How to become a surf photographer ?


Professional equipment is very important. Although you can get a great picture with an amateur camera, if you want to be shooting everyday and get good results, you will need to build up a good range of telephoto lenses, zooms and cameras with high shooting speeds. The type of equipment will depend on the subject you will be shooting the most.
For surfing photography, a 600 /4 mm telephoto lens is a necessity. Some photographers have special custom-built water housings for water photography. For snowboarding and Motocross, a 300 /2.8 telephoto lens will suffice. Start with a good all-round lens like the 70-200/2.8 zoom lens and slowly invest in specific lenses later on. Nikon and Canon are the two leading brands.

Today’s surf photographer travels with anything between $ 10 000 and $ 30 000 worth of camera equipment. A PC is also becoming an obligation for an itinerant photographer, along with desktop computers and scanners at their home base.

All this equipment needs to be upgraded, cleaned regularly because of salt water and dust, serviced, insured and kept under constant surveillance. (See ‘Tim’s Equipment’ in Profile.


Photography schools are useful for teaching the basics and giving you some experience but they are usually not structured to give advice and experience on a surfing photography career.
Most photographic careers are very specialized nowadays and it would be impossible to get a specific formation for each field.
The more you know about photographic techniques, the more you will be able to branch out and be creative down the line. You can learn these through photography books, a photography course or working as an assistant. Studying pictures in the leading magazines and trying to recreate them can prove helpful.

The hardest part is to gain experience in all the different shooting conditions. The only way to gain this experience is to shoot a lot. Working as an assistant for a few months or a few years is the best way to gain knowledge at no cost. Otherwise, you must shoot a lot and finance everything yourself until someone finds you are good enough to be paid for it. With Digital cameras although the investment is fairly hefty, once you have the equipment you can shoot as much as you want and experiment at no cost. Start by taking your mates on a trip and creating a story.


Once you are sure that the pictures you are taking are of a good enough level to be published and used professionally, you can start to submit them to magazines, photo agencies or brands.
Hopefully this will put you in contact with better locations and better athletes. Try and create something different so that your pictures stand out in the editing rooms.


Get up early and work hard. Surfing photography is no ‘golden retreat’ and to make ends meet be prepared to make a few sacrifices and live a nomadic life. The buy-out rates are very low compared to other industries, although expenses are much higher. A cover with the highest selling surf magazines will land you just over $ 1000. Depending on the usage and circulation of the magazine, other shots can bring in anything between $ 100 and $ 600. Rates for advertising usage are much higher.

Try and be creative and find a niche that nobody has filled. With the introduction of ‘auto focus’ cameras, ‘digital’ cameras and fish-eye water housings, the field of amateur photographers turning pro has increased dramatically in the last few years. The competition is fierce in what is a small industry. The lack of a real photographic formation and professional ethics is becoming a widespread phenomenon.

Do not undercut the going rates. Although it might land you some new customers, in the long run you will not be able to increase your rate to be cost effective later on.

As when you are surfing in the line-up, avoid ‘drop in’ photography. Poaching other photographers’ assignments while on trips is not an acceptable practice. The ocean is a public place so you can shoot all the action, but don’t get in the way of the other teams of surfers and production crews. Release your shots only after the original story is published or you have an agreement with the other parties. The requirements of your job stop where the requirements of another photographer begin. Respect other photographers’ work and concentrate on your assignment.

When travelling, respect the locals and their traditions. Try and blend in and always remember that a surf trip is a luxury in some parts of the world where people worry more about food, disease, sanitation and having employment.

If possible, try and do additional photography work in another more lucrative field. If you are dependent solely on the surfing industry, you might find yourself bordering on starvation.

The best way to start a surf photography career is to branch out regularly from an established
photography career in another field and to test your capabilities slowly on surfing assignments