photography tips

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

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 @the.creative.series. 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