BEHIND THE LENS: FEMALES IN SURF PHOTOGRAPHY – HANNAH ANDERSON
Published on 22/10/2021

Hannah is an Australian adventure sports photographer. She is a huge talent who shoots both video and photo mediums. She has a passion for the ocean and sharing the experience with her audience. Her unique photography style has originated from growing up in the ocean combined with a Bachelor of Journalism and a drive to tell stories through both still and moving imagery.

We were lucky enough to ask Hannah a few questions about her journey into her experience.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, how you got into photography?

Hey guys! Well, I guess I have always surfed, we were always at the beach when I was young, so I grew up like a lot of Aussie kids, being very comfortable in the ocean. When I was 17 or 18, I got given my first DSLR camera and I was instantly obsessed with taking photos, water housings were really expensive at the time so I picked up an old Nikon underwater film camera and just fell in love with taking photos around the water where I grew up.

What mediums do you specialise in?

I always considered myself a photographer but in the last kind of 5 years with the rise of video and social media for advertising I’ve been doing a lot more video work. I’m always trying to grow as a photographer and film maker to really expand how I tell stories.

What is your biggest challenge when trying to capture the perfect moment when you are in the water?

Ah, that’s a tough one. Trying to be aware of your composition in a moving environment is difficult. Dealing with rips, bomb sets and fear are huge challenges but like when you surf, I feel like if you get smoked or sucked around a bit and then get a good shot its way more satisfying.

What has been your favourite project? 

I did a bit of work over at Nazare pre-Covid which was a wild experience, my good mates do the season out there and we did a lot of filming around the Nazare Tow Challenge it was mind-blowing to see the comradery at that place, it’s nothing live anything I’ve experienced in surf culture anywhere else.

Which project was most challenging? Why?

I think each project throws up new challenges which is what I love about the job, no two days are the same. The key is to be calculated and prepare for the setbacks you may face the best you can. And always pack a raincoat for you and the camera!

How do you prepare yourself for shooting in massive surf? Can you share any gnarly stories or close calls?

I feel like I haven’t got one of those crazy big sessions in a long time now, not though lack of trying lol. I think this winter in lockdown has been challenging to really chase those swells like I have in the past. Had a fun 6-8ft session out at the Island this winter but I think I swam a really solid day at Bondi that was a harder swim again 6-8ft not massive but just loads of sets on the head for 2 hours. I think it takes time in the water doing a mix of different activities like first get confident without the camera just fins out on really big days, or surfing a lot really helps me, I also do a bunch of meditations and a bit of breathing stuff (but I’m only just kind of dabbling in these, by no means an expert).

Gnarly story. I hate glorifying this stuff but….. I was shooting really solid Bingin like 8ft+ it was maxing out and we were trying to get the in-between ones and Id been shooting for 2 hours already when another photog swam out. We were just chatting about what focal length we were each shooting to kind of work out where we should sit in relation to one another, all of a sudden, I noticed we were really deep on the reef and the water was draining off super-fast. Next thing I knew I was in knee deep water standing on the reef with a solid 8ft set about to break no joke 2-3m in front of me. Funnily enough my granny always said turn your back to the white water and jump into it when I was a kid, so I just wrapped my arms around my camera and held it as tight to my chest as I could, turned my back to the wave and jumped as far into it as I could. The other guy tried to scrap to the side and smashed his camera up pretty bad. Not sure if I would do what I did again or if it was the right call but hey managed to scrape through!

What do you think makes a good photograph epic?

Composition and light.

Where is your favourite places to snap?

Anywhere that’s pumping

What are some of the industry challenges you have faced as a female surf photographer?

Ha! I did a lot of boat trips, resorts around Indo etc and all the trips I was the only female. I think dealing with that masculinity and those testosterone-fuelled environments were pretty intense and trying to find your place in them was hard, but I also think if you just treat everyone with respect and take good pictures, people treat you the same way and you actually end up being able to deal with any situation that can be thrown at you on a more conventional photo/video job. Some sexist stuff for sure happened but I think moving past all that and being a good role model to men and women in the industry is the best way to make sure it doesn’t happen to others in the future. I also think we have really strong female leaders in the surf industry at the moment which is paving the way for equality and I’m just really excited to see what the future holds for the next generation.

What’s your weapons of choice? (What equipment are you currently shooting with? What’s on your photo-gear wish list?

I’m currently shooting with a few setups; my video rig is a Red Helium and my stills setup is the Sony A9 and my B-roll camera is the Sony A7r3 I think ill probably mix up my B-roll/ small rig camera soon and grab a Red Komodo but I don’t know depends what comes out I guess. I’m pretty happy with my kit. I also have a bunch of cool film cameras, my favourite at the moment is this waterproof Nautica super 8 I got in the UK.

Where are you are at currently in your career?

I work for Surfline which is a dream come true. I’m their “Digital Imaging Lead” which I guess Is like a mix between a staff photog/videographer and image resizer/editor kind of vibe. I work closely with Nick Carroll our editor and we just try to make really great and diverse surf content.

Where has your work been featured?

I used to write for Tracks so had a bunch of stuff with them over the years, Surfing World, I did a contract for the Big Bash cricket last year so a lot of stuff with them and a lot of advertising stuff for different brands etc, most recently a lot of Surfline.

What photographers influenced your path?

Ryan Williams (@ryzphoto) Andy Potts (@apotts) and David Biner (@indoeye) all really helped me out when I was just starting out/really working hard on improving my skillset. I probably wouldn’t have been successful without those guys; they really took me under their wings at different stages. In terms of like inspiration or people’s work I admire, Sarah Lee (@hisarahlee) is a huge inspiration to me her work is incredible and then I guess I try and look at some classic photographic influences like Helmut Newton and try to apply some of that to surf photography in some small way.

Advice to aspiring professional surf photographers…

Shoot other things and experiment! I think shooting fashion, lifestyle, events, or even real estate will improve your eye for those 2 key things: Composition and light. I also think to try and understand the different types of shots within that surf sphere and what makes a good surf shot. Like, shooting someone in the water in 2 ft waves as fun as it is for you might not get the best shot that day, it could be an unreal sunset line-up shot that you miss because you’re shooting average surfing in the water.

Dive into Hannah’s world here:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hannahandersonmedia/?hl=en

Website: https://www.hannahandersonmedia.com/#1

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