How to take amazing surfing photos every time by Hannah Prewitt

Surfing was one of the reasons that I got into photography. Even though I’m now a surfer myself, I still love to shoot surfers. Especially good ones. Admittedly, when I first started taking photos, I would shoot on auto sport mode and think I was taking good photos. A couple of them were okay, I suppose. As my knowledge of photography has progressed, so has my ability to take great surfing photos. So now I’d like to share my top tips with you.

Just to be clear, this is not a beginner’s guide to surf photography so I’m assuming that you understand you’ll need a fast shutter speed, and a long lens. Also, these tips are NOT water-specific. They are aimed at those shooting from land or a boat, but can obviously be applied to shooting in the water as well.

Firstly, let’s go back in time to four years ago, before I even owned a camera and have a look at some of my very first surfing photos…

How to take amazing surfing photos every time-11.jpg

This is a shot of my husband, who is an amazing surfer and an absolute pleasure to shoot when it’s pumping. So it’s pretty easy to get a decent photo of him. And I think you’d agree that this one looks half decent. I’m sure most surfers would be fairly happy with this shot to post on their social media. But when we zoom in, you can see that the image isn’t sharp, the white water is pretty blown out, and it’s not very easy to make out his face.

Compare that with this shot taken much more recently, and you can see a noticeable difference in quality.

How to take amazing surfing photos every time-12.jpg

So how do you turn your surfing photos from average to ones people are willing to pay for?

Here are my top tips :)

Tip #1 - Use back-button focus

I randomly read about this somewhere and decided to try it for myself, and since making this adjustment to my camera I would never ever go back to using shutter-button focus. Even for general photography. The way your camera focuses now (unless you’ve changed it) is by half-pressing the shutter button. Which means that when you stop shooting, you then have to re-focus on the subject before you can shoot it again. When photographing surfers, this could easily mean that you miss the money shot. When I used to use shutter-button focus, probably only 60% of my shots were in focus. Once I switched to back-button focus, 95% of my shots were in focus.

So what is back-button focus? Well, it’s basically where you assign another button (ideally one on the back of the camera where your thumb naturally sits) to focus for you, leaving the shutter button to just take the photo. Which means that you can keep your focus button pressed ensuring your subject stays in focus while you choose when to press the shutter button and take a shot. Try this out and I promise you, it will totally change your surf photography.

Tip #2 – use 3D-tracking focus

This is another tip to help you focus on your subject but not all cameras are capable of it. I shoot with either the Nikon D750 or the D7200, both of which have this focus mode. You’ll find it under the continuous focus options and it basically tracks the subject for you as it moves. Very clever! Again, this will help to get almost all of your shots in perfect focus!

Tip #3 – shoot in high speed burst mode

This seems pretty obvious but if you shoot in single shot mode, then you have to keep pressing the shutter button every time you want to take a photo, which can waste valuable time and can mean that you miss the best action. Shooting in high burst mode means you just hold the shutter and your camera will take lots of photos split seconds apart from each other, giving you a nice sequence of a turn and ensuring you get the moment with the most spray.

Tip #4 – use a fast SD card

I used to think that all SD cards were the same, just different sizes. I was wrong. If you want to shoot in high speed mode (which you do), then you’ll need an SD card that is fast enough to write the images to it as quickly as you’re taking them. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself holding down the shutter but not actually taking any photos! Some brands are also more reliable than others. The last thing you want when you’ve made the effort to go somewhere to shoot is for your SD card to give you an error message. I would recommend SanDisk over every other brand. This card linked below is extremely affordable and writes more than quick enough for the needs of most surf photographers.

Tip #5 – have a basic understanding of surfing

In order for you to shoot great pictures of surfers, you need to understand what it is that surfers are looking for in an image. This is why most surf photographers do, or used to, surf themselves. It really helps to understand the sport. But, if you’re not quite there yet, then here are a few examples of surfing money shots:

How to take amazing surfing photos every time-4.jpg

A great bottom turn – you’re looking for the board to be on its rail as much as possible. If you can see fins or spray coming off the board, you’re winning.

Spray – if a surfer pulls off a great turn, they’re probably going to want the shot with the most spray in it.

How to take amazing surfing photos every time-7.jpg

Deep in the barrel – it doesn’t matter if they make it out or not – get a shot where they look super deep and they’ll want that photo.

How to take amazing surfing photos every time-13.jpg

Airs – if you see a surfer gaining some speed, chances are they might be headed to the air. It doesn’t matter if they land it or not, just that you get the evidence.

It’s also great to shoot the entire sequence of someone’s wave because they can use it for coaching purposes and a fast sequence acts like a video but with better stills. Plus it gives the surfer more options to choose from so they’re more likely to buy from you.

