Sean, how did you get started in photography?
I have always been into photography, but I got right into it about 15-20 years ago. I was taking a trip to Tasmania with my fiancée at the time. and I had a small point and shoot camera. I was taking many photos on the way south and on the boat crossing to Tasmania. Once we got there, I purchased a second hand film SLDR camera. During that trip I taught myself how to photograph with film.
When did it become a career for you?
Being based in the Gold Coast of Australia, always being a surfer, always being in the water and seeing all these beautiful views, I was thinking about how I could show my mom or my friends what I can see in the water. That’s when I first started to think about ocean photography, and started to think about water housing. My first water housing was from AquaTech for my Canon 3 camera. When you are looking from within the sea during sunset and the waves are going all golden, you just can’t see these views from the land. I started capturing this sort of scenes and people were responding in a very good way.
At that time I was working on a day job as an electrician, climbing power poles. In my spare time I was learning the craft of photography. I then started displaying and selling images at local markets at the beach front. I used to hand make the frames on my deck at home. People started buying and I reinvested that money into better gear and equipment. It was probably a couple of years later that I opened a gallery at Burleigh Heads in Queensland.
Is it true that wave photography looks a lot easier than it really is?
Yes, that’s true, especially in the old days when you had to swim out with only 36 frames in a roll of film, that made it quite difficult. Things have changed now.
What piece of advice would you give to the photographers who want to try their hand at wave photography?
Technically, and unfortunately that’s the boring part, you need to understand how your camera works. Once you put it in the underwater housing, there are a few other little tricks of the trade that you can learn which will help you to capture underwater images as best as possible. It is a matter of training your eye to spot the opportunities, seeing when the water is looking best. Eventually, you start to learn and get a feel for the ocean. My other advice is to be observant and look for the right conditions.
So, on the contrary from landscapes where our mountains and rivers stand still for us to capture, you constantly need to be mindful of the shutter speed.
Correct. One of the first things I started doing when I began photographing in the ocean was to use shutter priority. Especially if you are body surfing and you have those big barreling waves, shutter speed must be fast.
How have you mastered your compositions with waves?
There are so many different avenues to wave photography. If you get inside a breaking wave and you are shooting out of the barrel, you don’t want to use a big dome port because that’s a lot more water than can sit on the front of the dome, especially when you’re looking directly at the sun, so a smaller dome port is used.
If I’m shooting underwater and shooting the barrel from below, a larger dome and wider lens works really well. You can get the reflection on the dome that you actually shoot – different techniques for different compositions.
You have a large gallery in Burleigh Heads, Queensland. How long has it been open?
It has been open for 13 years.
How did you make the decision to open your first gallery?
That happened when I started selling at the open markets. It gave me the confidence that people liked what I did. I was working full time making a good salary at the time and I concentrated all my extra efforts into making products and purchasing equipment. This gave me the encouragement to try and open a gallery a couple of years later. I continued to work full time for about a year, even when I had the gallery. I then opened a second gallery for a while. During that time I reinvested the money and continued to grow my portfolio and branding.
How important has it been to have a brand with your photography business?
Extremely. Back then, in the real world, before social media, people on the Gold Coast and eastern Queensland knew me and my work from seeing it on display. It was all small steps, but it was consistent, trying to get good images and create a product that people could afford.
What was one of the biggest obstacles you had to overcome in opening a gallery?
It was when I jumped from full time employment to solely having the gallery. Actually, opening it wasn’t too bad because I had my job and income behind me. However, with a lot of hard work it started paying off slowly and it came to a point where it was full time.
Do you find a lot of imagery in your gallery is specific to your location on the Gold Coast?
Yes, half the images in the Burleigh Heads gallery are of Burleigh Heads and the local gold coast area, the other half are still coastal and landscape.
You clearly have a passionate love for the ocean. Tell me about how you came to love photographing the sea.
I can flash back to when I was 10 years old and being at Byron Bay surfing. My dad took me down there with my grandparents. I was laying in the water thinking how beautiful it was with the waves coming through.
I’ve always had a love for water and combining that with my love for sharing things, I think that’s how ocean and water photography started.
I know some folks get bored of photographing the same thing over and over, how do you stay inspired?
It’s my passion. I love what I do and I love being in the water. Lately I have gone outside the ocean through social media. I have gone into the outback for some star photography.
A huge shout out to AquaTech for sponsoring this interview. How long have you been using their gear?
I would say for the past 13 years. My first water housing was AquaTech.
I know a lot of photographers are really leery to put their expensive bodies and lenses in water housing. Clearly AquaTech is a very reliable name, but what advice would you give to folks who want to get out there with their gear the first time? Any tips to ease the fear?
You probably want to speak with someone who does it often. It’s not like you go and buy it off the shelf. You need to have an understanding of how the gear is going to work and really be careful in how you put it together. The biggest tip I have for when you are putting the equipment together would be not to be distracted. Once it goes into the housing, you can’t change things. It’s a matter of having a routine, check everything, check your camera settings, make sure that the housing is looking right. If you have a good routine, you will quickly gain confidence in it.