Capturing the perfect ride: a guide to surf photography

We have some tips for everyone looking into picking up surf photography
Elena Lopez
Elena Lopez


Wave Wordsmith

Some things are just too perfect, too impossible. When you are at the beach, and you see the water in all the crazy hues of blue and green, and you think: if only I could just take a photo with my eyes…The light is magical, the waves are out of this world, you can feel it, you taste it, this is A Moment. This is a memory in the making, you will remember it forever, and you know that it will never happen again, never again will the colors be so beautiful, never again will the waves carry such strength, never again will you ever be exactly as you are right at this instant. And you wonder: if only I could capture a piece of this, if I could grab just a tiny bit of this time, then I could revisit it forever, I could have something to hold, something that reminds me that such beautiful things exist. 

If that’s you, and we believe that you are, enter the world of surf photography — where the impossible becomes a reality, and every click of the camera is a small victory against the relentless passage of time.

Of course, you probably have tried already,maybe with your phone or even with a digital camera, but still, never got it quite right. That’s because there are technical aspects to consider, and we want to help you dominate them. In the pursuit of the perfect wave you’ll need more than just a fancy camera. It demands a keen eye, a dash of daring, and the ability to ride the fine line between passion and precision. 

1. Lenses 

The key to the perfect photo might lie on the lenses. They are very important because they allow you to adapt to both the conditions of the ocean and your personal style. Depending on your taste or the purpose of the photo, you might want to focus on the surfer or you might want to reflect the greatness of the ocean, maybe a mix. Whether your subject is dancing gracefully on a gentle wave or carving aggressively on a powerful break, a quality zoom lens ensures you're always in the right spot, no matter where the action takes you:

-Wide-angle Lenses: Ideal for those breathtaking panoramic shots, wide-angle lenses bring the entire surf scene to life, capturing the whole picture.

-Prime Lenses: if what you want is to shine the light on the small details, be it the expression of the surfer, or maybe the droplets of water flying by, the reflection of sunlight…in that case you need to zoom it. With a fixed focal length, these lenses excel in delivering crystal-clear images with exceptional sharpness.

There’s a lot to explore, you don’t have to look for the perfect surf trick, sometimes the failures make up for a more interesting shot, which leads us to the next point.

2. The right moment

You've heard it a million times– timing is key. The same applies to surf photography. Anticipate the wave, feel its rhythm, and hit that shutter button at the exact moment. Now, good photographers play around, you don’t have to look only to perfect moves (gracious surfers tangoing with the waves and all that, imperfection is just as, if not more, interesting: falls, accidents, lazy surfers simply enjoying the sand.... Train your eye to catch those shots.

3. Move around

Experiment with angles. Get low to the water for that dramatic, surfer's-eye view, or climb to higher ground for a panoramic shot of the entire surf scene. Just remember, if you're committed enough to get the shot, you might get a little wet. Passion comes at a cost, darling. 

Of course, be careful, keep the camera dry. For that, get a nice waterproof case.

4. Play with the lighting

The sun is your best friend and worst enemy. Embrace the golden hour for warm, glowing shots, but avoid the harsh sun.Think of it like finding the sweet spot on a wave – you want that perfect balance.

5. Look for feelings, not perfection

Sure, a perfectly executed maneuver looks great, but what about the expression on the surfer's face? Capture the emotion, the stoke, the sheer bliss of riding a wave. Your photos should tell a story, not just showcase tricks.

6. Embrace the chaos

As we were saying with timing, chaos is good! Surf photography is unpredictable and occasionally chaotic. Embrace the wipeouts, the splashes, and the unexpected moments. Sometimes, the outtakes are more epic than the planned shots.

7. Post-Production

Editing is like adding the finishing touches to your wave-riding masterpiece. Enhance colors, tweak contrasts, and crop judiciously. Just remember, a little post-production goes a long way. You want your photo to pop, not scream, "I spent five hours in Photoshop!"

We also wanted to share with you some of our favorite surf photographers, so that you can get some appreciation for the art and, hopefully, some inspiration for your own work. We are mixing it up, introducing you to old and new photographers.

Here it is, our list of the best surf photographers:

Warren Bolster: He was a very important photographer, known for his contributions to the world of journalism. His pictures for skating magazines are also incredible, so you should check them out too.

Jeff Divine: He also made a name for himself in the world of surfing journalism, working in the most iconic surf magazines, Surfer Magazine and The Surfer’s Journal, as Photo editor.

John Responde: What we love about him is his ability to create interesting compositions, catching moments that others photographers might not find interesting, like this picture.

Some other person might have discarded this, thinking that the wave cannot hide the surfer, however, this is exactly what makes the picture interesting, as it awakens our imagination, which is by no means an easy task. 

Todd Glaser: A very prolific photographer, he has an eye for storytelling, catching the wave and catching us, he is a true artist. We especially appreciate his way of playing with the color and form in his pictures. This is, as he says “how he seas”:

 Ricardo Bravo: His understanding of timing is immaculate. If you take a look at his portfolio, you’ll see what we mean. He catches the gestures of the surfers and the crashing of the waves with such precision that we can hear the sound coming out of them.


Ray Collins: He specializes in a particular kind of shot, where he catches the crest of the wave in such a way that it seems alive. In his own words “"My aim is to show the ocean as a living, breathing thing. To document it in all of it’s intimidating strengths; and to bring awareness to its delicate fragility." We loved the originality and story-telling of this photos.

Sarah Lee: Such a beautiful use of colors left us completely mesmerized. Look her up, just amazing.

Ryan “Chachi” Craig:Is also a photographer whose work we love. He is very active on social media, and like his colleagues of this list, has had some of his shots in the most prestigious magazines

Leroy Bellet:He is very young (24) but don’t be fooled, he is already a very accomplished photographer.

Ben Thouard: Lastly, we wanted to introduce you to last year’s winner of the 2022 Ocean Photographer of the Year competition with this photo. The french photographer has been obsessed with water ever since he was a kid, and we can tell, because his admiration for the sea translates into the pictures.

Remember that many of this photographers never thought that they could become professionals. It always starts as a hobby, but passion can take you a long way. There are many opportunities: competitions, magazines or advertising campaigns that you can keep up with, and maybe one day it will be your picture on the cover!

And as a last tip, all this photographers agree on one thing:

Take a photo of what you find interesting, what you like, what inspires you, not what you think others will want to see.