Pro surf photographer Pat Stacy has spent the majority of his life in the waves. “I started surfing when I was five years old,” says the California native. He picked up photography in high school and started taking it more seriously when he realized the dream of being a pro surfer might not pan out.
He studied under legendary photographer and Surfing magazine photo editor, Larry “Flame” Moore, developing his style at the end of the film era. Now, his shots appear in major magazines and advertisements for companies like Billabong. Here, he gives us some insight into what it’s like to be a pro surf photographer and a whole pile of tips for trying your hand at it yourself.
Photographing an aquatic sport like this must require a pretty intense collection of gear. What do you bring with you on a shoot?
It depends on the location and the purpose behind the shoot, but I’ve found that whatever I don’t bring is exactly what I need. (Laughs). I try to keep it simple, while still having a wide enough range to shoot from different angles in a variety of situations. Typically, I’ll bring a long lens: I have a 600mm. I like to have a 70-200mm F/2.8 because that lens is so versatile. Every surf photographer will tell you that’s one of the most important lenses you can have. I love the fisheye lens from the water.
I use a Canon EOS-1D X
camera body and I love it. The Autofocus system in that thing kind of changed everything for me.
What kind of waterproof housing do you use?
The guy that builds my water housings is Dale Kobetich
. He builds, in my opinion, the best water housings. They’re lightweight and they’re compact. They’re just beautiful pieces of equipment. The 70-200mm actually fits in the housing and it’s equally diverse in the water as it is on land. It’s a little heavy, but it’s an amazing lens.
Is it possible to shoot surfing even if you only have basic gear?
If you’re in the right place at the right time, the ocean is pretty and the waves are good and you can work with almost anything. Some of the best covers I’ve seen have been shot with pretty crappy camera rigs. It’s one of those cliches, but you just have to be in it to win it. I’ve seen magazine covers shot with cheap lenses you wouldn’t believe. I see photos from names I’ve never seen before all over the internet and they’re incredible. And a lot of them are shot with gear that’s not designed perfectly for surf photography.
Get down to the beach in the early morning when the light is pretty and it doesn’t matter what gear you have.