Not a Motorbike In Sight

Posted on 17 Jan, 2015 by Scott Jones
Banzai Pipeline Oahu Hawaii north shore surfing

Please click on the above image to view it larger.

I’ve traded tarmac for the shore this week, being on vacation with the family at Oahu’s north shore. Our rented house is just up the hill from Sunset Beach. It’s a short drive/medium walk down to the famous Banzai Pipeline, where today local competition organizers tried to wrap up The Duke, aka the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational. It being 2015, this makes it the 50th anniversary.

The Banzai Pipeline is known locally simply as ‘Pipe.’ This morning the beach had from 50 or so to four or five times that many spectators as we waited for the ocean to cooperate and provide waves suitable to this competition. It didn’t go so great. The big waves came in only sporadically, and the surf between the break and the shore was very choppy. But there were waves and surfers, so I went out to take a few pictures.

I didn’t intend to post anything about it: I figured beach photography would be too different from motorsports to share with the PHOTO.GP readers.

But in fact, I discovered, while shooting surfing for only the second time, that there is quite a bit in common from a photography perspective. As many of our readers are photographers, here are a few thoughts I figured I could add to the Photography Tips category.

Calling all noobs

When I arrived at Pipe, with family in tow, of course, I first got the wife and two young daughters settled on the sand, then wondered where I’d set up the tripod.

I considered what a noob at a motorcycle race should do and decided that this would be to see where those who looked experience were standing and start off there. So that’s what I did. It turned out the guys I thought were local pro shooters were visiting from various mainland locales and there for fun. Oh well.

I was pleased that the break at Pipe is pretty close to the shore, so with the 500mm I was able to get close enough for my expectations. I was shooting at first from quite a distance away and through the surfers were small, they are only part of there story. The waves themselves are important, so for the wider shots with a 500m you don’t want to be too close.

A rain squall passed by, and of my new buddies, I was the only one who at first pulled out an umbrella, then a Think Tank Photo rain cover. As they covered their long lenses with their jackets and plastic bags, I installed my rain over and kept shooting. After a few minutes they gave up and left, leaving me alone on their sandy, and now soggy, knoll.

A short time later I decided to get closer, so I packed up the tripod and switched to the monopod and belt system I use at the track. I walked right up to the edge of the water and boy did it feel good to be done with the tripod and back to my familiar set up.

It was really enjoyable to photograph the surfers. As much as I like race tracks, I must say Pipeline beach in Hawaii is an even more pleasant place to click the shutter.

Not nearly as loud, but…

As for the photography itself, it wasn’t as different from track work as I’d expected.

In fact there are quite a few aspects of surf photography that are similar to photographing motorcycle racing: you delete more images than you expect to, you’re not as close as you think you are, you spent more time shooting than you thought you did, most of the shots you thought at the time would be great aren’t, a fair number you regretted at the time turn out to be much more interesting that you expected, you end up with way more shots of the same guy than you thought you’d have, you have way fewer of another guy than you thought you did, you get a shot of someone doing something really cool and wish it had been one of the other guys doing it, you find yourself wishing the weather/light were different, you keep thinking the shots would be better if you were standing over there instead of where you are, after a while the pictures all start to look to same, and after you’ve seen a whole bunch of them you wonder what all the fuss is about because what those guys are doing looks pretty easy.

When you’re standing there with a large lens, people assume you know something about what’s going on, even if you probably know less than they do. I had many people come up and ask me questions about the contest, the weather, the wave height, surfing, and so on. People often looked confused when I answered that the surfers were having trouble getting enough heat into their boards to turn as they wanted, but that they were all using their wet set ups. No one asked me about photography.

When the family grew tired of the overcast weather, and with nap time approaching, we packed up and headed back to the house. Since then I’ve been enjoying the lack of deadlines. No one is waiting for photos from me. I’m not worried about how many photos I need to sell to pay for the flight, car rental, hotel, food, etc.

It’s a really nice way to enjoy photography.

Photograph: ©2015 by Scott Jones / PHOTO.GP – All Rights Reserved

Camera Info: Nikon D4 with Nikon 500mm f/4.0



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  • bemer2six 2015-01-17

    Wow you are in the worlds best location.. You are in my home town, about 5 miles up the road cross the old bridge close to the old sugar mill is home. really enjoyed the read, like the part about getting heat in to the boards…Lol BTW if you do decide to go give it a try be very careful not as easy as it looks.

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