Shoot Surfers Like a Pro
13 Sep 2007
Galveston, TX offers a unique opportunity for photographing surfers like a pro without getting wet. The erosion control groins protruding from Seawall Boulevard every few hundred yards provide protection from the current and help hold the sand in place for the sandbars. Surfers can take advantage of the rip tides next to the groins making for an easy paddle out. The water in Galveston may be brown, but it's still a great place to surf.
What makes this great for photography? The groins allow a photographer to get out close to the surfers. You don't need to stand on the beach with a huge 800mm lens to get great shots or risk life and limb in the surf with a $2000 waterproof camera enclosure. A digital SLR with a decent 200-300mm telephoto zoom is all you need.
The groins aren't the only great photo spot. Galveston is also home to the Flagship Hotel Pier. It provides another perfect opportunity for getting close to the action.
1. Check the Weather and Surf Reports
Galveston is on the Gulf of Mexico, and the Gulf of Mexico can get FLAT. Make it a point to check the weather and local surf reports. Bill "Billyblues" Hill, a Galveston local, runs a website called g-townsurf.com that features daily dawn patrol images and surf reports.
2. Know When to Shoot
Galveston is on the western side of the Gulf of Mexico. The best time to shoot surfers in Galveston is the same as shooting surfers on the east coast. Late afternoon to sunset is when the lighting is best.
3. Know Where to Shoot
Don't shoot from the beach. Remember, this article is about how to shoot like a pro. The pros get out and get next to the surfers. Get out on the groins or the Flagship Hotel Pier and get as close to the action as you can.
4. How to Get Great Shots
Want great shots? Talk to the surfers. Surfers love to have their pictures taken. Offer to email some of the shots to them. If they know the camera is pointed at them they'll do their best to show off.
5. Use High Shutter Speeds
Shoot in shutter priority mode at 1/400 or better. You'll be hand holding your camera to follow the action, and this will help you get nice, sharp shots. It'll also freeze the action capturing those epic moments in time that your eyes miss.
6. Set Auto Focus and Focus Area
Set your camera to focus in the center of the frame in continuous or servo mode. Surfing happens very fast. Try to keep your subject centered. Using those group dynamic or closest subject modes will result in the waves being in focus more than the surfer.
7. Shoot Continuous
If your camera will shoot at 5 fps, use it. Once the surfer gets up hold down the shutter button and concentrate on keeping him zoomed in and centered in the frame. They're just pixels so don't worry about going wild. You can always delete the bad shots. The more you shoot surfers the more you'll learn when they're about to do something cool and your ratio of crap to awesome photos will improve.
8. Shoot JPEG w/Some Compression
I'm not going to get into the RAW/JPEG debate here. When you're holding the shutter button down and shooting continuous as in tip 7 above it is very easy to shoot nearly a thousand frames in one outing. I just don't feel the need to abuse myself by shooting RAW in this type of situation.
9. Use a Large, Fast Memory Card
Keeping steps 7 and 8 above in mind, this one is a no brainer.
10. Good Imaging Management Software
You may shoot 800 to 1000 frames in one outing and have 10 to 15 great shots. The rest will be somewhere between okay and crap. Software like Adobe Lightroom is necessary to manage and sort through large numbers of images.
Bonus Tip (a.k.a. Shameless Plug)
My daughter Blair and I live in Bayou Vista, TX which is 15 minutes away from Galveston. We make frequent trips to the island whenever the surf is up to shoot surfers. If you'd like to see more of our work feel free to check out our website at http://SurfTheGroins.com . If you happen to be in Galveston look for us out on the groins or the Flagship Hotel Pier. We'd love to meet you.