Surfing on freaky waves

by  Fabio Palmerini

It isn't easy to find large waves on Italy's west coast in northern Tuscany — at least, not like the ones in the ocean. But under the right conditions it is possible, and for a long time I had been waiting for the perfect mix of waves and good weather. Some of the local surfers are friends of mine, and when a bunch of waves are heading their way, my phone does not stop ringing! One night my friend Marco Urtis called to tell me that I may have a chance to make some great photos the next day.

 
Canon EOS40D  .  Canon 200mmf/2.8  .  1/800s  .  f/5  .  ISO100

I woke up very early in the morning (5:30 a.m.) and drove about one hour to the spot where the surfers would be. Marco asked me to keep the location a secret since it's a place known only to the surfers. I had been there before, and it is pretty hidden away. To reach the beach we had to walk through a rather craggy forest and cross a stretch of water, but we finally arrived at a small pier made of rocks.  

"The waves were coming in at a regular frequency, in sets of five or six in a row, and the offshore winds completed the beautiful atmosphere."

Once we arrived, I looked around to take in the wonderful view. The waves were amazing as expected, and the weather was great as predicted. It was a hot day too, even though it was winter. The waves were coming in at a regular frequency, in sets of five or six in a row, and the offshore winds completed the beautiful atmosphere. Marco was lucky that day because there were few surfers there, so he had good opportunities to catch the waves without having to hurry. 

The weather was beautiful all day, but I had to wait to take the photo that I had in mind. I was purposely waiting until the sun dropped lower in the sky so it was behind the surfer, creating the silhouette. The surfer is an expert, and we had worked together in the past. There is a good feeling between us; I know the way he surfs, and I know his moves.

"In the meantime, though, I had to be mindful of the freak waves that popped up every now and then; they could easily could drag me away since I was so close to the water."

My photos were taken in Manual mode with a Canon 40D and a Canon 200mm f/2.8 lens. I needed to move faster on the rocks so I could find the right angle to shoot as the surfer moved across the water. In the meantime, though, I had to be mindful of the freak waves that popped up every now and then; they could easily could drag me away since I was so close to the water. I also set the camera to continuous shooting (burst) mode to be sure that I captured the perfect moment. The shutter speed was set to 1/800 second to prevent any blurring in the image, and I set the focus to AI-Servo, which is focus tracking and allowed me to keep the subject in focus as I followed him. I didn't use any flash or filters. 

Once I completed the session, I put my camera in my backpack and took the long way back to the car. I had to be careful and stay out of sight. The other surfers don't like photographers on their turf; they want to keep the location a secret. 

"I immediately saw this image and instantly fell in love with it. I like silhouettes very much!"

When we got in the car, Marco and I checked the photos on the camera's display, and we were really satisfied. We overlooked this photo at the time, but once I had downloaded all of the images at home, I was even more excited. I immediately saw this image and instantly fell in love with it. I like silhouettes very much! 

This photo and another photo of mine have been published in a calendar for a charity that I started. We donate all the proceeds to a nonprofit association connected to Apuano Pediatric Hospital in Massa, Italy, that assists children with heart problems around the world. It was also published in some Italian surfing magazines, such as SurfCulture and Surf Latin, and was photo of the week on some Italian photo websites.

POST PROCESSING
The photo was taken in RAW format and processed in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop.

1) In Camera Raw, I first cropped out the horizon line and then adjusted the White Balance settings until I was happy with the resulting overall color.

2) I exported the image as a 16-bit TIFF file at a resolution of 300 DPI to Photoshop.

3) I added a layer mask and painted on the image with a soft Brush to fine-tune the shadows and highlights, making sure the shadows were not too dark and the highlights were not blown out. 

4) I selected Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation and increased Saturation to +20. 

5) Then I sharpened the image by selecting Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask, setting Amount to 110 and Radius to 0.3.

6) I saved the TIFF and then exported the file as a JPEG.
 
TIPS
1) It isn't difficult to take photograph like this, but you need a lot of patience, and you need to be able to sacrifice some time. On many occasions I didn't get the results I wanted, but my perseverance eventually paid off.

2) In addition to patience and sacrifice, you need three important elements to pull of a unique surfing image: good light, a lot of great waves and an expert surfer.
 
BIOGRAPHY
I'm a non-professional photographer from Italy, and for several years I have been working with all of the Italian magazines that deal with surfing in Italy. For my day job I am a construction site manager for a construction company.

I started to focus on photography in 2005, following and taking photos of Italian surfers. I like to take photos of extreme sports, such as surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding and biking, but I also enjoy photographing landscapes and sports.

I never miss a chance to look for waves because, fortunately, I live near the sea. But I like also like to travel to search for ocean waves. My most recent trips have been to France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Hawaii, the Maldives and California. So as you can see, waves and surfing photography are my life!

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