This article is written for all the dedicated individuals out there who take pride in Surf Photography and capturing moments in those gnarly environments like the surf.
Whether taking pictures from the shore, in the surf, or from above the surf – photographing surfers is one of the most challenging and rewarding tasks in sports photography, in my opinion. Are you dreaming of getting into surf photography? Many of us have seen the 4-digit price tags on DSLR telelenses, DSLR underwater housings, and most of us even have given up the idea of surf photography after all! Well, welcome back, because it is 2019 and you can get pretty good deals online!
Taking pictures in the SURF
Taking pictures from the SHORE
Taking pictures from the AIR
Surf photos and videos in the SURF:
ACTION CAMERA & DSLR
The most popular and easiest solution is to get an action camera with waterproof housing. You will probably need a floatable foam attachment as well just for safety when the waves decide to grab your camera when recording from the board or in the surf. You will also need some knowledge on how the surf, swell, and waves work for your safety precautions. The is an environment where a normal human being is not supposed to be. But once you are brave enough and feel confident being in the surf, check out some of those cameras down below to capture these awesome and unforgettable images the surf can offer!
Essential Extras for the GoPro in Surf photography
Includes A Bobber, Foam Floaty, Anti-Fog/humidity Inserts, Thumbscrew, and a Wrist Strap – all you need for underwater and surf photography when you already have an action cam. These mounts are initially for the GoPro, but most probably suit any other Action Cam that has visually the same construction as the GoPro
Bobber handle with a trigger
A great and handy way to use the handle with a trigger. A great grab and a useful trigger.
Telesin GoPro Dome
My favorite gadget for GoPro for sure. Perfect for those 50-50 shots as well. A good choice if you are after many different angles.
Read more – Telesin GoPro Dome Review
GoPro Mouth Mount
Awesome gadget to make awesome shots. Whenever you use it, make sure to use it this way as pictured here (Upside down). If it is standing up, it is going to rub your nose, and you’ll look like a clown. But by the end of the day – who cares anyway, right?
I know the struggle when you choose if you take the GoPro with you or not. Well, I only took mine when I went out with my friends, and I could slip the GoPro on my wetsuit’s chest pouch. Otherwise, I know it feels dorky to be there alone with a weird thingy in your mouth – but then again those are some great memories and beautiful views!
ACTION CAMERA pros and cons in surf photography:
PROS: Action Cameras in surf photography are the easiest way out because they are rather cheap compared to the bulky DSLR with a lens and housing. They weigh less than the DSLRs and have a 180-degree view for close shots. Great to shoot with one hand only. Simplicity as it is effortless to operate.
CONS: Although many action cameras nowadays make superb pictures, there is still the image quality in low light performance, which is not comparing what the DSLRs have to offer. Taking photos in the medium-range distance is also a bit tricky since the surfer will not be in total focus — lack of manual settings to get a different style picture.
GoPro Surf Photography Tips
- When using a GoPro mouth mount, place the camera in front of your chin, not on the nose. It’s more comfortable that way.
- Use a tiny bit of surfboard wax on the housing, and buff it in lightly – so that the water would drip down the lens instantly
- Use time a bobber and write your name inside the camera. If you lose it – someone could return it to you
- Use different shootings settings. Timelapse intervals are great when there’s an intense surf.
- Use dry bags so that the inside of the camera would stay dry
- A great tip is also to use the safety plug and line when attaching the camera on the nose of your board
- One of the mayor photography basics is to shoot a picture vertically straight
With waterproof casing/housing
If you don’t have a DSLR, you could get a good second-hand one from anywhere from the internet under $300. But if you already have a DSLR, all you need is waterproof housing for your camera. Rigid and solid casings usually cost around 1000-2000 USD!!!, so if you already feel like a Borat on the Hummer car dealer, take a look at the following plastic bags for DSLRs.
BUDGET RANGE PLASTIC BAGS for DSLR Cameras
Though those bags do the trick, I would not recommend it for big surf photography. I have used some of those bags personally on 3-8 feet waves, and it lasted for quite a while, sometimes really getting blasted, but you don’t want to drown your camera that’s for sure. These are more suitable for small surf, canoe, and kayak trips, BUT will last for some time if you are careful.
To anyone who has never used or seen any of these bags before – Underwater DSLR bags usually have three finger-holes for the buttons. One for the apparent shooting button and two to adjust the lens. Useful, if you don’t have a fixed focal length lens. 18-70mm range is what you might want to look for in the water.
Would be a safe option for Canoe/Kayak trips rather than surf and big waves
Though Venterior does not claim these bags are for diving, they are still ideal for taking pictures on the boat near the surf, or suitable for kayaking, rainy days, etc.
