Beautiful images of surf pounding the shores never fails to stir something primal in our souls. When you mix your love of the beach with surfers displaying their practiced mastery over the waves, you have a recipe for some truly inspiring surf photography images.
Micro four-thirds cameras have matured enough that there are quite a few advanced models more than capable of capturing jaw-dropping images of fearless surfers riding massive tubes or performing sick aerials.
Now that micro four-thirds have the superb Olympus OMD 300mm F4 PRO lens available, surf photographers using micro four thirds finally have a lens with the high-speed autofocus and robust construction they’ve been waiting for.
To get the most out of your day at the beach, here are our best tips for capturing stunning surf photography with your micro four-thirds setup.
Planning Your Surf Photography Shots
The weather will heavily influence the results you achieve from your surf photography sessions. In the days leading up to the shoot, you should keep an eye on the forecast telling you what conditions are expected to be like on the day.
Surfing apps on your mobile phone can give you detailed information in that regard.
Early in the morning and late afternoons are favorite times for skilled surfers to ride the waves, and these times often coincide perfectly with golden hour.
If you organize your session to put yourself on the sand around these times, you will be rewarded with a beautiful sunset or sunrise to create the perfect backdrop to the action on the waves.
Some apps can help you get onto the beach with plenty of time to make the best use of the light you have left.
Where to Take Your Shots
You can shoot from the beach, but a nearby pier will provide a more stable platform. Wherever you position yourself, you’re going to need a decent-sized zoom lens if you want to get maximum detail in your images.
Finding the Best Position for Your Shots
The surfer will be moving towards or away from you, depending on your position. Setting your camera’s autofocus to continuous mode will help you keep your subject in sharp focus.
Shutters speeds of 1/2000th of a second will help freeze the action in place and keep the images crisp and clear.
Finding the right angle is one of the biggest challenges of the surf photographer. If you want to shoot both sides of the wave, you will need to position yourself perpendicular to it. If your goal is to catch riders in the tube, you’ll need to find the right angle.
A long zoom lens is needed to pull off shots of the inside of the tube if you’re shooting from the beach, as getting the right angle often means positioning yourself some distance from the action. You will need all the zoom you can get to pull you back in close.
Shooting from a Boat
While shooting from the beach is an excellent experience for beginners, more seasoned surf photographers get their best shots by being out in the water. One of the best ways to get images of surfers inside the waves is to put yourself on a boat.
A boat can give you the best angles while keeping you close to the action. A two-person crew, with one taking the shots and one driving the boat, is the safest way to get closer to the surfer when dealing with big waves.
You could use a jet ski, but you need a waterproof case to protect your camera. Plus, you will need to keep some distance from yourself and the surfer for safety reasons.
It can be tough to get out of the way of a fast-moving board when your only view of the world is through a camera’s tiny viewfinder.
If you are shooting from a jet ski, you should also be prepared to swim at a moment’s notice. When focusing on the action, it’s easy to get bucked off your ride by a wave that catches you by surprise because your attention is elsewhere.
Always keep your fins on and your camera attached to you via a sturdy wrist strap.
Keep A Close Eye on the Action
There can be a lot of stuff happening on a busy beach, so it can be easy to miss the best shot of the day if you aren’t paying attention. Surfers will take every opportunity to catch a wave, and you should be ready to set up your shot when you notice them making a move.
Once the action starts, it can be tough to home in on a fast-moving surfer through your viewfinder, so be ready to follow them at a moment’s notice.
Camera Features for Micro Four Thirds Surf Photography
Unlike race day, where you can pre-set your focus on a spot you know the cars will pass through, waves and surfers aren’t as obliging. Between the two, you always attempt to capture fast-moving subjects on the fly.
As you can guess, fast frame rates and capable autofocus are a must for micro four-thirds surf photography. A camera that can shoot at least 8FPS is highly recommended, and you will have no trouble finding this capability in many modern micro four-thirds models.
If you are shooting out on the water, the motion of the waves won’t be as much of an issue if you keep your shutter speed high and choose lenses with built-in image stabilization.
The F4 PRO mentioned above comes with a 5-axis IS System, which should give you sharp, clear images every time.
The weather and the environment will always provide new and experienced micro four-thirds surf photographers with unique challenges. Build your expertise by shooting from the beach or pier at first.
As your experience grows, you will want to experiment with more challenging scenarios by getting out on the water and capturing beautifully unique images of surfers in their natural element.