Notes from a Surf Photographer

Ryan Janssens

How did you get started in surfing/body boarding?

I have always loved the ocean but my obsession started when I was at boarding school. On weekends I used to spend every minute I could at the beach, I’d be there from sunrise to sunset, regardless of the weather. I soon made friends with all the local body boarders and the rest just fell into place.

What sparked your passion to capture the sport in pictures?

“The feeling you get when you take a great shot of someone from the water is far better than any feeling you get from the safety of the beach with a long lens!”

I’m a huge fan of guys like Alan van Gysen and Doug Cockwell - their photos always grabbed my attention. I’ve looked up to them for so long, I guess in a way I’m just trying to follow in their footsteps.

What are some of the greatest challenges in the career you have chosen?

I think getting my hands on the camera equipment is always quite difficult. Camera equipment is not cheap in this country so a lot of hard work has gone into the equipment I proudly own.

Do you prefer to shoot from land or in the water?

I definitely prefer shooting from in the water, it’s far more exciting and you get to be a lot closer to the riders. The feeling you get when you get a great shot of someone from the water is far better than any feeling you get from the safety of the beach with a long lens!

Travel is a big part of a surf photographer’s career – where have you been and where have your best shots been taken?

I’ve spent a couple of months in Hawaii; I definitely think my best shots were taken there. The waves are epic, the ocean has so much power and every big name in the surfing and body boarding industry is there hustling for the wave of their life. The months I spent their really opened up my eyes, I plan to go back there as soon as possible.

What does it take to be focused behind the lens in challenging waters?

A combination of fitness and confidence, you need to be fit enough to keep yourself out of danger and you need to be confident in the situations you put yourself in, if you’re doubting a situation it’s not advisable to get in the water.

Your best/worst part of the job?

I would have to say the people I meet along the way and the places I go to when I am shooting is by far the best part of all this. The worst part? I don’t actually think I have found anything I don’t enjoy about it just yet, but I am still relatively new to the game.

Your personal favourite shot of all time?

My most memorable shot is of a local Durban boy, Iain Campbell, inside a massive barrel at the infamous Waimea Shore break in Hawaii in December 2010. It was my first image to get run in an international body-boarding magazine and it made the cover!

Your dream challenge?

I have always wanted to work on the ASP World Tour as a photographer. Travelling around the world shooting the top 44 surfers would be a dream come true.

Can you share some of the secret tricks of the trade?

You have to be committed; it takes a lot of hard work in and out of the water. There is always more for me to learn and I have to make sure that my work constantly progresses, as I push my personal boundaries as a photographer!

What advice would you give someone starting out who wishes to focus on surf photography?

Get fit! This is extremely important, the fitter you are the better your shots are going to be – you’ll find yourself getting more images out of a session. I also recommend having a group of surfers/body boarders that you shoot on a regular basis, you get used to people and how they ride and it makes it a lot easier to work with them.

Do you have any interesting hobbies that have nothing to do with surfing?

I am a huge fishing fan; I try fish any time I get a chance.

What’s next for Ryan Janssens?

A lot more travelling! I still have a long list of places I need to see. 

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