How I Got the Shot: Surfer Bruce Irons blows mysterious bubbles

This week’s “How I Got the Shot” takes us to Kauai, where the photographer Justin Jay and subject Bruce Irons find themselves waxing philosophic about bubbles.

Surfer Bruce Irons blows vortex bubbles at the bottom of his pool; photo courtesy of Justin Jay
Surfer Bruce Irons blows vortex bubbles at the bottom of his pool; photo courtesy of Justin Jay

Name: Justin Jay
Age: 42
Hometown: New York
Bio: Raised in Santa Barbara, California, and based in New York, Justin Jay specializes in advertising and portrait/lifestyle reportage of artists, athletes, and musicians. Over the course of his career he has had exceptional access to the private lives of many of today’s top personalities and has shot personal projects for artists including Jay Z, Sean “Diddy” Combs, The Strokes, and The Foo Fighters.

Justin spent the last six winters shooting a book project in Hawaii documenting the culture of pro surfers and chronicling the spectacle of the Triple Crown surf contest. He has since garnered a reputation as someone who can artfully document intimate moments and gain access to the insular world of the North Shore.

During the summer months, Jay splits his time between New York, Rockaway Beach, and Los Angeles, focusing on advertising and editorial clients.

Who: Bruce Irons
Where: Irons’ residence in Kauai, Hawaii
Why: I’d been commissioned to shoot the legendary surfer Bruce Irons for an ad campaign. I knew that I wanted to do an underwater portrait, but I felt that is was very important that we had a controlled environment to work in. I decided to shoot in his pool at his house on Kauai. Thankfully, the waves were flat on the island that day, so I had Bruce’s undivided attention … sort of.

We met him at his house and I started by taking some portraits of him around his property. I kept attempting to get him into the pool, but there always seemed to be something that would distract his attention. I eventually got him to put on board shorts and he approached the water. Just as I thought we were finally going to start shooting, Bruce suddenly became obsessed with trying to figure out why his remote-controlled audio system wasn’t working. I watched patiently as the sunlight began to fade.

I ultimately got him into the water, but I wasn’t getting anything spectacular. We came up with the concept of trying to shoot him blowing “vortex bubbles.” Neither one of us knew how to go about making them. With wet hands, I frantically attempted to search for some info on my phone. It was approaching late afternoon and we were losing daylight fast.

After about 60 seconds, I happened to look over and see Bruce sitting by himself cross-legged at the bottom of the pool nonchalantly blowing a flawless stream of bubbles. I jumped in the pool and began shooting. I had a water-housing, but no mask, so I was virtually blind underwater. I estimated the framing of Bruce as best as I could, then I panned the camera and fired multiple shots left to right and up and down hoping to capture the appropriate cropping. After only about three or four attempts, we nailed the perfect shot.

I got out of the pool and reveled in the epic picture that we had just captured. I asked Bruce how he managed to figure out the bubble technique. He declared mysteriously, “It’s simple … it’s how dolphins do it.” Bruce later gave me a long cryptic speech about how “basically, the entire universe is nothing but vortexes.” This image was eventually used for a national print campaign for Nixon as well as a massive billboard in the company’s home town of Encinitas, California.

What the image was shot with: Canon 5D Mark 2
Magazine affiliation: Freelance photographer
Website: www.justinjay.com
Instagram: @justinjayphoto

For more “How I Got the Shot”

How I Got the Shot: Skier Eric Hjorleifson is caught in the chase
How I Got the Shot: Rainbows and giant barrels in Teahupoo
How I Got the Shot: Whistler’s Mount Fee takes center stage
How I Got the Shot: Justine Dupont’s rear gets covered

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