Category Archives: Sports

Shooting the Surf


My name is Nick Brugioni.  I was hoping to get some feedback on a few photos of mine. I am looking to become an outdoor photographer one day, telling the story of adventure through the lens of a camera.  I enjoy the documentary style of photography with a little twist.  Instead of my photos being taken to tell the story because of the access I have to the place, I enjoy adding a fine art perspective that captures details of the documentary I am telling. I would really appreciate the feedback to help me improve my photography skills for future shoots. 




Hi Nick, thank you for submitting your images for a photo critique! As you know, a photo critique is one of the best ways to get feedback on how to improve your image, or at least start to think about your visual communication and if your message you intended to convey has been received by your audience.

While documentary/sports photography is not my strength, I will approach this image with an attitude of analyzing fundamentals and how they add to your image. I’m actually more drawn to your unedited image than I am your final. The reason for this is that I can make out detail in the first and it’s been darkened so much that I lose that detail in the edit. I think adjusting the horizon line was a good start to the composition but I feel it is a little too dead center. A bullseye placement of subject or a dead center horizon line placement is probably the most boring of all compositional strategies.

The time of day looks a little harsh, as both the sky and the water are on the edge of washing out. And while that detail can mostly be recovered if shooting in RAW format, the quality of light can’t be fixed. It’s a harsh quality of light going on that can only be solved by shooting at a different time of day. While you do have access to the surfing, from the look of the image, you didn’t really take advantage of that. It looks like the image was shot from your height, standing on the beach – much like anybody else on the beach could have achieved. If you want something different, you’re going to have to move yourself and change your camera angle. Instead of shooting at your height, get lower or higher. And an amazing way of establishing depth is a technique called “shooting through” which means you’re shooting through one thing to establish a foreground. World famous surf photographer, Brian Bielmann uses this technique a ton. I understand that his waves are larger but look at his placement of subject – he uses the waves to frame the surfer. He also gets the dark surfer against a white part of the wave, creating even more depth. In the second image, he uses people as his device to establish a foreground and frames the surfer among their heads. To achieve this depth, avoid shooting directly parallel to the surfer, but instead, try getting down the beach or into the water a bit so that you can photograph him coming or going.

I’d also like to be more engaged with the surfers. I feel a little bit like I’m too far removed to develop a connection with the group. If at all possible, I suggest a longer lens that can get you right up with the group of surfers. Either that, or get into the water with them and get up close and personal with something wide. Either way, you’re giving the viewer more, and better information that they could get on their own. And providing this view is one of the hallmarks of a good photographer – helping people see things in a different way than they’re used to.

I think you’re off to a good start and this image has a lot of potential. Many of the things I suggested for improvement can be enhanced in post. Your shutter speed and timing are superb. With some small improvements and I think you’re on your way to some great looking surfing images.

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Looking at your unedited vs. edited image, I can see that you addressed the uneven horizon line, which is a necessary adjustment. It looks like you also overall darkened and added contrast to the image. In doing that global adjustment, much of the detail is lost in the surfer and the waves. In this situation I would suggest making several selections in post. For example I would select just the sky to bring the needed color and contrast, then perhaps select just the ocean to bring out the natural vibrancy. Leaving the details of the surfer in tact.

With the details of the edit aside, the other aspect of this image that is problematic for me is the focus. I am not referring to sharpness, but whether you are trying to show me the landscape, the surfing scene/culture or is it about the one surfer placed dead center in the image. Knowing which one you are trying to capture will help you frame and guide the viewer to seeing your vision.

If you are going for the landscape, the first thing I would suggest is to shoot at sunrise/early morning or sunset. The time of day you are shooting will heighten the image tremendously, making it more appealing overall.

If your goal is to show the surfing scene, you need to get in the water. Show the perspective of the surfing community and being out there in the waves. It is so vital to show the viewer a perspective that is unique, making it a stronger image. Even if the image is for surfers and perhaps its something they see and feel regularly, your goal may be to strike a cord with nostalgia. In any case, know what you are intending your viewer to see and experience.

I believe you may have been trying to focus on the one surfer. If that is the focus of this image, you need to bring me in closer. I can’t connect as much with the drop in when I feel like I’m standing on the beach watching him surf. Your job as the photographer is to bring the viewer to the action (if that is the intention of this image). I would have more response to this image if I can see the facial expression, or the beads of water on the surfer and board…the details of the moment.




There is a lot in this image of surfing that tells the story of what it’s like to be a surfer. The crashing waves, the three surfers in different stages of conquering the wave, the cyan color tone reflecting a refreshing environment. Even the flat perspective is reminiscent of scene fitting of an oil painting. All these things make the image pleasant to view.

By looking at the original photograph there were few edits that took place. These edits seemed typical, but I’d give thought to at least one of the changes.

A levels adjustment and a horizon alignment seem to be the corrections made. While the obvious horizon tilt improves the composition, the levels adjustment make the image loose its vibrancy. I enjoyed the high key image and the feeling of a bright day on the ocean. By darkening the shadows, I loose the detail in the surfers. They become blotches in the water and their detail is significant. There are many adjustments in the post production toolbox that can add color saturation without loosing shadow detail.

It’s all about the emotional feeling of the image and that’s what having a bright and euphoric look to the surfers riding out on an endless summer can provide. Darkening through levels adjustments changes the atmosphere of the scene.

There is a lack of direction the image gives for the viewer. As a storyteller, it’s important to use composition to guide a viewers eye through your story in the image. To see a surfer’s board curve from one side of the frame to the next as it cuts through the waves can give the eye the direction on where the surfer is headed. Many surfing shots use the barrel of the wave to focus the attention to the surfer inside. This image has a lot of empty space above and below it. While there may have been a gear limitation from the telephoto lens, there probably wasn’t a limitation in changing the photographer’s perspective. A lower vantage point could give separation to the foreground and background elements to bring focus through a clear depth of field of the surfers. That can make the viewpoint more dynamic.