About

I'm retired, so I have a considerable amount of time on my hands, and I enjoy spending some of it photographing the many very talented surfers who surf Steamer Lane, in Santa Cruz, California. I've been doing photography for about twenty years, now; I began with film cameras and then switched over to digital cameras about five years ago. I've been using a Pentax K-7 lately, and prior to acquiring that I had been using a Pentax K20D. My favorite lens for surfing photography is a Pentax 55-300mm. I try to make it over to Steamer Lane at least once a week or so; I found out long ago that the more often that you shoot, the higher the percentage of usable photographs you're going to come up with. When I'm shooting regularly my percentage of useful shots hovers around 50%; when I'm unable to shoot for a few weeks at a time, that figure drops down to a level of 15-20%. I began using a new camera a few days back, and although I'm not at all familiar with it, yet, I am pleased with the preliminary output. Winter has been very wet in Santa Cruz this year, and the opportunities for shooting the surfers over at Steamer Lane have been very limited, as a consequence. The weather has begun to improve, over the last few weeks; just in time to see the early spring slightly reduced swell levels arrive. In two more months the activity at Steamer Lane will be reduced to almost nothing; through late spring and all of the summer months there's very little upper level surfing around here; the problem, simply enough, is that the water can be virtually flat for days at a time. Things usually remain that way until mid-October, or so, when the activity begins to pick back up. Six or eight more weeks of shooting -- at the outside -- and then the tourists will begin flocking into the area. Summer has its own set of charms, in this area, but I am never really loathe to see it go, knowing that its absence ushers in the next season of surfing, and the highly anticipated, and very welcome opportunity to capture more surfing images. Last month I began shooting with a Canon 7D; it's a really nice piece of equipment, but I'm still in the process of learning all of its various attributes. Both the Pentax K20D and the K7 were very competent cameras (the most annoying aspect of the K20D being an intrusively loud shutter release), but the 7D is clearly superior to both of the Pentax models. For surfing photography, oddly enough, it has a feature that I really don't have a lot of use for: it has a high speed frame rate (at full resolution) of eight frames per second. That might seem like a good idea, but for my purposes, it doesn't really add anything at all to the experience of photographing surfers. When I track a surfing run, I have exactly in mind what it is that I want to capture from that run, as the surfer progresses down the wave. A good long run, especially one where the surfer is advancing in the direction of the camera, can produce three or four very good images, providing that the timing is just right. When I shoot a frame, I am always just a split second ahead of the surfer (who is always moving very fast), so to "compose" the shot in such a way that I get out of it the image that I am attempting to extract from the scene, I have to know what the next movement will produce. Anticipating that is in large part the source of the greatest satisfaction that I personally derive from this activity. The camera is just a tool; I want it to be the most competent tool that it can be; but when it comes to distributing the credit for the creative quality of the image, I want that to be fairly distributed among the surfer, the wave, and the photographer. I never intentionally shoot more than one image at a time. It's just an incredible privilege, in my mind, to watch what these surfers are capable of deriving from the power of the water; their athleticism, grace, technique, and skill all combine in a fluid motion that fully integrates them with the waves that they are riding. I genuinely feel that I owe them, as a personal obligation and as a testament to their commitment to their art, a very seriously honest attempt on my part to display the results of their efforts in the best photographic images that I, and the equipment that I am employing, are capable of rendering. And I try, -- always -- to achieve that outcome. I don't view what I do in these photographs as a form of sport photography; to me, what I am doing is an attempt to view what the surfer feels, when he/she is engaged in the act of carving the face of the wave. It's a form of portrait photography; portrait photography that attempts to capture an artist in the act of engaging in a form of kinetic sculpture. That necessarily requires a degree of visual intimacy. I am not interested in photographing an indistinct dot sliding down the face of a colossal wave. The wave and the figure are conjoined. The shape that the surfer assumes at any given moment is always reflected in the board's interaction with the wave. The more precisely the surfer judges the nature of the wave, and interprets it, in physical terms, the more elegant the path through the