Tip #6 – if possible, get the surfer to wear something bright

Your camera’s autofocus works using contrast. Most surfers like to wear dark colours, which means #1 it makes it difficult for you to pick them out of a busy line-up, and #2 it can make it more difficult for your camera to focus from a distance against the dark water if the sun isn’t out. On that note, if you’re a surfer, be conspicuous and you’re more likely to get photos!

Tip #7 – try to avoid shooting into the sun

Unless you’re looking for arty shots that are silhouetted, try to avoid shooting at the time of day where you’re going to be shooting into the sun. So if the wave faces west, sunset might not be the best time shoot if you want crisp clear images.

How to take amazing surfing photos every time-14.jpg

Tip #8 – consider the white water in your exposure

If you’re shooting on a big day, you might want to consider how much white will appear in your image quite quickly. You won’t have time to change your exposure mid-wave, so just bear in mind that you might want to underexpose the image to start with, to ensure that you don’t massively blow out the highlights. You might not be bothered about seeing the details in the white water, but it can sometimes make for an interesting shot, like this one below that I can see all sorts of faces in!

How to take amazing surfing photos every time-8.jpg

Those are my top tips that hopefully will help your surf photography. If you’ve got any of your own that I haven’t mentioned, please leave me a comment. I’m always looking to keep learning and improving.

How to take amazing surfing photos every time

Deconstructing my photos - October favourites by Hannah Prewitt

I’d never really thought about looking back at my past images until I read Mikko Lagerstedt’s blog post about how to find inspiration for your photography. By the way if you haven’t checked out his blog, please do. He’s one of the only photographers I’ve come across who write about his process to stay motivated and inspired, which is the kind of stuff I love to read.

Anyway, I got this idea from him to analyse my past work. The idea is that by focusing on the best images I’ve created, it will inspire me to create more, to help me find my direction, and also create work that others like to look at too (I know they say you should create for yourself but knowing that other people appreciate my work is part of what keeps me going). So I decided to start doing this for my most liked image (on the gram), and my personal favourite image each month. And I figured, if it helps me, then it might help you too.

So this first image has actually been my most liked on Instagram of all time, but it also happens to be one of my favourites.

How to deconstruct your photos - 1.jpg

What is the main subject?

The ocean - shallow, clear, tropical water.

What colours are used?

An icy aqua blue.

What is the overall composition?

I’m asking myself this question because, if I’m honest, I feel that composition is the creative part of photography that I find the most difficult. But by studying this image, it’s actually really obvious that it’s horizontally symmetrical.

Deconstructing my images - composition.png

What do you like about the image?

This shot draws me in. The perspective makes me feel like I am under the water right now. I also love the reflections on the surface.

What don’t you like about the image?

I wish it was just a little bit sharper, and less noise in the background.

How could you improve it?

I shot this at an aperture of f/8, so I could use a narrower aperture to achieve a greater depth of field. It could also be more interesting if there were something swimming in the background, so I could try a Photoshop addition.

This second shot is my personal favourite from the whole month. I just love it.

How to deconstruct your photos - 2.jpg

What is the main subject?

An isolated tropical island.

What colours are used?

A steely blue and muted emerald green.

What is the overall composition?

The island is vertically centred in the image but the split in the ocean is slightly lower and adheres more to the rule of thirds. The clouds and vignette of the water also act as leading lines towards the island.

Deconstructing my photos looking at composition.png

What do you like about the image?

I love the colours and the simplicity of this shot. I also love that it’s not completely symmetrical. I think the clouds on the left side offset the shot nicely. 

What don’t you like about the image?

The water line is a bit too thick (which is because of my equipment) and there is a slight blur to the bottom of the island. I’d also like the seafloor to be a bit more in focus.

How could you improve it?

I could stop down the aperture from f/8 to achieve a deeper depth of field and pay closer attention to water droplets on my dome port.

I’ve asked myself some pretty basic questions here, but by doing so, it’s forcing me to analyse my images and hopefully help me to think more about future photos I take, rather than just clicking away.

I hope this helps you too, and if anyone needs some direction, I’d be more than happy to help!

October image deconstruction.jpg

5 incredibly inspiring photography documentaries to kickstart your creativity by Hannah Prewitt

Ever find yourself in a creative slump? I do, quite often. I actually wrote a blog post about how to get out of one, which you can read here. My last suggestion in this post was to watch some inspiring documentaries or videos about photography. This is the one thing that always seems to work for me when I'm in need of a motivation boost. So I’d like to share with you my favourite videos, to save you from scouring the internet for your own. They’re all quite different, some are longer than others, but I personally find them all incredibly inspiring, and I hope you do too!

