SHOOTING DOWN TO KE-IKI BEACH FROM PIPELINE, WHERE THE WAVES HIT THE ROCKS AND EXPLODE
“THE WALL” AT PIPELINE: SAYS BIELMANN, “THIS ANGLE SHOWS HOW BIG AND SCARY IT REALLY IS. WATCH TOO MANY SETS AND YOU TALK YOURSELF OUT OF GOING OUT.”
HAVING PENETRATED THE WAVE, BIELMANN MADE EYE CONTACT WITH THIS SURFER RIGHT BEFORE HE GOT SUCKED BACK OVER THE FALLS.
BRIAN BIELMANN is an internationally renowned surf photographer with a body of work lauded worldwide. His passion for both surfing and photography have kept him on the forefront of the genre for over 35 years. Brian got his start after a wipeout on a reef kept him out of the water for month. It was then that he picked up a camera and realized he could make a living doing what he loved by photographing it. He describes himself as a photographer first, surfer second, and his pictures capture the lifestyle in which he has been immersed, living on the North Shore of Oahu — home of such breaks as Pipeline, Waimea and Sunset Beach. As he said at a recent TEDx Talk in Honolulu, “I love it, I live it, I photograph it.”
I had the pleasure of working with Brian 15 years ago on a shoot in Brazil for Conde Nast Sports for Women. We were there to photograph the top women bodyboarders and while waiting for waves Brian kept us all laughing and entertained. We have stayed in contact and chatted last week about his career and pictures. With all the snow sports about to take over our lives for the next two weeks as the Winter Olympics are contested, I thought it might be nice to go to the beach for a moment, especially given what an arctic winter it has been.
CL: Brian, you are considered one of the best surf photographers. What is it about your pictures that sets you apart?
BB: I want the shot that nobody is taking. The fish eye is really popular right now, but I am shooting with a longer lens which is rare. Don’t get me wrong, the fish eye is cool. It sees the inside and ceiling of the wave, but it looks the same whether it’s 3 foot or 8 foot. It doesn’t do the wave justice. With a longer lens, say in the 70-200m range, you see the thickness of the lip of the wave and the roof. It gives you a view of the whole house as opposed to just the living room.
CL: The shot below is a perfect example.
NATHAN FLETCHER, CODE RED DAY, TEAHUPOO, TAHITI: “A JET SKI TOOK ME OUT AND I JUMPED ON A FISHING BOAT” SAID BIELMANN. “THIS WAS THE BIGGEST DAY EVER SURFED TEAHUPOO, AND A WAVE NOT MEANT TO BE RIDDEN”
“EDDIE WOULD GO”: THIS IS OPENING CEREMONY OF THE FAMED SURF CONTEST HELD EVERY YEAR ON THE NORTH SHORE IN HONOR OF EDDIE AIKAU (READ MORE). DESCRIBES BIELMANN, “ALL THESE GUYS ARE IN THE SAME FRAME OF MIND. IT’S LIKE THANKSGIVING WHEN EVERYBODY IS SAYING WHAT THEY ARE THANKFUL FOR”
TAVARUA, FIJI: ONE OF THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED SURF SPORTS, BUT AN INFRARED CAMERA YIELDED A DIFFERENT SHOT.
CL: The surf photographers that have always impressed me the most are the ones who are out in the water shooting, as opposed those standing on the beach with a telephoto lens.
BB: When you’re shooting from the beach, you’re looking at the wave the way everybody sees it. You’re not in the mix. When you’re in the water you are part of it. You, the surfers… you’re all in it together on these death defying waves. But at 56, I’m getting too old to be swimming all the time and it can get pretty hairy. Not a lot of guys my age are still doing it. Everyone is in their 20s. I’m still out there on big days but I try to wait for perfect conditions when it’s nice and groomed. There are days at Pipeline when you’re swimming through 10 crazy sets just to get one shot. Only about 5% of guys shoot on those really heavy days. In my younger days I would, but it would be rough getting out there. I have been slammed, held under, had the wave pick me up and spin me around just in time for the second set to hit and get sucked over again. It’s a risk everytime. Even small days you don’t think are dangerous can catch you off guard.
VIEW FROM THE BEACH: MARK HEALY AT PIPELINE WITH SURFERS WAITING FOR SETS TO PASS SO THEY CAN PADDLE OUT.
INSIDE LOOKING OUT: SAYS BIELMANN “I PHOTOGRAPH SURFING FROM THE BEACH, FROM THE WATER, BUT MY FAVORITE IS FROM UNDER WATER, WITH SURFBOARD FINS WHIZZING BY YOUR HEAD”
THE WIPE OUT SAYS IT ALL.
3 TIME WORLD CHAMPION ANDY IRONS IN INDONESIA. “ANDY WAS SUCH A JOY TO PHOTOGRAPH”, SAYS BIELMANN. “HE WAS SUCH A BEAUTIFUL SURFER AND ALWAYS PLAYED FOR THE CAMERA.”
PIPELINE FROM THE WATER, BACKLIT IN THE LATE AFTERNOON LIGHT.
GETTING FLIPPED AT TEAHUPOO
ANDY IRONS AT PIPELINE: “ANDY HAD JUST CAUGHT A WAVE. AS HE WAS PADDLING BACK OUT HE LOOKED AT ME AND SAID LIVING THE DREAM BIELMANN… LIVING THE DREAM.” SADLY, ANDY PASSED AWAY FROM A DRUG OVERDOSE IN 2010.
CL: Has the industry changed since you first started?
BB: The Go-Pro is the anti-christ of surf photography. There are arms everywhere! It used to be you would only see great surf pictures in the surf magazines. You would spend all month looking at those pictures waiting for the next issue to come out, but now it’s all online. Everybody is shooting the same thing. What I’m hoping is next for me is exploring new waters and finding new waves that have yet to be surfed… and photographed.