After the recent storms blew past SoCal, the local weatherman forecasted 8-10 foot waves for Sunday. I grabbed my camera gear and headed out to the beach with my brother. With his recent interest into dslr photography, I wanted to give him a taste of the exhilarating world of sports photography. We first checked out The Wedge. It is a world renowned local surf spot which body boarders and body surfers flock to. During winter storm seasons, that small little stretch of sand can produce monster waves up to 20 feet high. When I got there I was expecting huge crowds gathered to watch the body surfers. What I found was an empty beach with nonexistent waves. There was nothing going on at The Wedge.
Disappointed, my brother and I got back into my car and drove up north towards Huntington Beach Pier. When we got out onto the beach, I did not see 8-10 foot waves. No. What I saw were 10-15 foot waves! They were massive. They pounded the beach with endless fury and white water. However as we made our way along the boardwalk towards the pier, I noticed that the water was deserted. Not one surfer was to be found. How odd!
I would have thought that the surfers would be out in huge numbers for wave conditions like this. I wondered if the lifeguards had closed the beach because of the dangerous rip currents. We wandered onto the pier and as we walked towards the end, we finally spotted a few brave surfers bobbing out in the water.
As I took out my camera, I immediately discovered some problems with today's photo shoot. The light was all wrong. The surfers were located on the south side of the pier. The sun was behind them creating back lighting. Most of the time the surfers were facing away from me and the few times that they actually looked towards the camera, their faces where always hidden in deep shadows. What made the exposure even more frustrating was that they were black colored subjects (due to their wet suits) surrounded by white wash. All the white wash around them threw off the camera's calculations for proper exposure which made the surfers even darker in the final image. I felt like it was such a waste (photographically) of some of the best surf conditions I have seen. The only other possible solution was to come back at sunset when the sun would be positioned north of the surfers and give me direct light on the subjects. However, I already agreed to family plans this afternoon. Ah well. I had to make due with what I was given.
My Canon 7D held up very well under the tough shooting conditions. With its blazing 8 frames per second shooting speed, I ripped through 12 gigs of memory cards in less than 2 hours. I shot over 1500 frames. In the end, I have only these 15 shots to present to you guys. The vast majority were deleted because the lighting and exposure resulted in unusable images. For these 15 shots, I was able to play around in photoshop to adjust the exposure a bit and get some details out of it.
I have posted some of my prior surfing shots on various internet sports photography forums. I have been given feedback that I need to show more of the wave in my shots to capture more of the surrounding scenery. Also shooting down from the pier can give an awkward angle on the subject. If I shot from the beach level (which is what others have suggested), I would not have been able to see the surfers due to the high waves which were rolling into the shore. Plus they were so far out that their images would have been quite small. I chose to shoot from the pier so that I can get in as tight as possible with the surfers. I want to see their faces and capture their expressions as they struggle with the physical effort of their sport. I want to see the water droplets flying off their faces as the moment is frozen in time. To me that is where the beauty of sports photography lies.
Standing their watching these huge waves come rolling in, I can actually feel the pier vibrating a bit as the waves crashed into the piers' pylons. As an ex body surfer, I have tremendous respect and a healthy dose of fear of the ocean. I remember feeling it's incredible power as a wave picked me up, slammed me into the ocean floor, and tossed my body around like a rag doll in a washing machine. I cannot image what it must be like to eat it on waves this massive...this powerful. The surfers seemed to stay underwater for a long time after they crash before their heads eventually popped back up in the white water. Back on their boards they scrambled to wait for the next perfect wave to come in.
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