Turning Big Waves Into Giants…

Turning Big Waves Into Giants…

At the beginning of each year, I put together a list of photographs I want to accomplish over the next 12 months. Rarely does life end up following my plan, but it gives me a good starting point to map out my ideas and put the time aside to move forward with them. However, photography is fluid and being set in a rigid pattern often leads to frustration. So I allow my plans to ebb and flow and I find this leads to the best results.

One of the ideas I had for 2016 was to head to a particular surf break, likely to be Bells / Winki, during a big swell and create a series of images that blended the softness of slow shutter speed photography with the sharp details of larger powerful waves.

There were a few approaches that I could take to this and I had been practicing around my local area to master the technique (I am still working on this). There was always going to be a heavy reliance on postproduction to get the images looking the way I wanted. The simple physics of cameras does not allow for images to be created this way. My plan, however, is to get the blend just right and to suspend the belief of the viewer, if only for an instant into thinking maybe, just maybe, this is actually real.

Before I had the chance to head away from home to begin working on the project, the largest, cleanest swell in living memory, possibly ever, arrived on the east coast of Australia. It lit up surf breaks on my front door (literally) turning them into serious, world class looking waves. Now I had a dilemma. Having never seen my home surf breaks looking this good, or this big, all I wanted to do was surf myself. So I did. I spent 4 days gorging myself on some of the best waves I have ever seen in Sydney and of course took the beatings that came hand-in-hand with surf that size.

On the first morning of the swell I spent about an hour photographing. To be honest I was feeling a little intimidated by the size of the swell and ‘photographing’ was an easy way to put the paddle-out off for a short while, giving the ocean a little time to settle and myself a little more time to study the waves.

Before | After
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Before | After
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My living room has an incredible view of a number of waves, including the one in these images, and there was an all-day event in my apartment. People came and went constantly, photographing and watching what was happening, so much so that when I came in from my first session I couldn’t get the prime position in front of the window myself without having to move someone on.

Those who follow my work closely will know that I have done very little photography in the surf world for some time. The real reason for this is I wanted to surf more myself. I also wanted to extend my photographic skills into other areas, something I think I have successfully done, but I still have surf themed images brewing in my mind, just waiting for the right time and location to bring them into fruition.

With so many photographers covering every known surf break, capturing thousands of frames and blanketing social media, I knew that I had plenty of time to ‘let the dust settle’ on the event and take my time to pull my images together. As it turned out, I didn’t look at my photographs for four days. I was too busy surfing.

It was during a surf on day four of this swell that I thought it was time to have a look at the photographs I had taken on that first day and see if there was a way to create something with them that was as surreal as the swell that we had just experienced. As I said, photography is fluid and sometimes you have to run with the time, location and, in this instance, the waves that you are presented with.

I selected two images and got to work. There is around eight hours editing in each one, the ‘before and after’ images are vastly different. So much so that I have created a short animation of the beginning to end process to give you an idea about what is involved.

If you like what you see please let me know by leaving a comment below, I have plans to create more images like this, possibly even get to the locations I had in mind to begin with. As I said, this game is fluid…

Enjoy your day,
Joel Coleman…

  • Craig Brokensha
    Posted at 04:14h, 16 June Reply

    Wow, that first a-frame bommie shot is what you draw in text books. Amazing edit and shot! Absolutely love it.

    • Joel Coleman
      Posted at 04:16h, 16 June Reply

      Cheers Craig, that’s the feel I was after, something so perfect it’s not quite real…

  • Phil
    Posted at 04:56h, 16 June Reply

    Amazing photos the best ive seen

  • Chad Barlow - seabelow292
    Posted at 05:37h, 16 June Reply

    Good stuff Joel, puts a different twist on things that people expect to see when they think of ‘surf photography’. Thinking outside the box, I like it!

  • Clare
    Posted at 05:40h, 16 June Reply

    Super surreal, unlike any surf photography I’ve seen. I like that the second photo has a subject and isn’t just a wave, it’s gives it more interest and you also get a better idea of the size of the swell, it’s incredible. Thanks so much for sharing your progress through from raw image to end product, so cool.

  • Ned
    Posted at 05:46h, 16 June Reply

    Hey Joel, some amazing shots there! I attended one of your photography workshops over a year ago and it taught me loads. Was curious to find out if you do workshops in post production work?

    • Joel Coleman
      Posted at 05:48h, 16 June Reply

      Hi Ned, Cheers for the comment, at this stage I don’t do any post production workshops, perhaps in the future, but nothing on the cards at the moment.

  • Caffe Bianchi
    Posted at 06:11h, 16 June Reply

    Great work!

  • tom-paul jagg
    Posted at 06:56h, 16 June Reply

    Is there anything you cant do Joel… Great Photos mate… cheers, tp

    • Joel Coleman
      Posted at 07:01h, 16 June Reply

      No one would ever want to hear me sing! 🙂

  • PeteOwens
    Posted at 06:57h, 16 June Reply

    Hi Joel.
    I have always loves the clarity of your work and in particular the sharpness. Each to their own taste, but Im not a fan of these images.These images, to me look a little airbrushed. Sorry! Only my opinion.

    • Joel Coleman
      Posted at 07:01h, 16 June Reply

      Hi Pete, cheers for the comment, I’m happy to hear what people do and don’t like. These images are very different from anything I have put out before so all feedback is welcome.

  • Wal franklin
    Posted at 10:48h, 16 June Reply

    That has turned those photos into Art.
    Like an oil painting
    I love it

  • john
    Posted at 10:57h, 16 June Reply

    Thanks for sharing the before and after process. We all see the final shots and can’t relate them to our own shots and memories, but here you’ve shown us what goes into turning a ‘happy snap’ into a work of art that deserves putting on the wall.

  • pete gee
    Posted at 01:45h, 17 June Reply

    too painterly for me, Joel, like the old garish airbrushed P van or board, but far be it for me to suggest you should not be pushing more boundaries. it’s why I am an avid follower

  • Alan Guest
    Posted at 08:13h, 17 June Reply

    Luv them, I am a big fan of the ocean and your amazing shots bring it to life, just a different perspective. Well done.

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