All that glitters on the goldy…

After the end of winter I flew up to the Gold Coast for a mighty Metallica concert up in Brisbane, and decided to stay here for a while at Casa El Rad with some work lined up from early November. It’s a good thing the the Bligh State Government changed the State slogan to “Queensland: Where Australia Shines” from “Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next”, because we know that isn’t true. There are some amazing sub-tropical downpours up here, and long-range forecasts for more cyclones up north, which will be great for waves down here on the border. And at least after the storm comes the sun, and with it, rainbows over the waves.

I’ve taken my camera down to Coolangatta a couple of times, and last night snapped a few sunset shots after a fun surf session. There were dolphins out in the water bobbing lazily between paddling boarders, and not far off shore some huge whales splashed around. Unfortunately, by the time I had finished checking out the sunset it was too dark for the couple of shots I took of the whales to come out properly. But I hope you enjoy the Coolangatta photos below.

Over on Snowboarder Magazine’s website there are some shots of mine of Jeremy Burns from Falls Creek. It’s a nice little online profile, and I was glad that these shots from 2009 finally managed to see the light of day (see some of them below too). I’ve shot a couple times with Jez this last season, and there are sure to be some bangers of him in the mags next year. And we also have a fun little project in mind for overseas this coming winter. So stay tuned to Radman and Radical!

Changing topics, and getting back to one of my favourite issues, recently Coastalwatch ran an interview with a well-known surf and fashion photographer. Jason Reposar  started out in graphic design, didn’t like a surf photo he had to turn into an ad, so picked up a camera and some film and shot his own ad…and the rest, as they say, is history. Coastalwatch’s article is a shortened version of a longer interview in a new online magazine called 18 Seconds, and omits some of his colourful past…and even more colourful quotes. For example, when asked about his favourite (photographic) subjects he replies: “Pussy, music and surf. If I wasn’t a photographer I’d still be interested in those three things.” I hear ya, Jason!

Reposar has some interesting things to say about the state of surf photography, the switch from film to digital, and the influx of new photographers under-cutting the pros and deflating the industry:

”With digital cameras and the explosion of surf photography, it’s become harder and harder to make a living from just surf photography. You’ve got all these kids now whose parents bought them a camera and they’re swapping their shots for clothes and empty promises. The magazines and clothing companies are taking full advantage of this. It’s really killed a lot of careers because some of the older guys who have been doing this for years and have families, are suddenly taking huge cuts in salary. They’re having to work harder for a lot less money…

I think that some of these new guys are killing off careers and sending really talented surf photographers to other areas of photography to make a living. Most importantly, they’re killing any chance of a career they might have by underselling images and poaching other photographers…

Why would a company pay $3,500 for a great photo when they can get a good one for a few t-shirts and a pair of boardies?….It’s the companies that I would hold responsible for controlling the pay rates. You can’t really blame an uneducated 18-year-old with a 600mm for trading shots for product. Maybe after they’re brought up to speed on this game you could, but what kid wouldn’t be stoked to get a shot in print?”

So in a lot of ways it sounds like a similar situation to snow photography: when you are willing to take photos for the pure love of it, it makes it tough on the guys who are also trying to make a living out of it. Now I just wish snowboard companies were willing to pay $3500 for a photo for one of their ads! I’ve discussed the issue of what a photo is worth, about a surf photo of mine being published in a newspaper for free, and about how to try and protect your digital images from being used and abused by companies that should know better. If you are interested, take a look at the blog entries here, here and here.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Reposar has some ideas about how to make it better for the pro photogs…and it’s quite similar to an idea a great Aussie snow photographer had a couple of years ago..a shame we couldn’t get it to take hold:

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and it’s all fuelled by corporate greed. This is no surprise to me and I don’t think it should be any different. What should change is us… the photographers. We need to unify and create a union to provide security for ourselves. Make some guidelines for pricing, maybe some health insurance for the dangerous situations we have to put ourselves in. We should have some security for our families and most of all have some consequences which companies take up the arse when they get caught breaking the rules of the union.”

