How to: Surf Photography

When I got into surf photography, there was very little information about adecuate camera water housings on the market. My first water camera was a Nikonos. A very expensive Nikon model, that was made for diving. It didn´t last very long and the reparations were quite expensive. Years later I bought myself a SPL housing from California.  It cost me 2000 Euro and was set up for a Nikon D300.  They are very good quality, but maybe a bit expensive to get things started. For half of the Price  I bought also a SPL waterhousing for a Nikon D500, which I use most of the time. I would like to give you some advices, If you want to start shooting in the water: If you just want to give it a try, start with a GoPro. They are handy, easy to use, and relatively cheap. Only buy a housing for a DSLR, if you really want to get serious about it. If you buy a housing, check, that it is easy to adapt for different camera types. It doesnt make sense to buy a expensive housing for an old DSLR, when maybe one year later you change to a smaller mirrorless  camera and have to change everything. Once on the beach and ready to shoot, have the following things in mind:

  • Check that Batteries are charged
  • Check all settings of the camera, before closing the housing
  • I normally put a higher ISO to guarantee a quick shutter speed.
  • I put quite a big aperture (e. g. f 4) to guarantee higher shutter speed (1/800 and above)
  • Bring the tool for the housing screws!
  • Put the camera in the housing at the same temperature as outside, if not, fogging while be a problem.
  • Check, that all O-rings are greased and have contact with the back plate.
  • Dip the housing in the water to check if it leaks just at the beginning at the session, before swimming in the line up.
  • Spit the lense every now and then, that will avoid having water drops on your lens.
  • Wear a surf helmet
  • You will get a lot more photos when you shoot well defined point break waves, as it is way more easier to connect with the surfers.
  • Wear swim fins and know the currents. Do not be in the way of the surfers. Get closer to them once you know the game.
  • Always remeber: A collison with a surfboard can be deadly.
  • Comunicate with the surfers. Let them know, that you are there.
  • Start shooting with friends who can surf.
  • If you go over the falls, don´t lose the housing and make sure, it is not going to hit you. Some of them have pretty sharp edges.
  • While swimming over the reef or getting washed, make sure, that the housing faces upwards or protected to not scratch the lens.
  • Have fun!

Matthias Soeder