In this showcase series we feature the surfing photography of David Estep. He spoke to us about this Huntingdon Beach surf series.
David, how did you get started in photography?
For about 23 years I was a Graphic Designer, Art Director and ultimately a Creative Director. I graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design with an illustration major.
I worked for Aveda and other companies in the beauty biz that took me to New York, London, up and down the east coast and eventually to the Pacific Northwest. Once in Seattle I hopped around local design firms, worked for some of the big brands in Seattle. I met my wife and soon we had our first son. Everything was great but I started to feel less and less inspired as a designer and a leader at the agency.
The “Groundhog Day” effect began to take hold. I knew the next step for me was to be the guy in the meeting room all day reviewing work, battling clients and doing reviews. As an artist, I’ve always been a hands-on creator and I needed to follow my bliss. So about 5 years ago, with some planning I left the design firm, bought my first pro camera and haven’t looked back once. Photography was second nature to me, it became my escape and ultimate salvation.
My best buds in art school were all photographers and film makers. I had directed photo shoots for most of my design career. I had learned over the years how to pull any shoot together, how it would be executed and what it took in post-production to bring it all together. I’m a visual thinker and that’s how I communicate best.
Can you tell us more about this surf photography series?
Surfers and the “surf lifestyle” became my muse early on in my photography career. As a creative I found it exhilarating, nostalgic and exotic. On a whim I applied for a press-pass to The US Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach and I was awarded one, an unforgettable moment for me. That was 2011, the year Kelly Slater won his 11th ASP World tour title. An incredible introduction to the pro surf circuit and I’ve been hooked ever since.
For 3 years now I gone back with media credentials in hand to shoot the event. On average I’m shooting 1,700 frames a day. Evenings are spent backing up my shots and applying Aloe.
As you can imagine the beach is packed with photographers, you’ll find me shooting away from the group. I try to shoot with a point of difference. On the last day of the event there are about 10,000 people on the beach watching. The air is electric, it’s an atmosphere that is addictive and if I were 25 I would probably chase the event around the world.
What equipment do you use for your photography?
For the first 2 years I shot with my Canon 5D Mark II and a 600mm lens for the surf events. It always cracked me up that the lens in the passenger seat was worth more than compact rental car. Yes, I had a seat belt around it. This last year I shot with my 1DX. Having the extra frames per second was nice but when it came to my post work I really missed the pixels I gave up.
I also spend lots of time on the beach photographing the competitors as they head out and come in from their heats. It’s one of the rare sports where anyone can get right up close to the athletes. For this work I’ll use my 85mm 1.2 or 50mm 1.2 for some great portraits.
When doing my post work, Lightroom is where I begin. I’m not interested in developing a perfect, day lit image with blue sky. I’m after the fantastical image. I don’t alter the scene or add elements that were not there but I do play with light and tonality. I’m trying to create an emotional connection for the viewer with the image. Some digital adrenaline.
I love the preset preview ability in Lightroom where I begin toto see where an image can go. Each is unique in it’s color profile and the presets are a surprise every time. Once I’ve got the vision for the image I’ll take it in to Photoshop. I have my favorite actions and other plug-ins to finish it off.
Do you have a new series planned for the near future?
This year I’m going to mix it up and hit the event at another venue. Perhaps the North Shore of Oahu, we’ll see. I’m also fascinated by the Northwest surfer community. They go out in unbelievable wave conditions, miles from civilization. I’ve met a few people in the last year who have invited me along to shoot some secret spots off the coast of Washington and Vancouver Island. Amazing athletes and personalities. Please stay tuned.
You can see more of David’s work via estepworks.com.
Photophique has express permission to publish these images and David Estep retains full copyright to all photographs featured in this showcase series.Back to Top