Get your Surf Shots for Free!

Back in the wintry folds of a cold and cloudy Melbourne it’s easy to reminisce about warmer times, and warmer waters…and so here’s a look back a few months to January when I went out one day to take some surf photos at Duranbah on the Gold Coast. The Jim Beam Surf Tag Queensland trials were on – a novel event where the little local boardrider clubs battled out in hour-long heats to find the overall state winner. Each team could have 5 surfers compete within the hour heat, out alongside 3 other teams, but only one team-member could be in the water at any one time. The surfer would score on 2 waves and then run up the beach to “tag” the next team member who would enter the water to get two more wave scores, and so on, for a combined overall score.

But it wasn’t this unique comp format that had me intrigued, but the fact that the newly crowned World Champion, Mick Fanning, would be competing for his old Kirra Boardriders against World Number 2 Joel Parkinson and his Snapper Rocks Team…not to mention ASP top-tenner, Dingo Morrison, and former champ, Occy, also competing for bragging rights round the bar of the Coolangatta Sands Hotel.

I had never really tried taking any surf photos before, but I thought this might be a good chance to watch the best in the business and see how I would go. I was just using my regular 70-200mm 2.8L lens which was a little under-powered in the zoom department (I wish I had the gear I would be using  just a few weeks later in Vancouver) . So while some pro looking photo dude with bikini girls hanging off his arm was comfortably high up on the sand, I had to wade out knee-deep into the water and then crop the final shots. But overall I was pretty happy with the shots, despite the ordinary waves. Shooting surf photography from the beach is not all that difficult I discovered, except for getting sharp focus (either on auto or manual) in lumpy, choppy waves that disrupt the foreground. And when there is a lull in the action out in the surf, there’s always something to look at on the sand. But it was awesome just being able to see the enormous slashes Mick could throw in small surf, and to see how he interacted like a true champion with all the grommets and fans on the beach. (And over the following months I’ve managed to be out surfing alongside Mick and Parko and seen their wave artistry up even closer). And watching all the action, I was struck by the pure aesthetic beauty of a good bottom turn.

I had met another Gold Coast-based surf photog, Simon Muirhead, a few days previously (see his shots from that day here) – he has a fair bit of stuff published on Swellnet and Coastalwatch – and from what he said, surf photography is even more competitive and under-valued than snowboard photography. I guess it is one of those things where the surf lifestyle is even more appealing than the snowboarding one, and there will always be someone out there willing to take surf photos for free, or a couple of logo t-shirts.

So I was a little surprised to hear from The Sunshine Coast Daily a couple of days later wanting to use one of my photos in their paper. Sticking to my business philosophy of no longer ever giving away a photo for free (which I’ve only done once in four years, and which came back to bite me in the arse recently…but that’s a story for another time) I tried to negotiate hard, even though the paper said they had no budget. I assumed it was some little weekly local rag, like the Moonee Valley Leader, and so was even willing to accept a nominal 50 bucks, equivalent to a web shot payment. But when the paper rep was about to hang up the phone and not run the shot, I relented to its free publication, thinking that at least I’ll have one published surf photo out there.

I was fairly happy just to hear that someone liked my shots…but was a little miffed when I discovered that in fact the Sunshine Coast Daily is in fact a major daily newspaper, much like the Geelong Advertiser or Gold Coast Bulletin. And to make matters worse, my shot was run on the back page as a thumbnail as well as quarter-page in the sport section, and on the website! Take a look at the pages, and check out the article and photo on the website here. Surely they could spring a budget to pay for the shots – it’s a legitimate journalistic story, not some local-scene colour piece like I thought it was going to be.

Oh well, at least it solidifies my resolve to never, ever give away a photo for free again…and at least now I can call myself a bona fide surf photographer!

So take a look at the shots I took that day.