Stab Magazine | Continuing The Age Old Tradition Of Surf Photography

Continuing The Age Old Tradition Of Surf Photography

Finalists announced for Follow The Light Surf Photography grant.

style // Aug 24, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Larry “Flame” Moore made a lot of careers in his 30 years at the helm of Surfing Magazine. From Pat O’Connell’s youthful days at Salt Creek, to Christian Fletcher’s early punts, to the first mission to Cortes Bank, Flame’s images defined the era in which he worked. In 2005, he succumbed to cancer, but not before leaving behind a rich legacy. 

Flame didn’t just make surf stars, he made surf photographers too. Up-and-comers were drawn to his light box like moths to a flame…so to speak. At the Surfing offices he would review the work of young lensmen, and if they were eager to learn, would offer advice and opportunities. In 2006, the Follow The Light surf photography grant was launched in his memory. The grant helped springboard the careers of today’s masters like Chris Burkard, Morgan Maassen, Todd Glaser and Ray Collins. 

After a couple year hiatus, Follow The Light was resurrected this year by the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center [SHACC] in San Clemente. Unsure of what the reaction would be given the ever-changing nature of surf photography these days, over a two month period nearly 100 entries came in from around the world. The response was overwhelming.

The organizing committee at SHACC took into account that a cash prize wasn’t enough. Today’s aspiring surf photographers need the support of the industry and the opportunities to get a foot in the door and gain experience. In Flame’s honor, the industry stepped up big time. Part of this year’s prizes includes working opportunities to go shoot the Triple Crown with Vans, shoot the Freshwater Pro with the WSL, as well as work on a campaign with Billabong.

Everybody wins.

The Follow The Light Awards will be held in Dana Point on September 12. The top five finalists were just announced. Here’s a little bit about them…

Nolan Sullivan, Goleta, California

“As cliché, as it sounds the biggest influence on my photography, has been criticism. Criticism has given me the most honest perspective of my work, and although sometimes people’s opinions don’t align with my own, there are also times when people have been completely right about something I hadn’t even considered. Because of criticism, I am able to improve upon my work, sometimes in ways that I hadn’t even thought of previously. The funny thing is, I find it most helpful when people that aren’t surfers or photographers critique my photos.”

Photo: Nolan Sullivan

“My dream photography job would be to do the gig of going on trips, as well as shooting local spots, but more importantly I need to feel like I am doing my part to make the world a better place. It’s really important to me that I feel like I am contributing to something that is bigger than I am, and recently what I think needs the most help is preserving the natural world.”

Nick Green, Hobart, Tasmania

“Struggling with mental health is probably my biggest influence to take photos. When I was 17 years old I threw myself in front of a moving car. It hit me at 90km/h and sent me flying, somehow I survived with only a broken hip and snapped femur. It wasn’t something I’m proud of but without that mistake I wouldn’t be where I am today, with my photography, or other aspects of my life.” 

Photo: Nick Green

“I was blissfully unaware of the sickness I had and it sparked a change in my life that needed to happen. I started taking care of myself, speaking out and getting help as well as finding things that gave me joy and purpose; and that’s where photography, specifically in the ocean, came in. 

“I don’t think there is such thing as a ‘dream photography gig’ because it can’t be defined to one particular thing. That’s too specific. Obviously, if someone told me that I could take photos of whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, wherever I wanted, and get paid to do so, then yeah, that’s the dream. But that’s not achievable or maintainable.” 

Shane Grace, Haleiwa, Hawaii

“I was 19 and knew I loved surf photography but was scared to throw myself at it because I had no idea what I was doing, and the club of top surf photographers was incredibly intimidating to me at that time. I had just finished my baseball career six months prior and had a chance to pursue a new passion for the first time in my life since age five. I had vowed to myself to give it my all that winter season when I didn’t have work or school.”

Photo: Shane Grace

“When I was growing up, the mags were thriving. The images I saw in those pages were so surreal to me. I had never seen waves remotely like the photos, and opening the mag was like stepping into another world. Working as a staff photographer for a magazine and seeing my images printed on those pages was the ultimate goal from day one. Ironically, as I’ve come of age and invested all of my time and energy into working towards that goal, it essentially no longer exists. That’s been a very tough pill to swallow in recent years.

“That being said, my passion for surf photography is unwavering and remains strong. I’ve come to grips with the fact that it is a unique time for the industry as a whole and specifically for photographers trying to pursue a career in surf. I’ve had many discussions with individuals who firmly believe it will never be a possibility again. While I acknowledge that may be true, I refuse to fold and have vowed to myself to continue to give every ounce of energy I have to working toward a career in surf regardless of what that looks like. So, I guess you could say my “revised” dream photography job has been simplified to anything that allows me to live a sustainable, stoked life that revolves around the ocean.”

Ryan Mack, Brick Township, New Jersey

“Probably the best advice I’ve been given and stand by is that there are no rules when shooting, shoot whatever you want at whatever angle you think is best, shoot into the sun or shoot away. You can’t really be wrong when shooting creatively. Also always be shooting. Always have some sort of camera: iPhone, film, etc. You’ll be bummed when you’re not ready for that moment.”

Photo: Ryan Mack

“I’d like to say I don’t have a favorite image yet, but if I were to pick one I’d say the image of Sam Hammer in Bayhead during the Doomsday swell. It was the first major swell after Hurricane Sandy, everything was still really fucked up around here. Houses were leveled people lost everything Sam actually suffered crazy damages to his family’s restaurant on the beach. But one thing you noticed is that everyone in the water was stoked as could be, it’s that thing surfing does for you no matter what’s going on in life. You can go out and have a great time. I saw him paddling for this wave and the whole lineup erupted screaming. That thing was a mutant.” (Note: Ryan is not referring to the photo above)

Paul Green, Santa Barbara, California

“One of the earlier images I saw in my life that really caught my eye was from Clark Little. I remember bodysurfing on the North Shore as a kid, then seeing one of his images later in the day blown up as a large print in a coffee shop. It was the first time I had really appreciated a piece of art because he had captured the perfect vision I was seeking while body surfing earlier that morning. Although there has been a great deal of inspiration from artists, photographers and surf magazines over the years, I would have to say that the ocean is always going to be my biggest influence as a photographer.”

“If I were to give someone else advice I would suggest finding a subject or style of photography that you are most passionate about and continue to explore that field with different lighting and angles that you may not have thought about shooting with before.”


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