Zonman Triple Clamp
I have personally used this bag in low and heavy surf. It lasted quite a while and took the beating, but after 15 times, or 15 hours in the water it started to leak in a little. Total recommendation for careful photographers, or Canoe, Kayak, Sailing trips. Thumbs up.
DiCAPac WP-S10 Pro
Total thumbs up on this product. DiCAPac claims this bag to be safely submerged down to 16 feet / 5 meters. DiCAPac makes great waterproof plastic products.
I have used this rugged bag myself since it has a very secure way to make the bag watertight.
WP-S10 model is for a DSLR with a larger and longer telephoto lens
WP-S5 is for a standard 18mm-70mm lens
Make sure to get the right model; otherwise, if you use a small lens in a big bag, the bag would be baggy and uncomfortable.
And USE THE BODY CAP when you slide your camera in the bag since you have to attach the lens from the front later. And sometimes lots of dust can end up in your sensor due to the fiddly action of putting the lens on your camera.
High-End and Mirrorless Camera Series Waterproof Case
Suitable for small DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras. Another great and trustworthy product from DiCAPac.
Whether you choose to shoot with a regular 18-100mm range lens or would you like to have the widest point of view as the action cameras provide. The only difference is that those lenses on a DSLR make way better image quality! So here you will find the following budget range fish-eye lenses for your camera:
It is advisable using a lens-hood when possible in your underwater bag since it keeps your UV filter or the lens glass from being scratched with the bag and vice versa
ALTURA 8mm / f 3.0
PRICE $$ / WEIGHT 1.14 pounds / 520 grams
OPTEKA 6.5mm / f3.5
PRICE $$ WEIGHT 0.45 pounds / 200 g
Great Ultra-Wide Fish Eye lens. Just like a GoPro view – the only difference is that with a 180-degree view range, you can add way more depth and manual settings into getting the right photo.
NEEWER PRO 8mm / f3.5
PRICE $$ WEIGHT 0.95 pounds / 430 g
KELDA 8mm / f3.5
PRICE $ – $$ WEIGHT 1.4 pounds / 640 g
OSHIRO 8mm / f3.5
PRICE $ – $$ WEIGHT 0.9 pounds / 414 g
ROKINON 8mm / f3.5
PRICE $$ – $$$ WEIGHT 1 pound / 450 grams
Surf Photography FROM THE SHORE
BUDGET RANGE TELEPHOTO LENSES
JUPITER 21M – 200mm f4.0 (manual lens)
Weight 1000 g / 2.2 pounds
This is a 35mm film camera lens, which means you have to get an adapter to use it on your DSLR. Those adapters usually cost around $10 for NIKON, CANON, SONY or PENTAX models.
With this old-school lens, you can only shoot in Manual mode and have to set the light manually since a modern DSLR would not recognize the lens.
This Jupiter 21m used to be one of the best consumer class Tele lenses back in the day – and believe me, they still make fantastic quality pictures. Plus they look cool!
This lens weighs 1000g, 25% more than an average DSLR body.
Might sound like too much to fuss around, but you will get more than you pay for! Great lens when you have a 35mm camera and shoot on film as well.
This giant comes with a built-in tripod collar, 2x doubler (to extend the focal length to 2600mm), t-mount, case, front and rear caps, 10-year warranty. A little overkill to shoot a surf but could get some gnarly pictures far-far (I mean FAR) away from the shore.
Great range, great price for a Manual telelens. This one comes with a lens pouch, rear, and front lens caps
Surf Photography from the air
Take advantage of the technology age and get a drone! The choice is vast, prices are low, and the outcome is the most professional/cinematic of the options in surf photography. Though it is advisable to train and get to know the drone on land before flying over the surf.
What else do you need?
The most important thing for your safety in surf photography – is a pair of fins. Due to the currents, it’s crucial to wear SMALL bodyboard, snorkel or swimming fins in the surf – so you could dive under the waves or move away from certain spots FAST if needed. In surf photography, fins that photographers usually find quite convenient are similar to the selection below:
With those fins, you could even freely walk to the water and back out later. Although the size of the fin on this model is quite small – it still gives you a great deal of safety in the surf and currents. The smaller the fin – the less it will tire your ankle as well, and with the mid-size neoprene shoe – there will be not much flutter so don’t worry about the blisters later.
A MONOPOD / TRIPOD
Whether taking photos from the shore – make sure to get either a monopod (better portability, but not as stable for long-distances shots) or a proper tripod. Most tele-lenses can be mounted from the middle of the lens for better stability.
How many people have you seen taking pictures in the rain? Not many – will be the one and make awesome photos in the rain. Rainy day surfing photos are unique.
I created Nulltuul to share my experience, research and analysis with other surf enthusiasts out there. If I'm not surfing on my travels - I like to photograph waves, surfers, and the surf lifestyle in general.