A glimpse inside the surf photography world

In the new digital era, surf photography has changed a lot and posting a photo on Instagram has never been easier. Does it mean that everybody can become a professional surf photographer?
Cesar Alvarez
Cesar Alvarez


Surf nomad

Roaming the globe with a surfboard and a laptop, crafting digital stories that ride the wave of surfing culture.

In the new digital era, surf photography has changed a lot and posting a photo on Instagram has never been easier. Does it mean that everybody can become a professional surf photographer?

Young photographers would love to get into surf photography for the unique lifestyle, traveling everywhere, doing a lot of cool things. But what is the reality of the surf photography business? In this blog article, we’ll dive into this niche field, exploring the opportunities and giving tips from world-renowned surf photographers.

Is it the death of surf photography?

Some photographers consider that nothing has changed and that it’s the same as ever, and others see the digital revolution has a real threat of pushing their work. If all the magazines decide to go online, it would be even harder for photographers since digital is not paying the same… That’s a never-ending controversy and the future of surf is very promising but quite unpredictable.

Australian photographer Ted Grambeau is one of the most renowned experts for surf photography. He has been shooting for more than 40 years and during an interview given to the Business of Surf, he came back on the evolution of surf photography and this field is growing insanely fast. According to Ted, professional photography is deeply affected by the digital world. All you need today is a smartphone to capture a moment, and a social media such as Instagram to post it instantly. You can even broadcast live streaming of a surfer riding a wave, or use a GoPro camera to become both a photographer and a surfer.

Another issue of social media is the difficulty to control who is using the pictures. Once the photo is uploaded on Facebook, other companies can use it without you noticing. And Ted declared “the golden days are gone (...) it’s very competitive and demanding”. It means that a young photographer would need to put more efforts into work.

Ted Grambeau has traveled to the most outstanding places on earth and has worked with the most famous surfers worldwide like Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning or Joel Parkinson.

What makes a good surf picture?

All photographers would agree that for a photography to be good, it requires to convey an emotion. The captivating photo is telling a visual story and we know that an image can worth a thousand words. Like painting or music, it’s an art.

Russell Ord is another renowned surf photographer and for him, it’s all about capturing the “surfer’s magic moment”. The photo has to impact the viewer and to be taken in the right place at the right time. He also emphasizes the fact that surf photography is not so different than other sports, except that you might be shooting in extreme conditions.

In this video posted by Redbull, we can see the Hawaiian surf photographer Zak Noyle in action:

If you’re an aspiring photographer passionate about surf, Ted Grambeau is recommending to “work very hard at developing your unique look and style”. On a technical level, you must be already familiar with image making and lighting. But most importantly, a good surf photographer has to use influences to develop his/her own creativity.

In the video below, Clark Little comes back on his passion for surf photography and how to get the perfect shot.


Becoming a professional surf photographer

To live every day doing your passion is a very long journey. Many of us would love to get paid to travel and meet surfers all around the world to capture unique moments. John Respondek, for instance, was very young when he started to become fascinated by surf and waves. Then, when he got his first camera, he decided to go ahead and send photos to magazines.

Pretty much like Ted Grambeau, John recognizes the highly competitive aspect of surf photography. For you work to attract attention and distinct from others, photographers need to have “an understanding of the ocean, surfing and photography” declared John.

Regarding the required equipment, professional photographers recommend using a camera and lenses with a fast shutter-speed to capture very quick actions. The equipment also need to be protected from water and for those who specialized in underwater photography, it requires a complete waterproof system.

On the business side, a good photographer is also capable of negotiating the best price for selling pictures and be networking a lot to keep in touch with surfers. Having a business knowledge can really make the difference between selling pictures.

Seeyousurf: a new startup to bring together surfers and photographers

Italian CEO Gherardo Marchelli is passionate about surfing and photography, he has managed to make his passion his daily work. With SeeYouSurf, Gherardo mainly succeeded at meeting a real need shared by many surfers: recover photos of your surf session.

SeeYouSurf is a global community that allows surfers and photographers to connect between each other on the web, offering them the opportunity to buy and sell surf photos. Then, surfers can easily find the digital memories of their session, and photographers have the opportunity to live their passion and offer a service to the entire surfing community.

On the platform, prices range from $ 5 to $ 50 (the most expensive being underwater photography). On the spot, photographers are easily recognizable by the logo on their t-shirt, their hat or even their little flag. As a surfer, you just have to search for your photo by date and spot, and if you find a photo, click on it to buy it.

More than 100 spots in the world are covered by the 5,000 photographers who are part of the adventure. Now it's up to you to grow the community ...