Todd Glaser. Credit: Chris Orwig
Todd Glaser wanders the world with his camera one step at a time, and his travels take him to many remote locations — from Fiji to Tahiti, Puerto Rico to Mexico. Based in his hometown of San Diego, Calif., Todd works as a staff photographer for Surfer magazine and is trusted to capture some of the biggest names in the surf world as well as being on call to experience the world’s famous waves.
Q: What is the biggest challenge to shooting at Pipeline and how does it compare to other popular spots?
A: The biggest challenge is to get close enough to the wave to get a great shot without jeopardizing the angle that the surfer has to make to ride the wave successfully, all while sorting your way through the crowds of surfers, photographers and rogue North closeout sets.
Q: What is the best vantage point to shoot from at Pipeline?
A: The water.
Q: Are there particular waves or wipeouts you remember from previous sessions at Pipeline?
A: When shooting at Pipeline, everything tends to blur into one as your adrenalin is running really high. I remember shooting the Pipe Masters last year and watching C.J. Hobgood, John John Florence and Kelly Slater catching some incredible waves. When you’re shooting photos, you become so focused on making sure there are no water drops on the port, you’re in the right spot that the waves themselves can blur into one another and you don’t realize what you have shot until you get your film developed or look at the digital photos on the computer that night.
Q: What do you worry about most when shooting at Pipeline? Have you ever lost equipment or been bounced off the reef?
A: Last year I was shooting at Backdoor, which is the right off of Pipeline. I swam in to shoot the first wave of the set and when I popped out the back, there was another wave that was much bigger about to break. It capped on the second reef and doubled up in front of me. I didn’t know whether to swim in or swim out. The lip landed a couple of feet in front of me and I had never been hit in the water that hard by a wave before. It blasted me. I went straight to the bottom, cartwheels, pinned to the bottom, scraped on the reef, and when I came up I was seeing stars. It was one of the most violent experiences I have ever had in the ocean. Luckily my housing didn’t break when it hit the reef! Without risks there would be no rewards, and it was a reminder of how powerful the ocean is.
John John Florence.
Q: What is one tip you would give to someone shooting Pipeline for the first time?
A: Watch what the other guys are doing. Where they are paddling out from, when to swim out, be aware of what the buoys are. The swells in Hawaii can jump up really fast. You can show up in the morning and have it be flat and by noon the waves will be 20 feet. Being both physically and mentally prepared is important, too. Most of all, go slow. Swim out first without a camera and observe. Pipeline isn’t going anywhere. There are plenty of guys who have dedicated their lives to photographing and surfing Pipeline, and it is important to respect that.
Q: What gear is essential for photographers shooting at Pipeline?
A: A pair of swim fins, a waterproof housing with camera of choice and a strong swimmer.
Q: What’s your favorite photo you have ever shot at Pipeline?
A: I don’t think I have a favorite yet. As clichéd as it sounds, the best photo I have shot is the next one I might take. I, along with many of my friends and contemporaries who shoot photos, can always find ways to improve upon the images we make. There are some images that resonate with me, but I couldn’t choose just one image, there are too many variables and nuances to Pipeline that make it hard to choose. I look at the images I make and think some of them are cool and capture a moment, than I’ll see the work that guys like Scott Aichner or Brian Bielmann have made and it makes me rethink my approach to shooting out there.
Q: Aside from shooting at Pipeline and covering the Billabong Pipeline Masters, what other assignments constitute a typical year for you?
A: Every year is different. This year has brought me to Mexico a number of times, up and down California, the Caribbean, Fiji, Indonesia, Tahiti, Australia and Hawaii to shoot surfing. I am a staff photographer for Surfer magazine, so collectively we decide where the waves may be the best and what stories we wish to share. Some trips are last-minute and others are planned, but most of the trips that we do are swell-based and are a reaction to where in the world will have the best waves at that time. Lately I’ve been focusing on shooting portraits of the guys I travel with and who share the passion for surfing. When traveling there are a lot of down days, so I am always thinking of ways to create images that tell more of a story besides tubes and cutbacks.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Thank you for the opportunity to share my work with you and hear a bit of insight into what it is that I do. Surfer magazine has been great to work with, and I thank them for sending me all over the world to shoot what I love to shoot as well as to my wife for being so supportive and putting up with all the last-minute trips and hearing me scramble during the “swell of the year” that she says happens at least a couple times a month! If you want to see more of my work, you can check it out here.