For this shoot, I hired pro surfer Tommy Ihnken, who lives on the north shore of Oahu. The waves on the day of the shoot weren’t exactly what we had hoped for; they were a bit unpredictable and small, but Tommy is known for catching some big air and he was keen to give it a go. We opted to shoot at Rocky Point, which is a surf break known for huge airs off medium sized waves. Along with me on this shoot were three assistants: the legendary surf photographer and my good friend, Brian Bielmann, Ben Reed and Robin Dabney. All three were indispensable on this assignment.
As one of the top surfing photographers of the last 35-plus years, Brian told me that he had seen several photographers try to light up a surfer on a wave with strobes on the beach but they never had any luck unless they shot at night and only from about 60-feet away. Hence, with this shoot, we were being very ambitious.
Once we got all of the gear to the beach and got set up, we had two and half-hours of daylight to work with. The surf conditions were the best they were going to be that week and we went to work setting up the Rangers and testing everything out. Tommy got in the water and we started shooting. For the first hour we got nothing of note. Not a single frame. With full sun hitting the surfer, I could see that in a few shots we were filling in the shadows but we were not actually overpowering the sun. We realized that the high performance reflectors, when used from that distance, were like lasers and that the light was going right past Tommy for many of the shots because he was moving all over the place with the waves. The next step was to have two assistants direct the flash heads, moving them with the surfer, so we could make sure we were hitting the surfer with the lights. After a few tries, we got some images where we could see that the lighting was working. Now we just needed to wait for something interesting to happen.