This past May at Teahupo’o, a few of us were sitting on the beach knocking back a few beers while we watched another brilliant Tahitian sunset go down, when all of the sudden and out of nowhere, a bright flash of light shot out from the pass (where the waves break) a quarter mile away. Bewildered, a rival editor blurted out, “Whoa dude, that was a flash from a camera! How was that?” In a jaded manner, I replied “Yeah, somebody’s got their slave out there. You’ve never seen that?”
Of course he hadn’t-he doesn’t work for TransWorld Surf.
Flash photgraphy, while not a new form of shooting, reached new levels of exposure this past year. With technology borrowed from skateboarding photography, numerous covers, spreads, and posters have been lit up by flash units held by a slave (someone swimming with a flash separate from the camera), or by camera mounted flash set-ups. Yes, it’s technical and quite baffling to the non-photog, but it’s become a major part of surf photography lately.
Our best flash guy, Dave Nelson, swims his camera out at dusk in the shark infested waters of Santa Cruz, routinely nailing images that blow us away. “I’ve been working with flashes for a couple years now,” explains Nelson. “You only get one shot, so you gotta make it count (the flash can only go off once per shot because it needs time to recharge), and if there’s anything between the guys face and the flash, it doesn’t work. If there’s any spray or water droplets in the way, the flash will hit those, and not the subject.”
It ain’t easy, but the rewards make it worth the piles of un-useable slides. “My favorite thing about using flashes is the uniqueness of the photos you get,” adds flash guru Nelson.
The future of flash photography is top secret and closely guarded, but trust us, you’ll see it here first.-Justin Cote