Keeping busy as a commercial photographer often comes with the perception that we must forgo creative opportunities in order to meet a client’s specific brief.  But retaining that creative point of difference is what makes us irreplaceable, and what helps photographers stay relevant and necessary in an ever changing digital industry.  Just about anything you can imagine has probably already been done in Photoshop or Illustrator (and been posted on Instagram).  But that doesn’t stop us imagining and trying to create new pictures with our cameras.  Which, for me, is what the fun and the challenge of good photography is all about.

Earlier this year I was back up to OZ to photograph a surfing event in Noosa, with the added bonus of being able to take my 15-year-old daughter along (herself a junior lifeguard and lover of the surf) for her first ever photo shoot as official “camera assistant”.  We checked in to the stunning Viridian Noosa Residences and headed straight for the beach.  Camera, check.  Jandals & sunhat, check.  15-year-old daughter?  Nowhere to be seen, she was already down at the beach and loving it…  Who said this was a work trip?

Originally established as an amateur surfing competition by the local surf club back in 1992, today the Noosa Festival of Surfing includes pro level events alongside unique amateur contests and speciality exhibitions that give it huge crowd appeal.  I didn’t stop to count, but spectators on the beach looked to be in the thousands while the cafes and shops along the main drag were all bursting at the seams.

Out on the water the waves were small but the weather was fine and the competition was running at full tilt with over 800 entries representing 15 countries across the different disciplines.  Celebrating its 25th year, this is truly an event that recognises the diverse culture of surfing; shortboarding, longboarding, paddling, tandem, you name it… The highlight is definitely the Vetshop Dog Surfing Workshop where the beach is standing room only, with thousands of people knee deep in the water and cameras at the ready as the four legged competitors (and their human companions) ride the waves ashore.  Judging by the skills and athleticism we witnessed I’d say this was a favourite amongst the competitors… and their humans seemed to enjoy it too!!  From the Old Man Open to the Body Bash, the Finless Challenge, the Logger Pro and the SUP BOP race, the line-up is varied and there is definitely something on display for everyone.

My daughter and I got busy photographing the festival atmosphere – the kids, oldies, dogs and surfers out in the water, the crowds lining the beach, and the smiling faces under sunhats and sun umbrellas everywhere.  And then it was time to see some action, getting shots of the different events as the contestants vied with each other amongst the crowded waves.

During the surf event the swell was quite small so I decided to try something different to dramatize the surf images, using a slow shutter speed together with my Nikkor 400mm lens.  Although I don’t use it on every shoot, when I do this lens is so unbelievably sharp and fast I simply don’t want to put it down!  It was late in the evening and the light was dropping, so using Aperture Priority mode I reduced the ISO to give me the slower shutter speeds I was after.  I then panned the surfer to keep the main subject sharp while adding movement blur to the background and the breaking waves.  The results were a lot of fun, and something creative and different to sit alongside my more traditional “action shots” of the surf event.

In fact some of my favourite images from the week are a series of golden baby waves taken at sunset using the same approach.  Shooting in Av mode, reducing the ISO to get a slow shutter speed, and this time panning the actual wave itself.  A simple image with a nice feel to it.  It’s important to take every opportunity to try new things, as even if the images don’t always work or the results aren’t what you were expecting, the process itself is all part of the learning curve and you will know what to do differently next time.  As they say in surfer speak, “Life’s a beach”, so get out there and enjoy it.

All images and text copyright Chris McLennan

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