wave, the structure of the spray, etc., will be. Even the expression of the surfer's face, if the image portrays it, is a crucial element in the overall composition; it illustrates the full physical and mental absorption demanded by the activity itself; as well as the determination, will, joy, and various other internal experiences that the surfer is undergoing at any given moment. Anyone who has ever tried to do this type of photography knows that it is not easy; in sheer volume, the number of failures far exceeds the number of successes; but the significance of this simple numerical given imbalance rapidly recedes to virtually nothing, in the moment that you acquire a single image that expresses exactly what you were attempting to achieve. I'm leaving for a trip back home (the Midwest, in the US) tomorrow (May 28), so I won't have the opportunity to do any surfing photography, or post anything for about the next three weeks. I put up about a dozen shots for tomorrow; a lot of what I've posted in the last two days was done on the 25th; it's really late in the season, but that was a very good day; I took 350 shots that day, and about 50 escaped being deleted. I haven't been able to shoot very much, over the last few months, because the weather has been so poor. I'm already looking forward to October, when real surfing returns to Santa Cruz. In my opinion, someone -- anyone -- who exhibits a truly exceptional level of skill, always deserves recognition...without exception. That is why I do this stuff. I love watching these people; it's enormously gratifying. And I get to photograph them! What more could you possibly want? Summer's over, Fall of 2010 has arrived, and Steamer Lane is just beginning to hit its stride. I'm already beginning to generate a large backlog of shots that I haven't had time to process, yet; and that's a good thing, as I see it. By the time that Spring of 2011 rolls around, I'd like to have a backlog of several thousand shots, actually; that'll give me plenty to do next summer. And I can still put up more than enough shots to satisfy myself, over the coming months. It the season continues the way that it has initially begun, then it has the potential to be a colossal season, here at Steamer Lane. I'm looking forward to taking a huge number of photographs of some Steamer Lane's extremely talented surfers. next few weeks, I'm going to put up a series of what I would describe as surfing images that I have digitally altered to render them as surrealistic/abstract/impressionistic depictions of surfing. The reason for this is not simply to take a break from posting "traditional" photos of surfing, but rather to attempt to depict surfing from a point of view that more closely (as I see it, at least) reflects that of the surfer. A photograph of a surfing run can only depict a small fraction of what's taking place in the course of that particular run; as the person who is taking the photograph, you are inherently excluded from the experience itself, and relegated to simply capturing an "objective" image of what is actually taking place (from the "outside,' the only point of view appointed to the photographer). I don't think that a surfer could ever look at an image of himself/herself, and say, "Yeah, that's what I was doing." What they were doing has to more that the image itself. What you are necessarily excluded from capturing in any photograph -- no matter how good -- is the visceral experience of the surfer in the photograph. What he/she experiences has to be something that is highly exaggerated -- in sheer physical terms -- because the activity itself represents a huge exaggeration of the type of activities that account for normal sensory input. What they see and feel is an extremely intense, highly focused vision of an environment that is speeding past them, under them, and around them. That can only be approximated by a photograph, no matter how dedicated and skillful a given photographer might be. What I'm doing in the photographs that I'll be putting up consists of essentially isolating the surfer (for the most part), while at the same time vastly enhancing and exaggerating the movement of the environment that he/she occupies, in an effort to "interpret" the experience, rather than simply objectifying it from the "outside." I'm trying to "project" some of the surfer's experience into the photograph, to more closely approximate what might be experienced from the surfer's point of view. There isn't any way to completely achieve that end, of course, but then again, the activity itself represents such an extreme divergence from the norm that you have also have to necessarily diverge from the norm to provide any representative expression of it. And that's what I'm going to try to do, here. If things work out all right, then the first few examples should show up on the site tomorrow morning (12/19). Some of the images will be much more accessible than are many others, of course. But every single one is just as much a valid, and genuine attempt to express just how I view the art of surfing as is any other.

Bruce Anderson hasn't uploaded any public surf reports