1.     ARCTIC SWELL – SURFING THE ENDS OF THE EARTH

This documentary is similar to the one on Netflix called Under an Arctic Sky, which is an absolute must-see. This shorter video goes more behind the scenes with photographer Chris Burkard and his expeditions to the arctic to shoot surfers in freezing water. Even if you’re not interested in surfing or photography, you might feel inspired by his pure dedication to his craft.

2.     CAPTURING THE PERFECT WAVE WITH PHOTOGRAPHER CLARK LITTLE

This short video from Nikon Europe documents the story of Clark Little and how he got into photography. He started photography later in life with no formal education, just like myself, so I personally find this one really inspirational to me.

3.     NIKON D5: INSPIRED – BEHIND THE SCENES

This is a promo video from Nikon Asia for the Nikon D5 and shot exclusively on the Nikon D5. It goes behind the scenes with a fashion photographer, sports photographer, wildlife photographer, a photojournalist, and a motorsports photographer. Even though I’m not particularly interested in all these types of photography, I find each person inspirational in the way they talk so passionately about their work.

4.     NINE PHOTO COMPOSITION TIPS (FT. STEVE MCCURRY)

As someone who learnt photography almost entirely from YouTube, I’ve watched a lot of photography tutorials. This short 3-minute video stayed with me as one to remember. The tips are to-the-point, easy to understand and inspirational for a reason that I can’t quite put my finger on.

5.     DAVID YARROW REVEALS HIS PHOTOGRAPHY SECRETS – LEARN PHOTOGRAPHY

This last one is possibly my favourite. I find David Yarrow very likeable and his work is simply jaw-dropping. He claims that in 12 months, he takes only 6 great images. Again, I think I’m inspired by his dedication to getting that perfect shot. If you only watch one of these videos I’ve suggested, make sure it’s this one.

best inspirational photography videos

A beginner's guide to shooting the stars. Part II - editing by Hannah Prewitt

Now that we’ve learnt how to take a photo of the stars (see part 1 - shooting), it’s time to learn how to edit your image. It’s likely that when you load your shot to your computer, the image will look really dark. Honestly, mine look almost black. However, there is a lot of data in that image that can be brought out with some careful and simple tweaking in Adobe Lightroom. Let’s get started.

For this example I’m going to show you how to turn this shot straight out of the camera (on the left) to a beautiful processed image (on the right). I love the crazy transformation!

 Note how dark the image looks before processing, and how much detail we can bring out in post.

Note how dark the image looks before processing, and how much detail we can bring out in post.

The settings for this shot are: 15 secs, f/4.0, ISO 400. Because there are some artificial lights in this shot, I was very aware of not blowing out these highlights. If the lights were not on, then I would have used a longer exposure time and a slightly higher ISO.

BASICS PANEL

The first thing we’ll need to do in Lightroom is bring up the exposure quite a lot. I’ve brought this up to +4.10. Which tells me that I probably should have exposed my original shot a little more, since I can only bring up the exposure in post-processing to +5, which I’m pretty close to. So I’ll remember that for next time!

 Exposure +4.10

Exposure +4.10

Now you can see that the area where the artificial lights have now been blown out so we want to bring down the highlights to rebalance the image. Let’s bring it down to -47.

 Highlights -47

Highlights -47

I’d like to bring out some of the details in the foreground so I’m going to lift the shadows a little, to +45. I’m doing this for this shot because the foreground is interesting. However, if you had a silhouette in the foreground, then I would decrease the shadows to accentuate the silhouette.

 Shadows +45

Shadows +45

Now the shot is starting to take some form, so let’s bump up the contrast to make it pop a little more. I’m also going to bring up the blacks to +19, which will help to bring out a little more light in the darker parts of the image.

 Contrast +44; blacks +19

Contrast +44; blacks +19

Now that our image is looking pretty good, let’s play around with the white balance. I personally like my star photos to look as natural as possible, so let’s adjust the temperature to 3,400 and add a tint of red +7.

The next thing I’m going to do is add some clarity to the image. I don’t normally add much clarity to my photos but for star photos, it really adds some good punch. Let’s add +39 clarity.

 Temperature 3,400; tint +7; clarity +39

Temperature 3,400; tint +7; clarity +39

We can see the shot looks a bit more defined, now I’d like to add a bit more punch to the colours, so let’s add a bit of vibrance and saturation. Be careful not to go too overboard with these.

 Vibrance +18; saturation +13

Vibrance +18; saturation +13

That’s pretty much it for the basics panel. Now let’s go to the Tone Curve. I want to bring out some of the highlights a little more using this curve, so I made a curve like this. Try it out on your shot and see if it brings out the milky way.

