Taking great surfing photos is challenging.
Because waves often break far from shore, it is difficult to shoot professional looking photos without a powerful zoom lens or an expensive waterproof camera.
Today, awesome surfing photos are within your reach!
Drones have revolutionized surf photography by allowing photographers to capture the action up close.
When I am at the beach with my Drone, the most common questions I get asked are, “Does it take good photos?” and “How Do I Shoot Photos of Surfers?”
Shooting amazing surf photos is achievable with a drone if you follow the tricks of the trade. For the best drone photos make sure to shoot from above, during the golden hour and looking down the shoulder of a wave towards the approaching surfer.
Drones are a game changer for anyone wanting to improve the quality of their surf photography.
From amateurs to professionals, drones allow photographers to capture images from a perspective that was previously unattainable at most surf breaks unless you were standing on a cliff above the beach with a professional camera.
Today, drones can photograph the entire surfing experience from a front row seat.
Keep reading to discover How to Shoot Amazing Surf Photos with a Drone.
Best Elevation for Surf Photos
It is fairly common to arrive at the beach to check the wave conditions only to be surprised that the waves seem to have grown in size once you paddle out to the break. It is hard to judge wave size from the shore.
Capturing the size of the waves in your drone photos with will take some practice.
Generally, you will want to keep your drone about 30-80 feet above the crest of the highest wave. Feel free to experiment because drone photography is all about capturing perspectives that weren’t possible for the average person.
The best piece of advice is to go high above the water surface until you gain experience.
You don’t want to put your drone or the surrounding surfers at risk.
Shoot the Shoulder of the Wave
When shooting photographs, you should position the drone closer to shore from the breaking waves. It may take some adjustment to find the optimal position because waves don’t always break in the same place.
When shooting video, the drone pilot will need to position the drone closer to shore from the breaking waves and then back up or reverse the drone as the surfer rides towards the camera.
The best angle to capture surfing is looking down the shoulder of the wave as the surfer rides towards you.
The drone will be positioned at a 30-45° angle to the breaking waves. With the drone in this position, the photos or video will show the curl of the wave and provide a clear depiction of the wave size measured against the size of the surfer.
Don’t be discouraged, perfecting this shot will take practice!
Check out the Video below to see some amazing footage of this common shooting angle.
Take the Overhead Shot
The overhead shot is a photograph taken high in the sky above the subjects.
This is a birds eye view of the surfers and it is a great way to capture the quiet moments in between riding waves.
Whenever I look at an overhead shot of patiently waiting surfers I often wonder what they are thinking about at that moment. This shot will help you capture the calmness and serenity of being in the ocean.
As well, this type of shot will help you fill in the story because you can capture surfers in the water, ocean water contours and surrounding beach related activities.
Check out this Video of the Shark Approaching Surfers below.
Drones give you the ability to take photos that only would have been possible by shelling out hundreds of dollars to rent a helicopter.
Take lots of overhead shots. When you review your photos and videos you will be surprised by all the activity you didn’t see when you were standing at beach level.
Photograph the Beach
Although surfing photos may be your main focus, don’t forget to capture the activity on the beach. Additional photos or videos are also called b roll and they help to capture secondary footage that will help tell the story.
Beaches are naturally beautiful and the area where the land and ocean meet provides amazing contrast.
If you live in an urban area close to the ocean, capture the surrounding buildings, beach and ocean all in one frame for a truly dramatic photograph.
If you live in a rural area, capture the forest, beach and ocean together to show off nature in all her glory.
Take Advantage of the Golden Hour
The time of day which occurs after sunrise or before sunset, often called the Golden Hour, is a magical time for photographers because the angle of the sun’s rays and natural light helps create beautiful photographs.
I am not sure of it is a coincidence but the best times to take photos just happens to coincide with the best times to go surfing.
If you don’t believe me, click on the link to check out my article titled, “What’s the Best Time to Surf? It’s Sunrise & Sunset”.
So get up early or stay late and take photos during the golden hour to capitalize on the best lighting of the day.
Basic Drone Photography Tips
In addition to the top tips discussed below, it’s important to review some of the basic drone photography tips that will help you get started if you are a beginner pilot.
If you are a beginner drone photographer, start by using the camera in automatic mode or with the factory settings that come with the drone.
That way, you will establish a baseline quality for your photos before you start adjusting the camera settings.
The quality of camera will vary significantly between different drones, with the higher priced drones having better cameras with more features.
Practice Before You Go
Practice, practice, practice!
Surfing is an action sport and taking great images will test your drone flying skills. As well, beaches are complicated flying environments because of the people, surrounding obstacles and local weather conditions like wind and ocean spray.
Make sure to practice flying your drone in a cleared area with minimal obstacles and people before you take it to the beach for the first time.
Learn about all the functions and settings on your drone so you can return to your take off spot, also called return to home if you run into any problems.
Operating your drone safely is the number one priority, even before taking great photographs.
Maximize Flight Time
Most drone batteries don’t last that long.
The batteries for my Mavic Mini last about 25-30 minutes each which isn’t a lot of time in the air. As well, you will want to return to home with some charge remaining as an insurance against unforeseen challenges.
Planning your shots in advance before you get the drone up in the air will help you maximize battery life. If you launch your drone “to take a look around” you rarely end up with good imagery.
Take lots of Photos
Don’t forget to take a lot of photos! Often, beginner pilots will be so focused on flying the drone that they will forget to take photos.
General Tips for Taking More Drone Photos
- Plan your shoots in advance
- Launch your drone and establish a safe shooting altitude
- Circle around the subject or work the area in grids
- Take several photos from every angle
- Snap more photos than you think you should!
Drone photography is one of the best ways to capture amazing surf photos without spending thousands of dollars.
You have the ability to take professional looking photographs with your drone.
Now go out there and start capturing memories!