When Deb Morris was named a top finalist in the Nikon Surf Photo of the Year competition, jaws dropped. It wasn’t only because she was the only female to place in the competition; or that she had only dived into surf photography just 16 months earlier; or that she hadn’t even laid foot on a surfboard.
No, what really turned heads was that Morris’ top honors image wasn’t captured in the curl of a 20-foot-tall Hawaiian giant, but rather of a two-inch-tall ripple.
The owner of DebM photography, this audacious Aussie has carved out a photography niche the size of a paperclip—macro wave photography. DPG sat down with DebM for an interview behind her new brand of wave photography.
DPG: I think most of us tend to think of wave photography as giant 10-foot curls—what is so special about these little, macro waves?
DM: Funny you say that—I believe this to be part of my motivation. These micro waves showcase themselves just as big ones do, but for some reason we just don’t absorb the “wow” factor like we do when we see monster waves. So, for me to be able to provide a momentary “wow” from one of my images is a real treat!
DPG: How did you even get the idea about photographing “macro waves”
DM: You know the old saying, good always comes of bad—well its true! After falling victim to the recession four years ago, I was left in a professional quandary. I decided to reinvent myself with some thing that had been a personal passion for over 30 years: photography.
I was told that in order to achieve any form of success in the photography world I needed to find a niche. By accident I discovered the beauty of the micro waves, and thus was born DebM WAVEART. When I began this adventure nearly three years ago I had ridiculous dreams, but I believe they have kept me motivated.
Over the past 16 months, I have had success in national and international accolades, sales and coverage—can’t complain about that! To date, my biggest honor has been making the Top 20 finalists for the Nikon Surf photo of the year Awards. I was the only female, and who would of thought a mini wave would make the cut not to mention being up against the best of the best. Got to love “ridiculous dreams”!
DPG: It this something that any photographer who lives on a water’s edge can try out? You don’t need a giant wave, just a small ripple almost.
DM: I solely work with naturally made waves, but there are others who create them. Check out Monty Webber’s, Liquid Time—it’s a wonderful piece illustrating the beauty of the mini waves created by trawler boats. It’s something almost anyone could try. I suppose even if you only had a damn it would be possible.
DPG: What’s the smallest wave you’ve photographed? Is it harder when they get smaller?
DM: By far the hardest to capture are the tiny ones. I love the challenge it provides, physically because you have to contort your torso sometimes in order to get low and deep enough. Keeping your gear dry can too prove to be more challenging and due to the very small window of opportunity you have to capture something that is an inch in size can prove to be the most challenging part.
DPG: I’ve read that you spent a while refining your technique—what was this process like?
DM: Frustrating at times!! I believe the hardest part is learning how far to push my limits or the cameras, considering I do not use a waterproof housing. As time passed and as my confidence grew pushing my limits became easier (and on occasion foolish)— but at the end of the day I get the results I desire.
My main aim was to provide an innovative outlook on the beauty of micro waves. They encompass so many moments that we just don’t see with the naked eye and as I started to discover the diverse personalities of each wave it just got easier. It’s still important to evolve, so I’m still learning every day.
DPG: What is your standard setup—camera, lens, lighting?
DM: I’m a Nikon girl. For me it depends on where I am shooting, conditions and weather as to which set up I use—it can range from a 50-400 mm Nikkor lens. As of yet I have not tried artificial lighting, but it is something I’m planning having a little fun with shortly.
DPG: Do you use a housing or waterproof setup? Lost any cameras trying to get too close?
DM: I do NOT use a waterproof housing. Admittedly, it is not something I would recommend anyone do. It has taken me much practice to heighten my chances of my camera’s survival. To date I have not flooded any cameras (knock on wood), but I have had some close calls and I’m sure my camera’s life spans are shorter than others.
Getting into 1-4 foot water with thousands of dollars worth of camera makes you rely heavily on your senses—listening for incoming waves, following the water’s motion on your body indicating if a swell is coming through, extreme flexibility, peripheral vision, and sound knowledge of the ocean. And then you have to know what to tell the camera to do, usually with great speed.
Really, it is just like surfing. I check out the surf conditions, get my gear ready, do some stretches, get out in water, sit out the back (well out of the back of the mini waves), await the lulls and cash in on the swell and hope that I get a good ride. If only it was simple as it sounds!
DPG: Is there a time of day or certain light that works best?
DM: The “golden hours” are always great to work with. I tend to get more solid forms during these times, but I am lucky that I can really shoot anytime of the day and achieve different results. I do have a fondness for cloudy days, as the colors can be quite extraordinary.
DPG: Any tips for photographers who want to go out and try this themselves?
DM: I don’t think I would advise anyone to try it, as many things have to be taken into account—from totally unpredictable mother nature, sound ocean knowledge, good camera skills, being physically fit and keen to get up and get out there. But if you were so inclined, stay on the shore until you have your confidence.
DPG: What’s next for your mini wave photography?
DM: Ah, the big picture: DebM WAVEART Galleries. Hopefully 2014 will bring this to fruition.
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