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surf photographer rick rifici on beach


It's natural that a country boasting some of the best surfers in the world is also home to many of its best surf photographers, and Australian shooters have long been well regarded and highly decorated in their field.

There are two main ways of capturing surf imagery: land and water photography. Cameras like the GoPro have brought Point Of View photography and filming to the world's attention recently, but we're going to concentrate on the two traditional methods here.

In its most basic form land photography requires a camera, and a tripod or monopod. You need a camera with a high shutter speed to cover the fast moving action, a long lens to bring the far off surfers closer into your frame, and a memory card with plenty of storage for the large files you'll be capturing. Nikon, Canon and Sony are the most popular brands with professional photographers, and they offer cameras from entry-level and affordable, to expensive and top of the line. Lenses can often cost more than the camera body itself, a good piece of glass just as important as the equipment to which it is attached. The 70-200mm is a popular long lens, while the 50mm shoots medium format images and is fine if the surfing is not too far off in the distance.

Water photography requires a little more effort to shoot than land does, and you'll have to substitute your tripod for a water housing, while adding in the flippers, wetsuits and helmets you need to safely get amongst the action. It goes without saying that only strong swimmers, with a keen knowledge of the ocean, waves and currents need apply. Like lenses, water housings are very expensive, and generally you will need to get one custom-built for your camera set-up so that all of the buttons and lens focusing mechanisms can still be used.

Like in the surfing line-up there is etiquette and a hierarchy in the photography sphere too. Veteran surfing photographers have generally earned their place at the front of the line, and you should avoid swimming in front of them or blocking their view of the action, especially if they are working with well-known surfers. Generally the best way to start out shooting water is to find an isolated break with a couple of friends who surf, and shoot them knowing you won't be getting in anyone – surfer or photographer – else's way.

There's not much a surfer likes more than having a great action photo for the wall, and it's made even better if the photographer is a friend, so start shooting your mates and see where it takes you. Who knows, one day your image might be gracing the cover of one of the country's many famous surfing magazines, so get out there now and give it a crack!


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