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The Art and Science of Surf Photography

by Ava Lantis

Capturing great surf photographs is both an art and a science that requires considerable patience and precision. Numerous aspects separate a good surfing photo from a great photo from the perfect photo.

Sophia Caldwell (PLHS Alumni) surfing Sunset Cliffs on longboard in 2022

First, one should consider the amount of white water and location of the wave. A surfer’s connection to the curl is another key feature and is all about timing. This is where a photographer's understanding of weather and tides contribute to the ideal conditions for surf photography. If the person taking the photos also knows something about the proper time to begin paddling to catch a wave and the quick decision needed for taking a right or a left, they have more insight into the right time to snap away.

Ocean Beach Pier shortboard 2022

Some might argue the appeal of surf photography is found in the movement and control of the surfer as well as their surroundings. Others might say the board action is the most magical aspect of surfing, while still others prefer the crashing of the waves and hypnotic lifting of water droplets. When all the elements combine, each photo becomes a special memory captured forever- the beautiful ones, the plain ones, and even the unpleasant ones.

Matthew Caldwell (Junior) surfing Sunset Cliffs on shortboard in 2022

When I learned to appreciate all the features, my photo gallery became a source of fulfillment. While my camera roll includes photos of different quality, I try to focus on the ones that are worth sharing. For every one hundred pictures, only a few are special enough to be saved or downloaded. How do I choose which ones to save and share? It’s the surfer's turn on the wave, how their body looks against the water, and the amount of sunlight exposure that contribute to a photo’s richness. Looking back to sixty years ago, I’m amazed that such quality photography exists to display surfing history. Trying to take and share perfect photos back then was quite a difficult process! Besides using actual film, people had to wait weeks while their photos were developed. I much prefer the instant gratification of taking pictures and then knowing right away if they are quality or not. It makes me proud to be part of the unique surf culture and community of Point Loma and Ocean Beach.

Gabriel Xavier (sophomore) surfing at OB pier in 2022

Mouse Robb surfing OB Pier on egg-board in 1964


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