In 2017, I received an invitation to photograph on the Mentawai Islands in Indonesia. My cousin, who is a surfer and makes this trip practically every year, asked me to join them on their next trip. For those who do not know, Indonesia is a surfer’s paradise, with surfers from all over the world visiting this remarkable destination. It has been a while since I photographed surfing professionally, so without much hesitation, I accepted the invitation. In this article, I want to go over some of the things I learned during this assignment and hopefully provide some tips to those who want to engage in commercial surf photography.
The scope of the job was to photograph 13 surfers on an 11-day cruise on the Mentawai Islands of Indonesia. From there, a series of doubts, yearnings and fears arose in my mind. I devised a plan to get ready for the job:
- Prepare myself physically.
- Get as much prior information as possible and all necessary care, so that nothing can go wrong.
Below is a list of what went right and what went wrong during this assignment.
As I signed my contract 3 months earlier, I immediately began to prepare physically – I went through a specialized swimming training. This preparation was very useful and I recommend all photographers to always be prepared physically. Whether it is to work at sea or on mountains, physical preparation is fundamental to success.
Work Methodology (70% Went Right, 30% Went Wrong)
Basically, there are two possible photographic scenarios in the Mentawai Islands: Shoot from a small boat in the channel near the waves, or photograph in the water. In my case, the biggest question was: which lens should I use in and out of water? Out of water, would something like a 70-200mm suffice, or would a telephoto zoom like the 200-500mm be a better choice? Would the latter be too heavy? For photographing in the water, what lens would be ideal? I was not planning on using an underwater housing kit for a specific camera + lens, and instead chose to go with an Outex housing case, which meant that I had to decide on the lens and also make sure that the Outex case was good enough to resist large waves. I also wondered if it was worth bringing a GoPro. Too many doubts and questions, which made me go crazy and lose some sleep. In the end, I decided to be rational, and separate the equipment by categories:
Lenses: First, I decided that I should take the Nikon 200-500mm with me because I knew that I would probably be photographing from the boat and from the beach, so getting as much reach as possible was fundamental. But after some more thought, I decided to also bring my 80-200mm f/2.8 lens, as it could be a versatile choice for photographing close action. Finally, I also decided that a 24-120mm f/4 was fundamental and this would be the lens I would use with the Outex rubber housing. When it comes to prime lenses, I decided to take the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G and the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G as well, since they are small and compact.
Camera Bodies: I took two Nikon D750 DSLRs, 5 batteries, two chargers, one GoPro and one DJI Standard Drone.
Accessories: Outex rubber housing, watertight box for GoPro and a Lowepro Pro Runner 350 Backpack, plus tripod with double heads.
Problems and Issues
Somehow, I thought that I would have a chance to make videos as well – I had delusions of the grandeur, imagining that I would make stunning quality videos. Poor me… hahaha! It turns out, you either make videos, or you take pictures!