Surf photography – good surf photography – somehow communicates all those complex, complicated and unique experiences we have in the ocean. Luciano Burin talks to leading Brazilian photographer Marcio David about the digital vs analogue debate and how to stand out from all the other snappers in an overcrowded line-up…
How did you become a professional surf photographer?
In 1993 I started out as a studio assistant for the advertising agency Almap/BBDO, and did my first job as a pro photographer in 2002. Initially I favoured studio photography, but as time went by, I started losing interest in the advertising industry and working in a studio – it wasn’t really my thing in the end. The challenge of living near the ocean and recording moments from the sea was – and still is – the most important aspect of my life.
Tell us a little about your favourite jobs so far…
All my work has a special meaning – sometimes those sessions in my backyard are the best. One day I went up a trail here on the island of Florianopolis with my friend and pro-surfer Guga Arruda. We had a good vibe going on, the waves were amazing, the air was fresh. We wandered down an unbeaten track and chatted like friends do – all those things combined to make a memorable day.?Of course, travelling to new places is always exciting – I was lucky enough to bump into the Malloy brothers with Rob Machado and Gerry Lopez on a trip to the Mentawai Islands. That was an amazing shoot that eventually made the cover of Trip magazine.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently trying to develop my underwater photography skills and expand my database of images of Santa Catarina. I also want to go back to Hawaii – although I lived in Oahu for a while, my dream destination is still the North Shore in season. ?I’m currently also working with a project called BoardInform, a sort of totempole in Florianopolis airport that provides info about the local waves and weather, and also includes a lot of my photographs. We want to expand the idea and put these ‘totems’ in various places all over Brazil.
What are the peculiarities of surfing photography, do you think? What professionals you admire the most?
Shooting surf has a whole special feeling. You give up many things to live a simpler life in total harmony with nature. It isn’t easy to make a living from surfing, contrary to what many people might think – making money from this way of life requires dedication and a great love of what you do. The pleasure of falling in the water and experience the motion of the ocean makes this sport have a very special value to my life. ?I admire the work of various photographers, both in and outside surfing. As much as modern and emerging photographers are going beyond the limits, I would still go for guys like Scott Aichner, who is a master in the water; Aaron Chang, whose sensitivity I admire; Sebastian Rojas, a true master; and Sebastiao Salgado, who has nothing to do with surfing but captures Brazilian culture so powerfully .
You must have experienced some pretty amazing things, all in a day’s work…
Yes, I’ve been lucky to have had some unforgettable experiences! Like my first ever surf/photo trip, driving out of Floripa with big-rider John Capilé all the way to Punta Hermosa, Peru. Our goal was to hit good swell in Pico Alto, but I was blown away by El Gringo in Chile – I’ve never seen waves that size and formation. John got me really pumped and persuaded me to jump into the sea, despite the heavy 8-10 foot sets! I was totally inexperienced, and was hit in the head and lost my camera, but it was the biggest adrenaline rush of my life! Luckily I found my camera floating in front of me in the foam and it all worked out fine. But it was more than the surf that made this trip so memorable – as we descended the Andes we witnessed the devastating power of nature, passing a city that had been destroyed by a tsunami.
Jumping in Pipeline for the first time was also an unforgettable experience. Pipe was 8-feet plus, a real spectacle of nature! I had no idea how to get out of the water [laughs]. I ended up swimming to the nearby shore break where I took a proper beating to get out of the current.
Digital technology has developed and democratised photography. How do you feel it compares to film photography?
Digital photography has innovated and improved the universe of images. Personally, I always liked the process of revelation and the anxiety of traditional film photography. That whole process was a wonderful mystery. ?To be photographer in the days of film, you had to understand light and sensitivity, use the right material, and the margin of error was nonexistent. You would jump in the sea with a 36 exposure film and you HAD to get it right.
Today you can take 300 pictures in high-definition, and digital cameras greatly facilitate the process of capturing images, making everything easier.
Because of this, the photographers of today don’t think much when they’re shooting and usually forget to study and deepen their technical knowledge correctly. Sometimes they take good pictures but they forget to work with depth of field, correct light sensitivity and to capture the most striking angle. ??But digital has its advantages too – you can operate without fear of error, and evaluate your work as you go. Being able to correct your mistakes while you work is one phenomenal advantage to working digitally. ?I think that what makes a great photographer from an average photographer is someone who has a language of their own – a personal style of shooting. The guy who knows how to work with a set of lenses at the right time of day to convey the true charm of perfect light and setting, regardless of his chosen medium, is a great photographer.
Even with all the benefits that digital brings, I still believe that to stay relevant you need to find your own identity.
Where do you love to surf and where would you like to visit?
I like to shoot in Fernando de Noronha (north Brazil), Moçambique (Florianópolis) and a secret spot in Floripa. ?Noronha is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, if not the best. The unspoiled Moçambique beach is part of my personal history, because it’s where I learned to shoot in the water. I began to love Floripa because of the waves – I always get good photos there. The secret spot in Floripa is also special; it’s a place I go to recharge my energy and that helps me be aware of my eternal search for the best waves and images. ?As far as travelling goes, I want to know so many different parts of the world that I can’t begin to list them all! I like to surf in warm water with sunshine and hollow waves – these are the perfect ingredients for a great experience.