, you might also want to go out in the water without your camera and try to find a few good places to photograph from. Bear in mind that active beaches will often have people swimming and surfing and that they may not always be able to see you before they smack into you. So, find a good place with a good view that isn’t going to result in bruises, cracked ribs, or a concussion from a surfer hitting you.
5) Go with a partner — Your partner doesn’t have to come into the water with you but it’s generally a good idea to have someone standing on dry land keeping an eye on you in case you run into trouble and need rescuing.
6) Have your camera settings ready before you get in — Most waterproof housings are not going to give you easy access to your camera’s settings so take time to learn which ISO, focal length, shutter speed, etc is best for what you’re wanting to do. Again, talk to the locals — especially local ocean photographers — and get their advice.
7) Practice makes perfect — If your first few sessions don’t go so well, don’t give up. Wave photography, like any kind of action or sports photography, can be a bit hit or miss at the beginning. However, once you’ve got everything dialed in perfectly, you can capture some really great images. So, keep trying!
If you have any great wave photos to share with us or any advice to add to our list, feel free to comment below or to head over to our Facebook page!
– da Bird