Through their lens: Get to know the 3 photographers behind ISA imagery

February 25th, 2021

These three photographers have traveled the globe capturing the emotion of ISA Global Events — now they are ready to document Surfing’s historic debut in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Behind every historic moment, every Gold Medal, and every 10-point ride, there’s an image that captures the instant, etching it into digital eternity. Without the image, the raw emotion and excitement persists just as a memory, slowly and surely fading over time.

However, when an image is properly captured, it shares that moment with the world. It allows the story to reverberate across communities and continents.

Behind every image is a photographer — one eye focused through the viewfinder and finger steady on the trigger, ready to seize the moment of a fleeting millisecond to show their perspective on an instant that will never repeat again.

Three photographers, all from different walks of life, have been behind the lens for the ISA in the lead up to Surfing’s Olympic debut.

Now these artists are ready to take on a new task and venture into uncharted territory, responsible for capturing the first Olympic waves to be ridden on a surfboard.

We present to you Sean Evans, Pablo Jimenez, and Ben Reed.

Sean Evans. San Diego, California, USA.

Sean Evans (San Diego, California, USA) – @waterworkmedia

1) ISA: Sean, how many years have you been a photographer

I purchased my first camera in November 2011… This year will mark 10 solid years playing with a professional camera. However, I began pursuing a professional career in 2015 when I landed the job as a photographer for the ISA.

2) How did you get into surf photography – When did you have that ‘ah ha’ moment? What drew you to surfing?

Well, I grew up about 15 min from La Jolla… My go-to spot was Torrey Pines because my mom loved that beach so I had no choice. I spent almost every day there when I was a grom. Don’t think we missed a beach day for a couple summers in a row.

In 2011, I bought my first camera. At those times, cameras were not as cheap as they are now, and it wasn’t as simple as it is today to find a videographer or photographer. So I purchased a camera with a 70-300mm lens to use amongst my friends to film video of each other surfing. We used it as a tool to analyze how kooky we actually looked while surfing. We were progressing fast and creating video edits to reach out to sponsors for support. However, after a few years documenting and traveling with the boogie boys, I came to the realization that capturing priceless moments meant more to me than surfing. That was my ‘ah ha’ moment.

Surfing came naturally to me… I had always been drawn to it since I was young.

Sean never misses a session at his local breaks when it's like this. Photo: Sean Evans

3) What is your favorite photo that you have taken?

This has to be the most difficult question for a photographer. I’d say… When I scored my first photo on Surfline. It hit front page of the website banner for a swell spread during one of the biggest swells to ever hit Puerto Escondido in 2015. At the time it was a huge deal for me towards my progression into the professional world of surf photography. It gave me some reassurance that I could actually stand a chance in this industry.

4) Current camera setup?

Sony. Enough said.

5) What is your favorite part of shooting surf? What’s the most challenging part?

Shooting surf is very rewarding. When all the stars align, the swell is solid, the winds complement the conditions, the sunlight is just right, the surfers are ripping, you just so happen to be in the right spot with a well composed shot, but most importantly in focus. Did I mention doing that while swimming? Oh well that too. To me, this is the most rewarding moment in surf photography or filmmaking. Does that sound challenging enough?

6) Do you have any tips for someone looking to get their feet wet in surf photography?

If you want to shoot surf, it helps to be a surfer. If you are able to get out in the ocean, go surfing, learn how the ocean and the waves work. If someone is a photographer that has a fair and decent understanding of how a camera works while knowing how to predict when a surfer might do something radical. That is when the stars might align for someone. My only other tip is to be patient. Patience is the name of the game in surf photography. It can take all day to get one decent image or none at all. It’s what makes it so rewarding.

Pablo Jimenez. Reñaca, Chile. Photo by Ben Reed.

Pablo Jimenez (Reñaca, Chile) – @pablojimenez_photo

1. ISA: How many years have you been a photographer?

I picked up my first proper camera in late 2008 when I was a traveling bodyboarder living in the north west of Ireland. It hasn’t left my side ever since, so I guess we are going for nearly 13 years.

2) How did you get into surf photography – when did you have that ‘ah ha’ moment? What drew you to surfing?

I started riding a bodyboard sometime around the early 90’s. Since day 1 I was hooked on the ocean. In Chile, where I grew up, surfing and bodyboarding were pretty new at the time. Not many people out there, no projections on turning into a lifetime thing.

I started traveling around the country looking for waves. Soon enough I realized that it was all I wanted to do, so not long after graduating from high school I bailed the country chasing waves around the world for 8 years.

I always felt drawn to photography, even before I grabbed a camera, whether it was an epic surf photo on a mag, a beautiful landscape on a gallery, or an intense portrait in National Geographic.

I started with a little pocket camera to register my travels, but I guess like a lot of surf photographers out there, I also wanted to register some of the cool stuff I was seeing when surfing. So I got a waterproof case for my little Cybershot. I had a few tries in the ocean here and there, but to be honest, I had a hard time taking photos of waves that I could have been riding.

It wasn’t until sometime in 2008 while living in Ireland, a friend of mine got a used Dslr and “real” waterhousing on ebay.

