Have you ever wondered why some surf photos look like dazzling magazine covers while others… well, just don’t? Surf photography is an art, balancing the unpredictability of nature with the precision of a camera. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the surf and make a few missteps. Let’s break down the five most common mistakes surf photographers make and how you can sidestep them to elevate your surf photography game.

Table of Contents
1. Ignoring Light Conditions
2. Overlooking the Importance of Position
3. Unfamiliar with Camera Settings
4. Neglecting the Surfer’s Story
5. Failing to Experiment and Evolve

1. Misjudging the Surf and Lighting Conditions


Walking onto the beach, camera in hand, ready to shoot – only to find that the surf’s flat and the lighting’s all wrong. It’s a classic blunder!


Do your homework! Check the surf forecast and understand the best times for lighting (capturing-action-shots-of-surfers). The golden hours of sunrise and sunset often provide the most dramatic lighting and wave conditions. Also, if you find yourself getting a lot of glare, try using a polarizing filter to cut down the glare. Not only does it cut the glare from the water, but it often allows more color to come from the water and sky, and more contrast from clouds.

Surf photography inspiration rocky point north shore photo

2. Ignoring the Importance of Positioning


Standing in the same spot and shooting every wave from the same angle. It’s easy but hardly ever effective.


Mix it up! Move around to capture different perspectives. Sometimes, the best shot is from where you least expect it. Experiment with angles – high, low, close, far – and see how each changes the story of the photo. Remember that surfing isn’t just the part in the water when someone is on a wave. There are a lot of interesting things that happen on the beach before and after a session, or just in general. Keep your eyes peeled and don’t get tunnel vision.

Surf photography destinations

3. Overlooking Camera Settings


Using the same camera settings for every situation. Surf conditions can change rapidly, and your camera needs to keep up.


Become best friends with your camera settings. Adjust your shutter speed, ISO, and aperture according to the light and action (surf-photography-techniques). Faster shutter speeds freeze the action, while playing with aperture can help focus on the subject. If you camera has a focus hold button, set it so that you can use it while you shoot. Allow autofocus to do it’s thing, and then try holding a backbutton that you set to focus hold. This will sometimes help your camera not hunt for focus when whitewater from a wave before splashes up in front of your subject, or a foreground element catches you’re cameras’ autofocus.

photographing surfing from short

4. Neglecting the Surfer’s Story


Capturing wave after wave without really focusing on the surfer’s journey. A photo may look technically perfect but can still feel lifeless if it doesn’t tell a story.


Focus on the narrative. Each surfer has a unique style and story. Try to capture their relationship with the wave, their expressions, and their style. This adds depth to your photos, transforming them from mere action shots to storytelling masterpieces (surf-photography-inspiration).

5. Failing to Experiment and Evolve


Sticking to what you know and not experimenting. The world of surf photography is dynamic; sticking to a single style or technique can lead to stagnation.


Push your boundaries. Experiment with different techniques, from long exposures for a dreamy effect to fast shutter speeds for crisp action shots. Try new gear, angles, and compositions. The more you experiment, the more your unique style will evolve (surf-photography-tips-for-advanced).


Surf photography is as thrilling as it is challenging. By being mindful of these common mistakes and adopting the solutions provided, you can significantly improve your craft. Remember, the best surf photographers are those who learn, adapt, and aren’t afraid to ride the wave of creativity. So, grab your camera, embrace these tips, and capture the breathtaking world of surf in all its glory.

Want more tips and tricks to master surf photography? Check out our comprehensive guide to surf photography techniques and elevate your skills to capture the raw energy and beauty of the waves. Happy shooting!

Here are some tips from YouTube on underwater surf photography.

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