Carrying on with the surf photographer series (starting with Shooting the South Hams with Jack Watson), we have been catching up with local surf photographer Spike Chambers, asking him what makes him tick and how things are going in the world of surf photography in the South West.
How did you get in to photography?
When I was younger, around 8 or 9, I got camera for my birthday. (some tiny Fujifilm Point and shoot) I Started taking photos of things like my brother skating, ducks in the pond, the dog, stuff like that. From then I learnt to edit and make movies with my family and mates around the village, I kept teaching myself editing from youtube and shooting more and more. I put together little films and photo albums of stuff we got up to, from then I started to surf more and began combining the two. It then progressed into getting some proper gear, and earning money from Surf, Product and Event commissions to where I am now.
Was it surf photography from the start?
No, I used to shoot a bunch of skating, just of my friends skating and little adventures around Devon to the different skateparks, nothing very impressive. I never really shared much of it, until me and some friends started a company selling Designed T-Shirts, back in school. So I started shooting promotion style shots for that. That was lots of fun. It wasn’t until I brought a GoPro that I started getting in the water. I was so chuffed with the first decent shot I got. I took off behind a chap surfing the rip, with the GoPro in my gob like a massive kook, and got a shot of him dropping in. I remember being so happy with it, from there I went out more with the GoPro until I moved onto a proper water housing.
What and who inspires you and your shots?
My inspiration mainly comes from my surroundings and the outdoors. I spend all my days either in the sea or outdoors, it drives me to want to capture it in photos and video. It helps me to remember all the amazing things I get to see, as I forget things easily. I’m very grateful to have grown up in such a place as South Devon, its defiantly a little paradise of its own.
I’m not really sure who inspires me, I appreciate other people’s work a lot and it definitely plays a part in my creativity. However there is one thing that drives me to want to be successful. When I was in school I was told on many occasions that I couldn’t do what I wanted, leave school, or be a surf photographer as it wasn’t a ‘realistic option’ and I wouldn’t have the GCSE’s. One of my teachers at the time told me I was living in ‘La La Cuckoo land’ If i thought that leaving school to pursue photography and surfing was an achievable goal. I left school when I was 16 feel that the lack of support and encouragement I received has really driven me to make a career out of my passion.
Nick Rangecroft (http://nickrangecroftceramics.co.uk/) was actually the first to show me real water photography, he’s sound.
What equipment are you using at the minute?
Now days I shooting with a Canon 7D Mark 2, With an Aquatech Water housing.
I always have a GoPro Hero 3 Stuck to the top too.
It must be cold being in the water taking shots, what suits/accessories do you use for different times of the year? Do you still shoot from the water in winter?
Yeah the water is freezing, late this winter has to be the coldest water I have been in. I was shooting before and after the big snowfall, all my film footage was coming out shaky because I was shivering too much, so I had to stick to photos for a bit. I was in a 5/4 all winter and an old 2mil hood, its not too bad, you get used to being in the water after a while. Its a lot different to surfing and sitting on your board out of the water. My hands took a beating but I would hop on the ped and get home to a cup of tea as soon as I was out the water. At the moment I’m in a 4/3 and using a big pair of swim fins to get me around quickly. From my experience the winter has been the best time to shoot, it might be cold but the waves are always consistent. I got so much material over this winter because I could shoot pretty much every day, if not, easily every week.
How do you decide wether to take photos from the water or the beach?
I pretty much always shoot from the water, I think I’ve only shot off the beach once, because I forgot my housing. I find it way nicer being in the water, you get the same feeling as surfing and that fresh feel of getting in the sea. When I shoot in the water its like, being amongst the waves and surfers, helps my photographs to be better. Its like, because I’m in with all the action and chaos of waves breaking on your face and dodging surfers, I have such a fun time. You defiantly feel like you have earned the good photographs, rather than sat on the beach waiting for a good one to break right in front of you. You have to work harder for it for sure.
It must be nice to shoot lesser known waves with a few people in the water, do you ever find any difficulties in taking photos of sensitive spots?
Yeah Its defiantly great to get to know guys who will take you to the quiet spots, I have never had any problems with people when I’m out shooting. Everyone round this way is real sound and don’t mind. As long as I’m not plastering secret spots all over social media I don’t recon I’ll have trouble with the locals. Shooting with a smaller group, or even one surfer, is great. Everyone ends up getting a good shot and there’s more waves to go around. The only problems are getting to spots with all the gear, weather you have to scramble down a slippery path with a camera and board, or drive for a few hours to find out its flat. It’s all part of the fun though, its a sick adventure. I would rather shoot a quiet spot with one guy out than a busy pumping day in the river.
Where do you hope to take your photography in the future?
I am hoping that, taking photos and producing videos, will be able to take me all over the world. To be able to travel and shoot more spots and meet more surfers and photographers. Devon is a beautiful place but there is defiantly lots out there and lots more breaks and people to shoot and film. I’m just super glad of all the support people have given me, honestly I’d be happy if I kept doing what I’m up to at the moment. I have the whole of my life to keep learning and creating, and this has been the best start I could have ever imagined.
Do you have any advice for photographers looking to get in to surf photography?
My advice would to be to just go for it, if your thinking about jumping in the sea to float around with a GoPro then do it! It opens up a whole new world of creativity. Even If you get 1 good shot from a 3 hour shoot, its another skill to learn and keep improving. The sea does you a lot of good, getting in the sea every day will have such a positive effect on you in many ways.
For those of you still in school, I struggled a lot with being inspired to stay in school when I knew there was a whole world out there. I got told so many times that there is no career in Surfing and Photography, especially for someone my age. If you want to be creative then there is nothing and no one that can stop you, no matter what teachers or people tell you. If you really want to be someone or do something than you can do what ever you want. When there is swell, I highly recommend finding your way to the beach. You’ll have a hell of a better day than if not.
Do you have a favourite surf photo you’ve taken?
I have a couple favourite photographs. This first one was taken shooting for ‘The Watermen’ (https://www.oceansproductions.com/trailer) Documentary in Porthtowan. Its a shot of Ishmael Hamleton (https://www.instagram.com/ishmaelhamon/) punting a little air into the sunshine. The light and water that day with perfect, bright sun and perfect clear turquoise water on the north coast. It was in December last year and was one of those crisp winter days with some great waves.
The Second is a shot from a quiet spot of Harry Bennett, a pretty solid swell and some nice hollow waves to shoot. I missed most of the best shots that day, but this was one that stood out. Its not perfect and Harry probably got a beating but thats what I like about it. Hopefully I’ll get another opportunity to get over there this year and get some better stuff.