We basically started taking turns at taking photos while bodyboarding. The waves in Ireland are epic. I was stoked with some of the photos we were coming back with, so decided to get my own gear. I was hooked. I wanted to take photos of everything.

I was already 28 years old, not committed to anything, just a degree in yard work and house painting, and since that 9 to 5 thing didn’t really fit for me, I decided to pursue a career in photography.

A few months went by, and I moved back to Chile and studied advertising photography for two years, thinking surf photography was going to be just a hobby.

Somehow the surf photography thing was picking up. Facebook and Flickr were strong. I started heading to northern Chile shooting some international bodyboarding and surfing comps on my own. Soon enough I started to get hired by those same APB tour and WSL QS events. It kind of snowballed from then.

3) What is your favorite photo that you have taken?

That’s a hard one. There is a few I really like. I guess the one of Jared Houston doing a massive air forward at El Gringo in Arica. I totally lucked out on it, right place at the right time thing.

Pablo is right at home anywhere up and down the Chilean coast. Photo: Pablo Jimenez.

Nicolas Vargas at El Gringo. Shooting fisheye here is scary, so I love this shot.

Nicolas Vargas. Photo: Pablo Jimenez

4) Current camera set up?

I’ve recently made the move from Canon to the Sony mirrorless system. The Alpha a7r3 is doing a pretty god job. There is still things I love about Canon, but I’m happy with my gear right now.

I kept my Sigma Prime lenses and use them with adapters. They are such nice lenses that I couldn’t get rid of them.

To shoot land I got the Sony 200-600mm G. And amazing lens for the value! To shoot water I put everything on a Aquatech Waterhousing.

5) What is your favorite part of shooting surf? What’s the most challenging part?

My favorite part of shooting surf is getting in the water, being amongst the action. I’ve always enjoyed swimming, so I really feel comfortable out there.

Back in the day I had a hard time choosing between surfing or shooting, it took me a while to let go of my board.

Then I realized I just liked being around the waves, it’s just too much fun, and if the waves are good and I have a camera, I’m as stoked as the guy getting barreled.

The most challenging part is pretty much the same, it’s a bit of a paradox. I’m from Chile, and here the water is cold year round. Getting in the water can be hard at times. You need to gear up full seal mode here.

It’s also lonely. There usually are not many other photographers around. Sometimes it’s nice to share waves on the head with fellow lensmen.

6) Tips for someone looking to get their feet wet in surf photography?

Well, the one tip I always give to people that want to start shooting water is to be comfortable in the ocean. Whatever that means to you, If it’s only small surf you are into, that is fine. I you are like a hell waterman, there you go.

But you need to know your element and the only way to gain that is by spending time in the ocean, no rush here, go bodysurfing, grab a bodyboard, just have fun.

I personally started, like most, shooting shore breaks with a fisheye and a cheap 50mm on the same dome port to shoot from the channel. That setup works wonders!

I guess I’m just another bodyboarder turned photographer but I must say that all the years chasing waves on the boog really paid out when I took my camera swimming.

Ben Reed. Bozeman, Montana, USA.

Ben Reed (Bozeman, Montana, USA) – @benreedphoto

1) How many years have you been a photographer?

I attended the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in 2010 and I’ve been photographing professionally since 2011.

2) How did you get into surf photography – when did you have that ‘ah ha’ moment? What drew you to surfing?

I grew up near the Outer Banks of North Carolina and started surfing in middle school. I was always drawn in looking at the pictures in surf magazines. As a young adult, I dreamt of traveling across the globe surfing far-off waves that I’d see in the mags. It wasn’t until the economic downturn of 2008 did I start thinking of photographing these places. After being laid off late in 2009 I decided to give it a try.

3) What is your favorite photo that you have taken?

Surfing: Gavin Beschen at Backdoor. It was absolutely firing this day and I had been shooting Pipe most of the day. I decide to walk down to Backdoor and shoot for a bit. Shortly after sitting down further down the beach Gavin paddled into this one. It was an absolute bomb.

Gavin Beschen. Photo: Ben Reed

Portrait: John John Florence. Shot for Redbull during the Volcom Pipe Pro.

John John Florence. Photo: Ben Reed

4) Current camera set up?

Camera Bodies: Sony a7riii and Sony a9

Lenses: Sony 12-24, Sony 24-105, Sony 24-70, Sony 85, Sony 70-200, Sony 200-600

SPL Waterhousing with over/under port, fisheye port, 24-104 port

5) What is your favorite part of shooting surf? What’s the most challenging part?

It’s really hard to pick a favorite part. I simply love to travel and go to new places. I also really love being in the ocean and feeling the water around me. I live in the mountains now and ocean time doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. For me, I’d say the most challenging part is staying in shape. Not living by the ocean and not staying in swimming shape has been tough. The photography part of surf photography isn’t too difficult.

6) Tips for someone looking to get their feet wet in surf photography?

Get a waterhousing and shoot from the water. Anybody can shoot from the beach. There’s not too many people that can shoot from the water. Spend your money on lenses. Lenses are more important to the overall quality of the image than the camera body. Lenses with a wider aperture will also allow you to shoot at lower ISO’s during early morning and evening sessions.

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