We are extremely fortunate to have interviewed Hannah Jessup – surf, lifestyle and underwater photographer currently residing in Northern NSW. Not only a passionate surfer, full-time surf and lifestyle photographer, but one of the incredible females in surfing who work tirelessly towards making a difference in the lives of other women and girls in our communities. We delve into her story behind the lens and also more broadly in her accomplishment in co-founding a thriving all-female surfing and social group community, Surfwitches.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m 32 years old, a surf and lifestyle photographer, graphic designer and surfer currently based on the Tweed Coast in Northern NSW.
How/ why did you get involved in surf culture?
Honestly, it kind of happened accidentally. I’ve always loved the ocean but I didn’t start surfing until my late twenties. But I was hooked from my very first lesson and I don’t think I’ve had more than a few weeks out of the water since. Spending so much time in the surf, surf culture naturally becomes part of life.
You initially started on a path to becoming a marine biologist then transitioned, ending in full-time photographer? How did this all come about?
I’ve always been fascinated by the ocean, I grew up spending every weekend on dive boats, snorkelling and scuba diving and thought that was where my career was heading. I had deferred university for a year and decided against it after a diving accident, moving interstate and some reflection on job prospects. I worked in a corporate job in Sydney for a few years before moving back to the Gold Coast. I was looking for a creative outlet when I picked up portrait photography as a hobby and later fell in love with surf photography.
What medium do you shoot and specialise in?
Anything in the water is my element. Ocean at golden hour specifically (sunrise or sunset) whether it’s a surf shoot, underwater portraits, or empty waves. My niche is photographing women in the surf.
What equipment did you start out shooting with when you decided to transition into surf photography?
When I first started shooting in the water it was just with an old GoPro hero 3 and a cheap dome I bought off eBay that constantly leaked – my images were rubbish but I had the best time shooting in the surf. Later I saved up and bought a proper housing for my Nikon DSLR.
What is it you want to say through your photographs? How would you define photography style? What has influenced your style the most: fashion, travelling, surfing?
I always want my photos to reflect the mood at the time I shoot. I think because sunrise in the ocean is always such a surreal experience, people really respond to these kinds of shots. I would describe my style as being fine art with a dreamy, sun-drenched vibe.
Surfing is the thing that has influenced and inspired my work the most. I find that women bring a different energy and grace to the line-up that can translate into some amazing imagery.
Editing images is a key element in photography. What are you doing for post-production?
I definitely agree with this statement. I’m a perfectionist and spend far too much time in post-production. I bring my RAW images into Lightroom first, colour grade and make adjustments. Then into Photoshop where I will remove any distracting elements from the background like a random foot duck diving through a wave or someone dropping in = gone.
Can you tell us about any barriers you’ve had to overcome to pursue photography?
Cost for one is a massive barrier for surf photography – it’s not a cheap hobby with a housing setting you back a few thousand dollars as well as cameras, lenses, insurance etc. It all adds up and it’s hard when people do not value or understand what goes into getting some of these shots.
Surf conditions can be another obstacle, big surf, strong sweeps, people ditching boards, you must be comfortable and confident in your water skills which is something I still put a lot of work into.
What’re your latest projects?
I have a few exciting projects happening at the moment.
I will (fingers crossed) be running my first workshop for Nikon Australia in January on how to shoot surf silhouettes, after being approached by the team at Nikon Australia. Teaching wasn’t really on my radar but looking back at how far I’ve come with my photography I realise that I have a lot of skills and knowledge to share.
I have also been involved in organising the Women’s Surf Festival happening on the Gold Coast with Festival Director Selena Morgan, which will be a weekend celebrating women in the waves with workshops, activities, speakers, and a marketplace dedicated to our ocean women. We have been postponed a few times due to COVID but when it finally happens it will be an incredible event.
We have been following your journey as well with Surf Witches. Can you tell us a bit about the initial concept and journey of Surf Witches and the impact it has had on encouraging females to surf and cultivating a close-knit community?
Surf Witches happened very organically. It started with me learning to surf with my friend Miranda and meeting another beginner, Monica, at Currumbin Alley on the Gold Coast. We started to surf together every day and would meet another woman, and another, and another. To stay in touch we set up a Facebook group and it just exploded. There was really that need for connection for women who were not interested in surfing competitively but still wanted a community and a supportive environment to be a part of.
It has grown and changed quite a bit over the last two years and is still evolving. We started off doing weekly group surfs but soon found them unsustainable – having a large group surfing at one time was adding to the already crowded Gold Coast breaks. We now focus on connecting like-minded women so they can have a surf buddy whenever they head out. I think even having just one person who is at the same level as you to surf with can make such a difference in motivating, celebrating progression and just making the line-up feel more welcoming.
Surf Witches is also known for its wristband initiative. Early on, one of our members suggested it as a way for us to recognise each other when we are out in the water as not all of us have met before. We also use the bands as a way to reinforce safety and etiquette – in order to find out the pickup locations for our wristbands, new members must take our ‘pledge’ acknowledging that they will be friendly and supportive of anyone in the water and are familiar with surf etiquette and safety.
We try to use our platform to educate beginner surfers and hope that we are a safe space for beginners to ask questions that fast track their learning by recommending resources, surf schools, products, or clarifying any questions on anything surf-related.
I have met some of the most incredible people, from all different walks of life and know of so many other women who have connected and made some amazing friendships through our group. We have not been very active during the pandemic but have some exciting plans for next year!
11. Tell us about what’s upcoming for you? Any dream or new project you would like to undertake?
I’ve always got a passion project or ten that I’m working on. I have just taken on a project as head editor and designer of a digital magazine called Chasing Clarity with podcaster O’Dell Harris. Already a successful podcast, we are creating a magazine version which we hope to become the leading photography resource on all thing’s ocean imagery.
Sign up to one of Hannah’s photography workshops here: