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Chasing the Perfect Wave
By CJ Kale and Nick Selway, September 9, 2013 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

All waves are not created equal.

Wave photography isn’t for the faint-of-heart, but if you’re dedicated to getting great shots of rolling monsters, there are certain qualities you need to consider. We spend hours every day in the surf off of the Big Island in search of the perfect wave.

Here are five tips for finding your perfect wave.
 

 

Start Small

Smaller waves are safer and tend to let more light through. Thinner, smaller waves diffuse the light without blocking it out, giving a beautiful shimmering look. Of course, you don’t want waves that are too small—then you won’t even be able to get your camera in the barrel. Head high waves (4–5 feet) aren’t usually big enough to knock you out, but they’ll still knock you on your butt.
 

 

 

Time of Day

If you dig that classic look, late morning sun paints beautiful blue and green hues. On the other hand, if you’re going for the more dramatic flare, sunrise and sunset provide golden colors—the dark reds and oranges seem to be painted on the waves. For this, make sure to research the sunrise and sunset times at different locations, based on the time of year.
 

 

Placing the Sun

When the sun is low in the sky, during sunrise and sunset, position is everything. If the wave’s thick and the sun is behind, all light will be completely blocked. When the sun is at the water’s horizon, it’s best to search out thinner waves that will let the dwindling light trough. Another approach is to find swells where the setting sun is right down the barrel. 
 

 

 

Swell Direction

Don’t just get in the water where you’ve dropped your towel on the beach. It’s important to consider the location of the wave breaks and the swell, as both impact the lighting as well as composition. Often the best breaks are where the wind dies down and the waves look glassy smooth, picking up and holding the perfect barrel. At some beaches these spots are in high demand, so remember that the early photographer gets the wave.
 

 

 

Finding a Background

Paying attention to your backgrounds separates the amateurs from the pros. A lot of people just shoot waves, but we travel all over the island in search of the perfect backdrop to frame in a barrel—a palm tree, pink beach or even volcano. Don’t forget the sky either!
 

 


There are few backgrounds more stunning than a Hawaiian sunset peaking through puffy clouds. Of course, don’t let a little rain hold you back: We’ve photographed rainbows through barrels too.
 

 

 

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