Now let’s move down to the Detail panel. Sharpening your image is essential, and so is reducing the noise, especially with an astro shot. These are the edits I made, but it will vary depending on your particular photo.

You can see the before sharpening and noise reduction (left) and after (right) and how much better it looks. TIP: always zoom in to 100% when making detail adjustments so you can really see what effect you’re having on the image.

 

DETAILS

Now it’s time to bring out some magic in the milky way. This involves some colour adjustments and accentuating the white of the stars. I do this using radial filters. First I like to apply a radial filter over the whole of the milky way. I have a preset for this, but the basic adjustments involve increasing highlights and whites, adding clarity and adjusting the temperature to add some warm and pinkish tones. You can see now the milky way looks much better.

Now it’s up to you if you want to make any more adjustments. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to edit an image – it’s all about personal style. I personally think that the milky way looks a little purple, so I added another radial filter on top to add some more yellow tones.

Beginner's guide to editing star photos

I’m pretty happy with how this shot looks so I decided to stop editing here. You can always add a few more adjustments, such as smaller radial filters over parts of the milky way to bring out the whites or adjust the colour slightly. If you wanted to, you could even apply a tiny radial filter over individual stars to make them pop a little more, or add some warmer tones to the artificial lights on the house. Other photographers probably have different ways of editing their night time photos but if you’re not sure where to start, try increasing exposure, whites and clarity, and then play around with your colours. Soon you’ll be able to transform an image from this….

How to edit night time star photos for beginners

to this!

how to edit night time star photos

A beginner's guide to shooting the stars by Hannah Prewitt

I’m not sure that I feel qualified to write a tutorial on astro photography, but it’s been personally requested, and I have been able to successfully produce some pretty nice night photos without any assistance so I must have some idea what I’m talking about. However, by no means do I consider myself an expert on the subject, so if you have any tips for me, please leave them in the comments below. So let’s call this ‘A beginner’s guide to star photography’.

I’m going to try and make this as simple as possible, so this first part will be about how to physically shoot the image. Then I’ll write another post explaining how to edit your image.

Location

I’m not going to talk too much about locations, because basically, you can shoot the night sky anywhere, assuming you’re outside. However, you want to try to minimise light pollution so that you can really see the stars clearly. So try to get as far away from cities and houses as you can. If you can get to a beach, or rural area, a field or mountain, they should all work pretty well.

How to shoot the stars photography tutorial for beginners

Composition

If you’re just aiming to get a photo of the milky way, then point your camera in that direction and get clicking. However, if you want to make your image a bit more interesting then we want to try and get something else in the image as well. Find something to silhouette, or put something in the foreground, or even get someone to stand still in your photo. I personally find composition one of the most difficult things about shooting at night because it’s hard to see in the dark. So you’ll have to take a few test shots just to check that you’re actually shooting what you think you are.

Equipment

Usually I say that equipment doesn’t matter, but when it comes to shooting in very low light, it does. You will need a tripod. A good one. It’s really important that your camera stays absolutely still while the shutter is open, otherwise your image will not be sharp. In terms of the camera itself, ideally you want to shoot with a full frame sensor, but if you only have a crop one, that will work too. With regards to lenses, you’re probably going to want to use a nice wide angle lens if you have one, so that you get as much in the image as possible. I shoot all my night photos at 16 mm, which is perfect for getting in the whole milky way as well as something in the foreground (remember if you’re using a crop frame camera then 16 mm will be the equivalent of about 24 mm depending on the camera model). You will also need to have access to Adobe Lightroom or equivalent editing software.

How to shoot the stars photography tutorial

SETTINGS

 First of all, you must shoot in RAW. If you don’t already, then now is the best time to start. I remember reading a blog back in the day by a photographer who regretted not switching to raw earlier. I ignored it because I didn’t understand the reason behind it, and now I wish I’d done it earlier. Basically, a jpeg is a lossy file, which means that it loses data and really limits your editing potential. The only time I shoot in jpeg now is when I’m shooting a lot of surfers and I need to save space, and I know I won’t be doing much editing at all.

The next thing we want to do is set our focus. The autofocus on your camera works by using contrast, which it will struggle to find at night because everywhere is dark. If you have a very bright spot, you might be able to use autofocus, but I always switch to manual. You then have two options. You can either set your manual focus to almost infinity when it’s still light and then tape the focus ring in place, or you can use your camera’s live view and zoom in on the stars and set your focus, which is what I do.

I also read somewhere that you should turn off your lens’ image stabilisation if you have it, so I do that too.

