Shooting Surfers

Thursday, March 31st, 2011
Gato in Sayulita

Over the past few months on a couple of occasions I have been forced by circumstances to use my own photos to illustrate this column. This is unfortunate because while I am a pretty good surfer and I understand the art and sport of it well enough to get what makes a surf photo good, I really don't know how to shoot one. I get too close, or more often, not close enough because I don't want to get whacked. Also I'm usually on a surfboard wielding some crappy little waterproof toy of a camera that isn't even close to sophisticated enough to get the money shot, that indelible instant at the heart of a difficult maneuver. Basically, I don't have the skill and I haven't taken the time or gotten the not-inexpensive gear to shoot good surf pics.
Diego at Chacala

But there are people who have, and a couple of them live in our neck of the beach. So this week I thought it would be interesting to talk with a local pro shooter. Those of you who attended the recent Longboard Classic may have noticed a guy in the water in a full wetsuit with a bulky yellow box in his hands. That was our Sayulita surf shooter Juan Munoz, working with his waterprooofed camera. Panamanian-transplant-to-Mexico Juan has been shooting surfers for years, and is a seasoned professional. The photos here represent just a small sample of his work, chosen because they feature Sayulita surfers ripping some local waves.

Here's Juan on shooting surfers: "The most important thing when shooting a surfer is to understand his style, and which maneuvers he performs best. That way you can anticipate a radical moment and make your subject look the best. Also it is important to see what's behind and in front of the waves so you can compose with the environment."

Adan Izquierdas

As for my cheapo water camera, no way. Juan talks gear: "I use Canon SLRs, which provide the speed I need for fast action. Surfing can be captured in lots of creative ways so I basically use everything from a 10mm fisheye to a 400mm telephoto. I use water housings for my Canon camera, custom made in San Diego. For barrels, I use a 15mm fisheye, and for point breaks I use a 70-200mm lens with a housing. It's heavy but the results are worth it, and all the swimming keeps me in shape."

Juan shoots from the water because, he says, "It keeps me close to the action and creates a better bond with the guys I'm shooting. Boats are great but involve more logistics so I try to avoid them unless the waves are huge. Shooting from the land is great with a good backdrop but that's not usually the case so I stay in the water."

In the end it's a marketplace, and so--although you get more shots from land "because you can shoot the whole wave," Juan notes. "Shooting from the water only allows you to get one maneuver, but you get more money for water shots and so that's why I stick with them."

The photos: Gato ripping a right in Sayulita-"I took it with a 400mm from the rivermouth so you can see the whole point. The backdrop is great!"

Next: "Diego bottom turning at Chacala, shot from a boat with a 200mm lens - boats are easy there so we all pitch in so I can get some great images."

Finally: "Adan going left in town after the flood, when the sandbar created some fast, barreling waves. This was taken in the afternoon, so the backlight created a nice glare in the spray."

Local surfers, ripping local waves. Shot by a local shooter. Awesome, eh?