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Backlighting in the Green Room

Dec 5, 2007 The afternoon before the predicted 'Big Wednesday' of December 2007 I went down to the beach to scope out potential spots to shoot epic surf. I figured to give myself a few hours to drive up and down the coast, trying my best at visualizing where the coming epic surf would reward me with a dramatic photo. This pre-event scouting trip is something I know I should do more of and in fact I've been trying to put into practice, after all f-stops and that other thing... aperture can only get you so far. This is very painful for me to say but at some point you have to do your homework.

Even the day before the predicted big swell the surf was sizeable and if I'm honest too big for me to handle. From the photography standpoint that is a good thing since I'm not distracted with thoughts of a go out. I joined the peanut gallery on the beach gazing at Mother Nature rearing her slightly irritated head in the form of pounding surf. A few guys (and gals) ventured out into the mostly closed out walls of water, those with the nerve, the mindset and skill level. I watched as those without the later were dragged in behind the jetski of the rescuing lifeguards.

After spending those hours doing my 'homework', another photographer showed up. In my mind he clearly was a professional, both in his choice of gear and demeanor. It was also clear to me that he wasn't a surfer, mainly because of his apparent disinterest in the subject he was shooting. He happened to show up during a lull between set waves, whipped out his impressive gear and fired off about 50 shots of the first guy to drop in on a mediocre wave for that day. Not one hoot or sign of awe or respectful pause at the epicness of the situation. He packed up and was gone. [Upon review I found a picture of that wave.]

Now my point isn't to criticize this working photographer. The news outlet probably needed a picture of a big wave and a surfer from today, so that they could say ‘here is a big wave and surfer from today’. I'm sure that he could and did deliver the called for picture. And in a 'time is money' world he needed to move on to the next assignment.

Many people have asked me why you don’t sell your pictures for a living. This is why I don't sell my pictures for a living. The reality is that I would be on the other end of the phone call: 'we need a picture of a surfer in the big surf' or 'we need a picture of the starlet without underwear' or what ever happened to be selling news at the moment. See what happens when you try to explain set waves and backlighting to an editor with a deadline.

So as a surfer that happened to have a camera, I hung around until sunset waiting for the sun to dip low enough to backlight a set wave. At the point where I thought I would go home empty handed this guy dropped in to the last wave in a set of three. When he got to shore he asked me 'did you get some good shots?’ I answered 'ehhh, I got some'. I asked 'did you get some good waves?' He answered 'ehh, I got some, nothing to write home about. It's all good though'.

In Southern California Wednesday turned out to be [Not So] Big Wednesday. It's all good though.


On the Web: Southern California local/surfer/photographer and Stoke friend, Brian Kingston caught El Portal booming one morning. Kingston presents a different perspective that strikes a cord with local surfers. Driving the coast doing a surf check... was that a hallucination?

 Tips, Techniques & Tools Utilized
  Compass in Photography     Silhouette in Photography  


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