Surfer Magazine Best Photo’s of 2013 – Deeper Analysis

By now you’ve probably seen quite a few best of 2013 style posts, I’ve already mentioned The inertia and Stab Mag’s offerings on, but this one from Surfer magazine is especially interesting to budding surf photographers and definitely warrants a deeper analysis:

For starters, all the images are first class, with many of them featuring on covers of the magazine, still one of the benchmarks of the finest quality surf photographs, so be sure to check them all out, I won’t re-produce them all here, but thanks to the Exif data (and especially the browser shortcut I’ve posted about recently) I can offer a more in depth breakdown of the settings and gear used to make each photo.

Ricardo Santos at Pipe, photo by Paulo Barcellos

My favourite of the 25 photo’s, Ricardo Santos at Pipe, photo by Paulo Barcellos

Photog’ From Type Brand Model Sensor Lens Exposure Setting ISO Focal Length Aperture Shutter Notes country
Paulo Barcellos Water Action Canon 7D APS-C 50mm f1.4 Manual 200 50mm 5.6 1/2500 12/31/2012 USA (Hawaii)
Chris Burkard Land Lifestyle Sony NEX-7 APS-C 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 Manual 400 20mm 5.6 1 /20 July 9 2011? Russia
Chris Burkard Land Action Lineup Sony NEX-7 APS-C 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 Manual 100 62mm 6.3 1/640 July 4 2011? Russia
Andrew Chisholm Water Action Canon 7D APS-C 16-35mm f2.8 L II Manual 200 20mm 6.3 1/1600 Australia
Morgan Maassen Land Action Nikon D4 FX 420mm Aperture Priority 100 420mm 7.1 1 /13 300mm lens with 1.4x adapter? speed blur, Dec 2012, Compensation: +2/3 USA (Cali)
Ryan Craig Land Lineup Canon 5D Mk III FF 70-200mm f4 L IS Manual 160 127mm 7.1 1/1250 Cropped Ireland
Diogo Dorey Water Action Nikon D3S FX Nikkor 16mm f2.8 Aperture Priority 200 16mm 7.1 1/8000 Indonesia
Grant Ellis Land Action Canon 1D Mk IV APS-H 600mm f4 L IS Manual 100 600mm 5.6 1/1000 South Africa
Todd Glaser Water Action Canon 1D Mk IV APS-H 8-15mm f4 L Manual 400 11mm 6.3 1/1000 focus at 4.1m, dof from 61cm to infinity Tahiti
Simon “Swilly” Williams Heli Action Canon 1D X FF 70-200mm f2.8 L IS + 1.4 x III Shutter Priority 200 192mm 5 1/3200 Australia
Dylan Gordon Land Action Nikon D3S FX 70-200 f2.8 Manual 100 70mm 5.6 1/1250 copyright symbol notice USA (Hawaii)
Andrew Chisholm Water Action Canon 5D Mk III FF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS Manual 125 210mm 7.1 1/1600 Oct 2012 Australia
Bryan Soderlind Land Portrait Canon 5D Mk III FF Zeiss Distagon 35mm f1.4 Manual 100 35mm 11 1/160 Dec 2012 USA
Ryan Craig Land Action Canon 7D APS-C 24-70mm f2.8 L Manual 160 24mm 5 1 /4 Jan 2012 – speed blur USA
Grant Ellis Land Action Lineup Canon 1D Mk IV APS-H 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS Manual 200 260mm 8 1/500 slow shutter speed for an action shot Mexico
Chris Burkard Land Action Nikon D300S DX 200-400mm f4 Manual 100 220mm 6.3 1/800 compensation: -2/3 Caribbean
Nate Smith* Boat Action Canon 1D X FF 300mm f2.8 L IS Aperture Priority 250 300mm 5 1/1600 compensation: -1/3 Fiji
Todd Glaser Underwater Action Canon 1D Mk IV APS-H 8-15mm f4 L Manual 250 11mm 5.6 1/1000 focus at 29cm, dof of 23cm Mexico
Grant Ellis Land Portrait Canon 1D Mk IV APS-H 16-35mm f2.8 L Manual 200 29mm 2.8 1/60 Dec 2012 USA
Taylor Ivison Land Action Lineup Canon 7D APS-C 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS Shutter Priority 200 105mm 11 1/640 Dec 2012 USA
Todd Glaser Water Action Canon 1D Mk IV APS-H 8-15mm f4 L Manual 400 11mm 4.5 1/250 focus at 70cm, dof 3.2m, adobe rgb USA
Fred Pompermayer Water Boat Action Canon 1D X FF 70-200mm f4 L Manual 200 111mm 5 1/1000 Tahiti
Morgan Maassen Land Action Nikon D4 FX 300mm F4 Aperture Priority 250 300mm 4.5 1/320 Sep 2012 – see prev. post, compensation: +1/3 France
Mike Riley Water Action Canon 5D Mk III FF Tokina 10-17mm Manual 400 14mm 6.3 1/1600 hyperfocal dist. 5.96m Australia
Ben Thouard Water Boat Action photoshopped out jetski Tahiti

* The only credit given on the surfer site is “Smith”, and there’s no clue in the Exif, if you search for surf photographers called Smith you get results for Mickey Smith, Bruno Smith and Nate Smith, as it’s a shot of a tropical reef pass in Fiji, rather than a cold Irish slab, I assumed it wasn’t taken by Mickey, luckily I found it on Nate Smiths website, because Bruno has some nice shots of Cloudbreak too.