We will also need to use our camera in manual mode. If you’re not yet comfortable shooting in full manual mode, now is a good time to start that as well. In terms of the settings we choose, think of your camera as needing access to as much light as possible.

So you’ll need to use a nice wide aperture, but not so wide that the image is blurry. I use f/4 because that’s the widest my lens will shoot at, but f/2.8 would work great too. Then we can set our ISO. We’ll need to bump this up a little but not so much that there is excessive noise in our image. So it really depends on the capabilities of your camera. Most blogs will tell you to start at an ISO of 1600 (which is pretty high if your camera isn’t great), and then move up from there, but I’ve managed to achieve great images with an ISO as low as 400. It also depends on how much light is in your shot. I would start at 800 and adjust as needed. Be aware that the photo on your camera will look very dark! But not to worry, we’ll be bringing out all the data in Lightroom afterwards.

For your shutter speed, we need to use something called the 500 rule to calculate the longest shutter speed we can use with our specific lens in order to maintain a sharp image. The rule is simple. Divide 500 your focal length. So I use a focal length of 16 mm, so 500/16 is 31.25, which means that I can use a shutter speed up to 30 seconds and still get a sharp image. If I were shooting at let’s say 24 mm, then 500/24 is 20.8, so I would need to keep my shutter speed at 20 seconds or less. Unless of course, you want to get a blurry shot. Star trails look amazing. I haven’t personally done them because I don’t have a remote timer, but if you want to try this, then set your shutter speed to bulb (it took me SO long to discover what this was!) and you can then manually set your timer.

For your white balance, well I don’t ever set my white balance unless I’m shooting underwater. If you shoot in raw, you have full control over your white balance in post, so just set it to auto and forget about it.

And that’s pretty much it! Here’s a nice summary of the settings you can use. Remember that this is just a guide to get you started, and you will probably need to adjust things a little.

Star photography settings for beginners

How I've improved my photography this year by Hannah Prewitt

This year seems to have been a bit of a turning point for my photography career. It is not yet my full-time job, but I have been putting in some ground work so that hopefully one day, I can call myself a full-time professional photographer. While it’s great to keep planning for the future, it’s good sometimes to look back and see how far I’ve come. So here are some things that I’ve done this year that have helped me on my path.

I tried some different styles of photography. Even though I’m pretty certain that ocean photography is my favourite type, there’s no point in restricting myself to just that. And I would like to be a bit of a jack of all trades, since most people assume that if you call yourself a photographer, that you can do any type of photography. So I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried my hand at some portraits, night photography, and motion blurs.

stars.jpg

I’ve watched tonnes of YouTube tutorials. The great thing about photography these days is that you can learn everything about it online. There is so much material out there (most of it good), and I’ve made the time to sit and watch a lot of videos to teach myself how to use Photoshop, how to do astro photography, how to take portraits etc. Listed below are some of my favourite channels:

Phlearn – I’ve used this channel a lot to learn how to use Photoshop. This is such a complicated program, and these are the only tutorials I’ve found that actually explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. They also do some great Lightroom tutorials as well.

Mango Street – I love how concise and to-the-point these videos are. I also love how dedicated this couple are to achieving their goals. My favourite video from this channel is the one about their first year on YouTube.

Peter McKinnon – this guy managed to get more than 1 million subscribers in just one year for a reason. His videos can be a little long-winded sometimes but his tutorials are great. Check out his Two Minute Tuesday playlist for short tutorials.

Julia Trotti – Julia’s channel is based around portrait and fashion photography, which is not an area of particular to me, but I really enjoy her behind-the-scenes vlogs. She also posts some good tutorials for editing portraits, which is what I used to help me edit the few portraits I’ve done.

Portrait editing tutorial.jpg

I’ve networked. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year, it’s that networking is the most important thing you can do to advance your brand. Nowadays it’s unbelievably easy to network using social media, so there’s really no excuse to not do it.

I reached out to some brands. I contacted a brand that suited my style of photography and asked them for some products to shoot. I thought it was a long shot at the time, but they’d re-posted a couple of my shots on Instagram so I figured they must like my work. To my surprise and delight, they got straight back to me and let me choose whatever I wanted from their website in exchange for some marketing photos.

I wrote some tutorials. I believe that the best way to learn something properly is to teach it to someone else. So I challenged myself to write some tutorials on subjects that I felt comfortable with – taking split photos and motion panning photos.

All these things have helped me progress with my photography skills as well as helped with getting my work out there for people to see. If anybody else has some ideas, I'd love to hear them! Just leave them in the comments below.

