Surf Photography Equipment Components
Photographers have love traditional photography housings because they keep everything dry at great depth; they are great for control and very ergonomic. That being said, you probably won't want to take it under 10 foot surf.
Surf and Diving Housing
There are two categories of housings – diving and surfing. Diving housings are from aluminum, give you access to many controls, and allow you to use many artificial lights and strobes. They are large, bulky, and not the best for high surf. They are also not doing that good with sand.
For images of surf that is higher than 3-5 feet, you should definitely invest in surf housing. They are very light because of ultra-light aluminum and polycarbonate construction. They are also very sturdy and can handle some serious wave pounding. Finally, they can have a pistol grip, which allows you to take pictures with one hand while being tossed in the waves.
When it comes to making a decision which housing to get, you only need to ask one question: will you use it for scuba diving? If you answer yes, then get diving housing to prevent flooding. Diving housing will work for other water sports as long as conditions are not too rough. Surf housing will work wonders for freediving, shallow water, and surf photography.
Choosing a Surf Housing
If you made a decision to become a serious surf photographer, you should start thinking about surf housing and compatible cameras.
Amateur photographers get decent results with GoPro or similar action cameras, but nothing beats the effect of fast frame pictures and controlled settings. You should stick with the camera that you already have, especially if it's a DSLR. Knowing your camera helps when you have to dive in and out of waves at first.
There are tons of surf housing manufacturers, so making a selection might be hard. You should consider AquaTech, Liquid Eye, and SPL among your top contenders. Some experienced photographers need custom built cases to fit their unique needs.
A lot depends on your DSLR, but typical prices for surf housings range from $1000 to $1500. Most of the time, you will only need one housing matching your camera's body. In some cases manufacturers offer multiple housings with beginner, intermediate, and professional settings. If you have to select a housing that works best for you, see if you can use the cheapest one. It would be smart to practice and get good with a cheaper model before investing in really pricey equipment. You won't be so sad if you damage something that cost you less money while becoming good at what you do.
Lenses for Beginner Surf Photographer
Surf photographers use many different lenses for their art. If you are just starting out, a medium-range focal length is perfect. The 50mm lens is probably the most popular. Every photographer wants to get as close to his subject as possible, even the beginner professional, which could be dangerous because of crushing waves and fast-moving surfers. 50mm lens will allow getting a great shot without being too close to danger.
Once you are good with waves or get behind the barrel, you can use fisheye lens to get the best possible picture. Surf photographers love using wide-angle tele-zooms with 24-70mm or 70-200mm. These lenses are great and can adapt to various conditions, they are bulky and work best for intermediate photographers.
Just like with camera housings, your lens will also require a port specific to it. Surf housing ports can be flat or dome-shaped. Large domes work best with wide-angle lenses for split shots. This technique is advanced, so don't worry about it if you are just starting out. 50mm lens will require a compact port and will serve you great for practicing.
The most important accessory for novice photographer is the pistol grip. You will not have to hold your camera with two hands while being thrown around in the waves. It would be very hard to understand the waves while learning how to shoot surfing pictures at the same time. You don't want to be pushing the button and holding a side of the camera while rolling in the waves.
The most common pistol grip attaches to the bottom of the housing and allows you to hold the camera as if it was a gun. You will be able to hold it over the water and tackle the waves at the same time.
Some surf photographers use artificial strobe light for background object illumination. The light doesn't reach too far, so it is often used with fisheye or ultra-wide lenses by more advanced photographers.
You will often hear that the main component in the photography process is not the camera, but the human behind it. This is definitely true for surf photography. The ocean can be a very harsh place, but at the same time its waves and rhythms might help produce some unforgettable images. And it doesn't even matter what camera and accessories you use. Start small and grow!