TIP 1. SAFETY FIRST
Yet it does not play a roll in camera techniques etc. Safety and understanding your surroundings is a HUGE asset to a striving surf photographer. I've seen it time and time again; first time surf photographers getting hurt really bad or nearly drowning after hitting the waves, anxious to take their new set up in the ocean.
I myself have been in the ocean for most of my life surfing and photographing small surf to the out of control double head shore breaking wave that you would never wanna be a part of. I have my limits and know when to say no. Rip currents, shallow sandbars, and a powerful under tow are only a few things that you need to be aware of when out in the lineup.
I would highly recommend starting out first in some smaller surf and getting use to the weight of your new setup in the water. Get a feel of what you can and cannot do in the ocean. Hey! Some of my best surf photo were in perfect glassy conditions yielding only waves about a foot or two in height. There is no harm in starting off smaller and getting to know your gear before trying to go big right of the bat.
Being an avid swimmer is another HUGE part in the role of a surf photographer. Being an experienced swimmer in the ocean is where you need to be, especially if you want to dive into the world of bigger surf photography or photographing and working with surfers in the water. Knowing where to compose yourself in a barreling wave as a surfer is coming at you is a crucial thing that only experienced surf photographer can figure out in the blink of a eye.
TIP 2. SET IT & FORGET IT
I get asked many times by people new to the sport of surf photography what settings should my camera be set to etc partial to shooting shore break or surf in general. A no brainier for the beginner that I've found to work great and to this day I still follow from time to time is what I call "set it and forget it."
In shutter priority mode or "TV mode" set that to 1000 of a second, set your ISO to Auto and your exposure compensation down 2/3rds of a stop.
This setting will most likely yield excellent results, especially after sunrise and before sunset. I've captured some of my most memorable images with this setting along with an image that graced the September 2014 cover of Outdoor photographer magazine.
The worst thing can happen for a newbie to the sport is trying to figure out settings in the ocean while your trying to capture the beauty of a curling wave. It just keeps things fun for the beginner until you feel comfortable and want to experiment with new ways of shooting in the water.
TIP 3. SETTING HYPER FOCUS
Another big question I get asked all the time is "where do I set my focus." I highly recommend starting off with a wider angle lens in the water such as a Tokina 11-20 f2.8 which is and has been my favorite wide angle lens for quite some time.
The reason being, when you find that perfect spot achieving everything in focus you just lock it down by using a piece of painter's tape and you're good to go! Only at these wider angles you can use this technique of hyper focusing. Anything larger than 20mm I found will give you a false sense of focus and is better suited for auto focusing.
The magic hyper focus number is 3 feet. It's worked for me in the past and still works for me today. Without diving to deep into what hyper focusing is, and trust me, that's opening a entire new can of worms, just know that from that 3 feet and beyond, everything is in focus. Obliviously,if your Fstop is higher such asF11 where I like to roam around at you will capture an image that has more depth of field than a image captured at f2.8.
What I do to achieve this hyper focus is setting my camera to aperture priority mode or "AV mode" and set that to f7.1. This is a great spot for crop sensor and full frame cameras. I measure out 3 feet, I stand there and focus on my car's license plate.
Take a shot and zoom in to see if everything is sharp and to your liking. If it's all good to go I tape it down. Easy as that! You of course can test out your focus on any other subject matter but a license plate has great detail in the highlights and shadow areas which will give you a great read out of how sharp your image is.
Utilizing hyper focusing to the fullest will allow you camera to shoot faster without that delay in focus if you had it set to auto focus. For a beginner it strips away the confusion of focusing first than firing and adds to the fun factor of why you wanted to get into surf photography in the first place.
TIP 4. EXPOSURE COMPENSATION
I touched on exposure compensation briefly in tip 2. Believe it or not, there are a ton of photographers out there, experts even in the field, that don't even know what exposure compensation is or what it does to benefit their imagery in the surf.
By dropping your exposure compensation by 2/3rd of a stop or even a stop if your directly shooting into the sun works wonders! It helps retain more detail, helping you pull off a less blown out image.
And if you're working in the water say with a Sony A7rII camera the amount of shadow and highlight recovery you can bring back is jaw dropping if you use this simple technique. Dropping your "expo comp" also helps raise your Fstop. Let's say in the morning hours before the sun rises, instead of being @ f2.8 you might be at f4 @ 1000 shutter now because of the drop.
TIP 5. GET A RELIABLE SURF CAMERA HOUSING
I've seen it happen myself a few times. A friend of mine or even someone I recently met at the beach went out and bought the best camera and lens money can buy. But where they went wrong is they went ahead and bought the cheapest $200 water housing from Ebay to protect their 3-4 thousand dollar investment.
They take it out in big surf get slammed a few times and now the buttons are sticking, they cant change their ISO or shutter and now the water housing is leaking, which turns out destroying the electronics of the camera. If you're going to invest in a awesome camera body and lens. Invest in a quality surf camera housing that has been proven and can take a beaten in some heavy surf.
I am a ambassador for Aquatech imaging solutions and been part of the team for about 4 years now. And I'm not just saying this because of that. I 100% trust my gear in their housing systems. From when I started out with Nikon to the Sony mirriorless camera bodies I use now. Each and every water housing I have tested and personally used throughout the years has been like a little tank in the water.
With that being said, I feel confident in my camera's safety putting more focus on capturing that epic image and just plain out having fun! Investing in your gear is not an over statement.
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