Photography blog - How I've improved my photography

How to get out of a creative slump by Hannah Prewitt

Like most creatives, I go through serious ups and downs with my photography. I can go weeks sometimes without picking up a camera. If I were to pick one up, I just wouldn't know what to shoot. The motivation is just not there. I don't enjoy these slumps and they can be difficult to get out of. One thing I try not to do is to beat myself up about it. It will naturally come to an end and you will be creative once again. The one thing that helps me more than anything else is to find inspiration from other photographers. 

If any of you are currently experiencing the same thing, hopefully these tips will help you to re-discover your creativity.

Create a board on Pinterest called "Why do I love these photos?" Scour the internet for photos that catch your eye for whatever reason, and save them to your board. You can make this board secret on Pinterest so you don't have to worry about other people seeing what you're pinning. When I did this for the first time I discovered that I actually like different types of images to the ones I’m creating. Most of the images I saved were minimalistic, simple, calm. These are the images that I’m drawn to. Since then I’ve found that I’ve started seeing things slightly differently, and have started creating similar images, like these:

Try a new type of photography. As many of you know, I usually photograph the tropics, particularly the ocean. Recently I was at home in the UK and didn't have any subjects that would suit my current style. So I decided to try my hand at portrait photography. Something I'd never tried before. My twin sister was a willing model and we just practiced taking simple portraits in the garden. This also forced me to learn how to do skin re-touching in Photoshop - a skill that will always be useful.

Portraits-2.jpg

Step away from the camera AND social media. The photography world is oversaturated thanks to iPhones and Instagram. Everyone calls themselves a photographer these days. It’s easy to see all these accounts that have large followings and feel depressed about your own work. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to relieve yourself of the pressure to take a photo that other people will like and just enjoy being outside in the environment that you would usually shoot, but camera-free. See things through your eyes for a while rather than through a lens.

Find great photography blogs to follow. My absolute favourite blog site for photographers is by Kat Nielsen of @wanderlustandsea. She has taken the time to put together interviews from tons of different types of photographers so there's something for everyone. You can find her work here. Incidentally, I'm featured in the Ocean Photographers section :)

Blog.jpg

Watch inspirational photography videos or documentaries. There's lots of inspiring stuff on Netflix but there's also a lot on Youtube. I love this short film from Nikon that advertises the D5 by giving it to various photographers to test.

I hope these tips help you a little. If you have any other ideas, I'd love to know! Please leave them in the comments below.

Photography inspiration - How to get out of a creative slump

What equipment do you use? by Hannah Prewitt

I think this is the question that photographers get asked more than any other. I actually find it slightly offensive - as if the only reason I've managed to take a good photo is because I have an expensive camera. That's not true. Give an amazing camera to someone who doesn't know how to use it and see for yourself that it's not all about equipment.

Olympus pen and housing.jpg

I bought my first camera four years ago, and I still use it now. I bought it because I wanted a camera and underwater housing package that was reasonably priced and decent enough quality to take good shots in shallow water. Nothing too fancy. The camera itself is an Olympus Pen E-PL5, which is a Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera. It has a cool flip-out touch screen and is super lightweight and easy to travel with. It came with a 14-42 mm kit lens, which is wide enough for me to snap some decent half and half photos.

Olympus underwater housing

The housing I use is pretty basic. It's the Olympus PT-EP10 housing, which comes with a standard flat port, but I also purchased a dome port from Zen Underwater. I've had this camera for 4 years and only had to replace the o-ring once. Now I'm spending more and more time in the water shooting, I'd really love to upgrade this setup!

Nikon camera equipment

The rest of my equipment is Nikon. Lots of people make a fuss about what brand you use, but I really don't think it matters. I chose Nikon because the person who inspired me to buy a camera was a Nikon user, and helped me choose my equipment. If he had been a Canon user, I would be a Canon user as well.

I have two camera bodies - a full frame D750 and a D7200 crop frame. Why do I need two cameras? Because cameras fail. If you're serious about being a professional photographer, you need a back-up camera. Also, the crop frame helps me get even closer when I'm shooting surfers from a distance.

Nikon lenses

I have four lenses. A Nikkor 50 mm f/1.8 prime lens, which is my most recent purchase and is the widest aperture lens I have. A Nikkor 24-120 mm kit lens, which came with the D750 and is a decent all-rounder if you need something versatile. I have a Nikkor 16-35 mm f/4 as my wide angle, which is my favourite lens for landscapes and if I had a housing, I'd take this lens underwater as well. Then I have a Nikkor 80-400 mm telephoto lens, which is the monster on the right. The shots I can get of surfers from a distance with this lens are incomprehensibly sharp. I also get a lot of compliments from strangers when I'm walking round with this bad boy.

