Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Santa Ana winds create dramatic golden spray off a small wave at sunset as a surfer glides down the face at the Huntington Beach Pier.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Al Schaben / LA Times

Surfers ride large waves, some reaching 20 feet on the face at the Wedge in Newport Beach.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

A surfer bails out of a large wave at the Wedge.

At sunrise, surfers ride wind-sculpted waves as Santa Anas blow the spray off the top at the Huntington Beach pier in 2005.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Nine-time ASP world champion Kelly Slater snaps his board off the top of a wave to take first place in heat 13 and advance to the next round of the U.S. Open of Surfing at the Huntington Beach Pier in 2010.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

A surfer takes off on a large wave during strong offshore winds on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier as the sunset lights up the spray off the wave.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Al Schaben / Los Angeles Times

A surfer goes airborne with a longboard while riding big waves at the 26th Street jetty

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

The shadow of a fellow surfer falls across another's longboard beneath the Huntington Beach Pier.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Al Schaben / Los Angeles Times

At sunrise, a surfer rides a wind-sculpted wave as Santa Ana winds blow the spray off the top at the Huntington Beach pier in 2005.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Shaun Cansdell of Australia goes airborne by the pier in the U.S. Open of Surfing in 2010.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

A surfer at sunset in Palos Verdes.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Patrick Gudauskas performs a difficult aerial trick called a "roll" or "rodeo" at Lower Trestles in 2004.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Tanner Gudauskas can't hold onto his board during an aerial maneuver in the U.S. Open of Surfing at the Huntington Beach pier in 2008.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Surfers ride large waves, some reaching 20 feet on the face at the Wedge in Newport Beach.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

A body boarder launches off a big wave on the south side of the Seal Beach pier, where big waves forced the closure of that city's pier in 2008.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

A surfer emerges from the sea silhouetted by misty beams of golden light at sunset near the Newport Beach Pier recently.

Big-wave surfer Mike Parsons at Isla Todos Santos, near the coast of Ensenada.

Bert Huerta walks with his son, Sean, after a surfing session at Huntington City Beach.

Santa Ana winds create a dramatic spray as they lift the spray off 10-foot breaking waves, much to the delight of surfers at the Huntington Beach pier in 2004.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

A surfer wipes out at the Seal Beach Pier amid high-surf warnings at west-facing beaches.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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Surf's Up: Tips for improving your surfing photos

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Surf’s Up: Tips for improving your surfing photos

The U.S. Open of Surfing finishes up this weekend in Huntington Beach. The event attracts the world’s best surfers and a horde of super-long telephoto lenses and photographers. Surfing certainly isn’t one of the easier sports to photograph. There’s a few technical issues with equipment. The need for expensive cameras and lenses to capture surfers in the distance is the first problem, not to mention dealing with waves and weather.

Obviously, having the best gear is going to help, but getting good creative surf pictures can be achieved with more regular gear if you try some creative angles and use nice light to your advantage.

I thought I would check in with fellow Times photographer Allen J. Schaben to get some expert tips. Be sure to check out his gallery (above) of surf photographs, capturing great action and stunning light. Here are some of his thoughts on improving your surfing photographs:

Growing up landlocked in Nebraska, I have developed a love for the ocean.  I moved as close to it as possible and learned to surf the moment I got here. Being a surfer, studying surf photography in magazines and online has helped my surf photography. Photography, like any art form, is subjective, so what makes a good photo for me may not be what makes a good photo for you, and that’s the beauty of photography.

Here are some tips that I have learned and passed down to me by some good folks:

Shoot  during the “magic light” hours if possible. Get up early and be at the beach at sunrise and around sunset because great light equals great photography. You will have more creative options, like using shadows, to complete your composition, or shooting the sun shining through the back of a wave. Warm-toned light is more pleasing to the eye.

The most important tool is a camera that has a fast motor drive. I use the Canon Eos1D Mark III that shoots 10 frames per second along with a 600mm lens. If the waves are farther out at low tide I will add a 1.4X or 2X lens extender. Also, it’s handy to have another camera body with a short telephoto zoom or wide-angle lens just in case I see something closer.

If using a consumer camera, get as close as possible, say from the pier, and use the optical zoom but forget the “digital” zoom. It just replicates pixels. You’re better off cropping the image. Use a UDMA compact flash card  to allow your camera to process your photos faster.

Chance favors the prepared mind. Be prepared for everything you can think of. Charge all batteries, have extra batteries, extra cards, carry a cotton cloth to wipe the sea spray off your lens.

Wear shorts and flip-flops because the tide will always catch you off guard. Carry drinking water, a snack and sunscreen.

There’s an old saying: If you can’t be good, be graphic. This means finding repeating shapes or patterns or cool beams of light or shadows, or a nice silhouette.

As opposed to blurry, panned-action shots, I prefer tack-sharp “frozen” close-up shots. When using auto-focus, watch the spray from a breaking wave in front of the surfer. Sometimes the focus will focus on the spray. Most sports photographers set their camera to focus on the back button.

Most of the time I don’t shoot RAW. I shoot ISO 200  JPEG images. This is due to deadline constraints and loss of motor drive speed when you shoot several bursts and the camera is still processing images. If the surfer is really back-lighted or I have the luxury of time, I will shoot on RAW. Don’t be afraid to shoot a lot of photos. You can always delete the bad ones. Most of the time I shoot at F2.8 or F4.0 to keep the background clean so your eye goes right to the subject. When I use my wide-angle, I try to use layers: foreground, middle ground and background. It’s pure poetry if you can make a nice composition with depth, light and meaning.

Look for faces showing emotion, reaction to the action, celebration, dejection and frustration. My goal and duty to millions of Los Angeles Times viewers is to tell the story of the day, to see what others might miss, to capture the extraordinary and to see the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

Choose the right lens. One of the golden rules is, the background is working for you or against you. Look for interesting features to use in your background, such as palm trees, the pier pilings or an old church like you would see in Europe. I try to put the viewer at eye-level with the subject and rarely from an elevated angle. When I can, I use a water housing with my camera and get in the water to allow the viewer to feel like they are there with the surfer. A GoPro is a great camera to give the viewer a feeling like they are there in the middle of the action.

Never take your eyes off the waves. Patience is a photographic virtue.  Waiting for a good wave pays off.

Remember to be courteous and try not to block anyone, smile and have fun. You’re at the beach!

– Allen Schaben

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