Things we can learn

Some general observations after looking at all the data:

  • Photo’s in surf magazines are often published quite a while after they’re taken. This is no surprise, just a reminder that a quality photo is more timeless than a snap shot, I will often look for an average photo of the surf from a local beach from this afternoon on Facebook or Instagram, but a really good photo is appreciated whenever it was taken.
  • Shutter Speeds can drop below 1/1000, even for action. I’m not just talking about the speed blur shots either, I’ve always had the 1/1000 limit for action shots in my head but recently I’ve been trying out some slower speeds due to necessity, now I see more of a range of shutter speeds in these shots I’m not going to be as scared to try out slower shutter speeds even when I’m not going for the arty blur effect.
  • Don’t go over ISO 400. This seems like the rule of thumb, although lots of people rave about the high ISO performance of newer cameras I still don’t see many shots with anything over ISO400 (read about my early experiments in shooting fisheye with ISO 400).
  • Aperture Priority mode crops up more than I expected. I will be trying it out a bit more for my surf shooting, of course manual exposure is the most popular choice by far and one of my New Years resolutions is to get more used to shooting in manual mode.
  • Exposure Compensation is a useful tool. I wrote about it in the recent post on Brent Bielmanns underwater flare shot, and I confessed to not knowing my way around exposure compensation, so as a handful of these images were created using it I’m going to investigate it more and see what it can bring to my own surf photography.
  • The Canon 7D and Tokina 10-17mm fisheye Lens pop up, showing that cheaper, relatively old gear can still get you a world class professional surf photograph, as long as the sensor is APS-C size or bigger you’re set.
  • Long lenses are definitely not necessary to take a world class photo, only two photo’s out of 25 were taken with a lens longer than 400mm, and only seven needed longer than 200mm, which reinforces what Tim Nunn says in his post on long lenses for surf photography.

Nate Tyler, by Morgan Maassen, Nikon D4, ISO 250, 300mm, f4.5, 1/320, compensation +1/3

Nate Tyler, by Morgan Maassen, Nikon D4, ISO 250, 300mm, f4.5, 1/320, compensation +1/3

And some more specific (nerdy?) observations:

  • To elaborate on the long lens point above, the two camera bodies used for the longest shots (Nikon D4 and Canon 1D Mk IV) both create 16 megapixel images (a size of around 4896 x 3264) with a full frame or APS-H size sensor, my Canon 60D makes 18 megapixel images (5184 x 3456) on a smaller APS-C sensor, and many newer DSLR’s are capable of higher resolutions still, so you get the multiplication effect of the smaller sensor, and you can crop in after shooting (as long as it’s good quality glass) and end up with just as much detail as a long lens on an older body.
  • Brush up on your photoshop skills just in case there’s a jet ski ruining an otherwise “Idyllic” shot, if you look at the original shot of Ben Thouards awesome cover of the Surfer photo annual on his website you can see the jet ski on the shoulder next to the lone paddling surfer, but it’s missing from the actual cover of the photo annual. I think this was a good decision, the photo looks a lot cleaner and takes on a different feel without the motor assist being right there in shot.
  • Nikon cameras don’t report as much Exif Data as Canon’s, for example Morgan Maassen has one shot that has a focal length of 420mm, as far as I know Nikon don’t make a 420mm prime lens, but if he was using a 300mm with a 1.4x extender it would end up at 420mm. When you look at the Exif from Simon Swilly Williams’ shot from the helicopter it tells you he was using a Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS with 1.4x extender. Also the Todd Glaser shots with the Canon 8-15mm fisheye report all the focus information, invaluable for getting the best out of your lens.
  • In Dylan Gordon’s photo there’s a note from the Exif reader saying that (C) does not legally represent the © symbol and the word copyright should be used instead, so that’s worth noting. This copyright related Exif info can be added in camera or in software, I’ll do a dedicated post on inserting this data soon (maybe combined with adding a watermark).

I hope that didn’t bore you too much, if you want a quick blast through a few of these photo’s, and more, with someone else’s (less nerdy) take on them, check out Stab Mags top ten covers feature here:

If you liked this post, you should definitely check out my post analysing the red Bull Illume photo competition finalists.


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