And that's it. I have a Pelican case that I take as carry-on when I travel and I just about manage to fit everything in it if I pack it in a very specific way! It fits every airline dimension restrictions but if I'm honest, it weighs about 15kg when full. Somehow I've gotten away with it every time...

Cloudbreak - the swell of the decade by Hannah Prewitt

The morning of Sunday 27th May was dark, windy and wet. It was also my first wedding anniversary. Perhaps not the best day to plan a surf shoot, but rumour had it that the biggest swell since 2012 was going to hit Fiji. So we waited anxiously for the tide to start to fill in before putting on our rain jackets and heading out to Cloudbreak. This infamous wave that I'd been so thrilled to see for the first time a few weeks ago. I thought it was big then. How wrong I was. 

As we approached the break, you could see the spray from hundreds of metres away. And the boats. So many boats. I don't have that much experience shooting from a boat, but I've never had to compete with 60 other boats for a good spot. Factor in the rain and wind, and this would be the most challenging shoot I've ever done.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-12.jpg

It's hard to describe the feeling of being so close to something so powerful. Your body is tense and your heart is racing the whole time. Just the waves on their own are majestic, fierce and some of the most beautiful things I've ever witnessed in nature.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-4.jpg

Even the highly experienced watermen who are around big waves all the time seemed to be delighted by the spectacle.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-3.jpg

To comprehend the size of these waves, you really need to have a something in the shot for scale.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018.jpg

There were no turns. The aim was to get as shacked as you could and make it out the other side alive.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-11.jpg
Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-2.jpg
Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-9.jpg
Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-6.jpg

Emotions ran high, especially for those who had to be rescued by jet ski after what was possibly the best wave of their life.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-7.jpg

I have so much admiration for the commitment it takes to paddle yourself into a wave this size. Talk about a steep drop! 

Cloudbreak swell.jpg

Finding the right spot to shoot photos was difficult. Boats starting getting deeper and deeper to get a clear view. But there were some wide sets that kept the captains on their toes.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-10.jpg

Just when I thought my day couldn't get any better, Kelly turns up to get a couple. 

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-8.jpg

I think this is my favourite shot of the day. While it's not possible to portray the thunderous roar these waves make when they break, I think this image depicts the chaos, the adrenalin, and the thrill of what it's like to shoot at Cloudbreak during a monster swell.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-5.jpg

Tutorial: How to take perfect underwater split photos by Hannah Prewitt

One of my favourite types of photos to shoot are split photos - where you can see underwater and above water at the same time. I just love the glimpse into both worlds. But they can be quite difficult to get right, so here are a few tips on how you can take your own split photos.

 1/1000, f/13, ISO 400

1/1000, f/13, ISO 400

First of all, you're obviously going to need a camera that you can take underwater. Ideally, you're want to use a wide angle lens paired with a dome port. I have an Olympus Pen E-PL5 with a 14 mm lens and Olympus housing with a 7" dome port. The dome port helps to widen the image by moving the water further away from the lens. However, you don't need this setup. GoPro's are already extremely wide and you can even get basic waterproof covers with dome lenses for your smartphone these days!

 1/1600, f/8, ISO 200

1/1600, f/8, ISO 200

There's nothing more frustrating than getting the perfect split shot to find a massive water droplet on the above part of the image. To avoid this, before you enter the water, be sure to spit on the lens. That's right, spit all over it. I like to actually lick my entire dome port before entering the water. I picked up this tip from legendary wave photographer Clark Little if that makes it a little less gross.

 1/2000, f/8, ISO 320

1/2000, f/8, ISO 320

Ok, settings. You're going to need a pretty fast shutter speed to capture the moving water, especially if the conditions aren't perfect. I would recommend something faster than 1/800 but depends on how flat the day is. The aperture is up to you. If you want to get everything above the water and below in focus, then you'll need to use a narrow aperture. But try out some wide apertures as well, to get some different artistic water shots.

 1/3200, f/3.8, ISO 200

1/3200, f/3.8, ISO 200

I would also recommend shooting in high burst mode. That way, you're likely to get at least one great image from a burst, especially if the water is a bit choppy.

I hope these tips are helpful for you to achieve this type of image. One of the best things about these shots are that no two are ever the same, and if you're lucky, something awesome might just swim into your photo!

 1/800, f/16, ISO 800

1/800, f/16, ISO 800

Underwater split photos tutorial

Tutorial: How to create beautiful ocean panning shots by Hannah Prewitt

Recently, I posted a couple of ocean panning images on social media. People responded really well to them, and I quickly received a lot of questions asking how to do a shot like that. So, I thought I'd write a quick tutorial explaining my process.

