In this modern age of social media blitzkrieg, it is easy to forget where all this great imagery comes from. And whose hands are responsible for it. Remember, it’s all hand made. By the unsung professional surf photographer.
So to remind myself what it is all about and to get the you-are there perspective, I recently swam out at Padang Padang on the best day of the year with water photographer maestro Federico Vanno. Facing the bombardment of 10 foot set after 10 foot set while deliberately putting myself in the kill zone right behind him. It’s no pleasure cruise, believe me.
Watch Live Cam: Padang Padang
Different than going bodysurfing or just out for a dip, you find yourself armed and dangerous and literally swimming in the imagery you have set out to capture. You become half technician and half fish. Swimming around with one hand while the other totes heavy weaponry.
And with modern housing setups that include both camera and video apparatus, the going is tough. Like a shark, stop swimming, even for one second, and you sink. Also, like a slow motion horse race, you must kick and claw yourself into position among a pack of other hungry photographers, hoping to be in the lead by the home stretch.
Add to that the fact that you have surfers hurtling themselves at you at high speeds, often on the very edge of control, with pointy boards with three fins on the bottom of them that are capable of slicing your fingers off or maybe scalping you... It happens. All the time.
And then, you are also dealing with something that most surfers forget as they skim along on the surface on their boards. Swimming around in these hammer zones, you have a much more intimate relationship with the dynamics of the water behaviour. Fighting the pitch and yaw of currents, both big and small, that bat you around like a shuttlecock.
Try five hours of this. And then face the hairy prospect of actually getting back to shore at Padang Padang without being pulverised, dragged across a live tropical reef and stuffed into a limestone cave. As idyllic as the images can seem, shooting the place means throwing muscle and grit at chaos. And the result? Magic. Our magic. Back safely on land, over his homemade Italian dinner, I had a chance to discuss with Federico his favourite photos from the day.
“I always try and get a few drone shots on a banner day like this one,” says Vanno. “And the key is to shoot the first wave of the set so that the water in front of it and in back of it is undisturbed. I also like to capture the different moods and lighting of the day. Padang Padang is unique in that, because of the reflection off the cliffs, it can look like a completely different spot ten times a day."
“These photos of Raditya Rondi and Putu Gunata are about positioning yourself in the photographers pack. I have lived here long enough to be able secure a spot in the top echelon. It wasn’t easy. There are great photographers here. Guns like Nathan Lawrence and Everton Luis.
"I change my settings a lot while I am out there. This was shot with a 70-200mm at about 140mm. In that way, I was able to get what I wanted without ten other photographers in the foreground. Something that can’t really be avoided when I am shooting with my fisheye."
“This is Bronson Meydi. He’s going places. Sometimes the water drops around the face can show the speed of what is happening. This is the part of the wave that drops you down into the inside bowl. Not so much a step, more of ramp. You gotta hit it just right. Bronson has it wired."
“This is about as close as you can get to a surfer. His rail slid across my arm. I try to avoid any contact, that is the key to working with good surfers, but now and then it happens. The results are usually too close, but this shot came out clean."
“This shot is a good example of how I change my settings while I am shooting. Slowing the shutter speed down for the afternoon light gives you a nice blur as long as you can get the face focused. I tried here to capture the feeling of speed again. That’s the thing about surfing Padang Padang. You have to know how to slam on the brakes and how to floor it. The wave is like a change-up pitch. You have to wire two different animals on one wave."
“This is Garut Widiarta. Another Rip Curl Cup champion. Come to think of it, I think six former champions were out. But anyway, this photo is that classic kind of shot that hopefully sponsors will buy. All logos showing, clean, and a really together team surfer. Garut owns a few tattoo parlors here and paints all his boards himself. He is one of those surfers that everyone loves. Courteous, big smile, always laughing but always, always ripping."
“These 12-year-old locals are unbelievable. When a friend of mine saw these shots he said, can you imagine having a shot like that of yourself at 12 years old, I’d retire. But really, growing up within sight of these barreling waves, it literally is a playground for these kids. Just one with heavier consequences than your average merry-go-round. Lucky kids. But it does make it harder for them when they travel to crappy, cold conditions to compete. After waves like this…”