 2.5s, f/22, ISO 64

2.5s, f/22, ISO 64

Technique

So what's the technique? Well, it's a panning shot, which means that you need to move the camera whilst taking the image. So ideally, you'll need a tripod to keep your camera nice and steady, but I have achieved many great panning shots without one, just using my body to stabilise the camera as much as possible. While the shutter is open, you'll need to slowly move your camera from left to right. I personally like to start moving the camera before pressing the shutter, as I find it helps to make the shot much smoother.

 1.6s, f/9, ISO 320

1.6s, f/9, ISO 320

Settings

This type of shot is a long exposure, which means that the shutter is open for a relatively long time. How long is up to you. Start with 1 second, and then experiment around that. I usually find that 1.6 seconds creates a pretty good image. Of course it depends on what you're shooting and how fast everything is moving. Play around with it to find what works for you. Chances are, you'll have to take quite a few shots before getting one you're happy with. Bear in mind, that because we're doing a long exposure, you'll need it to either be dark enough to avoid blowing out your image, or use an ND filter if there is too much light.

 2s, f/14, ISO 200

2s, f/14, ISO 200

What do you shoot?

Obviously we're shooting the ocean. But what the waves are doing is going to have a huge impact on your final image. The image above was taken from the clifftop overlooking a peeling point break in Bali. But shooting from the shore of a beach break is going to give you different results, because the waves are more shifty and there's probably going to be some white water (which is how I achieved the different colours in this shot below).

 1.6s, f/4.5, ISO 400

1.6s, f/4.5, ISO 400

Also, if you have clouds in your photo, then the final image will look different compared to a clear sky. Personally, I think clear skies work best.

And it's as simple as that! Hopefully you're now able to take your own awesome ocean panning shots. Please feel free to tag me or send me your images. I'd love to see them!

Tutorial how to create beautiful ocean panning photos

Tutorial: How to make your underwater photos really POP by Hannah Prewitt

I always find it fascinating to see how people edit their images. I love to see before and after shots. I know a lot of photographers don’t agree with editing photos, but personally, I find it just as much fun as taking the shots in the first place. For me, it is an art, my creative outlet. I’ve received quite a few questions about how I make the water in my photos look so clear and detailed, so I’d like to share how I edited this image of silver fishes swimming.

I’d like to start off by showing you what the original image looked like straight from the camera.

Pretty shocking right? Most people would probably look right past this image. You can see that the water wasn’t very clear that day and I didn’t really expose the shot very well. However, this image can be saved because (1) I shot in RAW, and (2) the sun was out - this is very important for underwater photos.

After I did my edits in Lightroom (I won’t cover that here), you can see that the image looks 100 x better.

Fishes with lighroom edits.jpg

But it’s still not quite as punchy as I’d like it. All the data is there, I just need to coax it out a little more. This is where I use Google Nix Color Efex Pro. Google used to charge for this but now it is free. You can download it here.

The only downside to this Collection now being free is that Google no longer support it, so if it is not compatible with a new version of Lightroom or Photoshop, Google won’t fix it. For now it works so I’ll enjoy it while I can.

To open your image go to Photo – Edit In – Color Efex Pro 4. Your image will open in the app.

From Lightroom to Nik Color Efex Pro.png

On the left hand side you can see all the filters available. There are lots of great filters in this app, but there are three that I use for underwater shots.

The first thing I do is add some contrast using the Pro Contrast tool. Have a play around with the sliders being careful not to push them too far. One of the things I love about this collection is the ability to see your before and after on the same image. This really helps with not going too far with your edits.

Color Efex Pro Contrast.png

Once I’m happy with the contrast, I’ll try to bring out a few more details using the Detail Extractor filter. For this image, I found that applying this filter to the entire photo, brought out too much noise in the background, so I used the Control Points to add detail to specific areas of the image.

Color Efex Detail Extractor.png

Lastly, and one of the best tools for underwater images, is the White Neutraliser. Here I’ve pushed it pretty far so you can really see the effect, but it’s great at correcting the colours in your image.

Color Efex White Neutraliser.png

And that’s pretty much it! Press Save and your edited photo will return to Lightroom as a .tif file. You can then carry on editing in Lightroom or Photoshop if you wish.Here's the final image.

Fishes with Nik Color Efex Pro edit.jpg

There are lots of other filters you can use in Color Efex Pro, not to mention the rest of the Nik collection, which are definitely worth a look, but these three filters I find are all I need for my underwater shots.

I’d love to see how you get on using this collection to bring out the best in your photos. Feel free to send me your before and afters, and let me know what you think of this quick tutorial.

Underwater split photos tutorial