An interview with surf photographer Carys Griffiths

An interview with surf photographer Carys Griffiths

We recently had the pleasure of shooting with in-water photographer Carys Griffiths. We met, bleary eyed, early on a Sunday morning after sending each other a spontaneous 7am message on Instagram. Despite the promising forecast, when we arrived the conditions looked less than ideal. Nearly flat with an ominous cloud lurking overhead. We had our logs with us so "heck it" we said, we're here now - let's get in and see what happens. What followed was pure magic. We'll let the photos in this article speak for themselves. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and why you got into surf photography? 

I've always been interested in photography and surf culture, especially cold water surf. I started practicing photography in my early teens when my Dad gave me an Olympus OM-2 so I decided to practice it as part of my A-levels, but I never took it that seriously, just like surfing really. I enjoyed it but I didn't practice it religiously, and I was never really that good at it either. I wanted to be an artist and a designer so I stuck with drawing, learning how to make clothes and painting. Going into the water happened on a whim really, I don't think I thought about it. I stumbled across a cheap housing on ebay so I bought it. Once I went in the water with a camera, it kind of clicked.

How long have you been doing in-water photography for and what process goes into your photographs?

I was in my late twenties when I first started in-water photography, the same time as digital photography basically, so about 8 years. I was quite late to the digital game as I saw it as cheating and I basically couldn't afford the price of film. In terms of planning for a shoot, I very rarely do. I check the forecast, wind and weather, and if it works, and I can go, I'm off. Sometimes, it's such a spontaneous thing, I'll quickly check the surf, and tell myself that I won't regret going in, I'll drop everything and go. I don't train myself, I just go with my gut. If I know I can swim out in it, I'll go and hope to get a good shot!

How do you plan for and juggle surf shoots alongside your other commitments?

This is where it gets really frustrating and I find it difficult to progress. I work as a Costume stand-by in TV and film so that takes a lot of time from me naturally. As well as running a business making swimwear, a lot of the time, a couple of months will go by, and I've not been in the water. During 2020 I became quite ill with Crohn's disease and since then, I've found it difficult gaining my muscle back from malnutrition, but I'm hoping to become stronger and more able than I've ever been next year after my surgery. My confidence in larger surf has diminished slightly, but it'll be back. 

Have you faced many challenges when it comes to your surf photography?

The challenges I currently face is the lack of muscle. Becoming ill just after lockdown in September 2020 really affected me as I couldn't do anything independent. I was very reliant on my partner and it wasn't until March 2021 I was able to go back to work so I worked in costume on a production until December 2021. Since then, it's been mainly the lack of confidence and lack of muscle that's been the most challenging.

In regards to the photography itself, light is the best and trickiest challenge. When you've got the right settings, your images can become way more rewarding than when taken on land. But it can become the most frustrating as the water can change your settings by itself by pushing the buttons on the back so you have to keep an eye on what your camera is doing.

When you're swimming out into surf, you've not only got to keep your breathing consistent and calm, you've also got a heavy camera attached to you, you're also keeping out of the way of surfers and you have to stay near the wipeout zone so you're constantly getting battered by waves and making sure the camera doesn't hit you at the same time. You also need to be able to move quickly and your attention is constantly being challenged. So yeah, surf photography in general is pretty challenging. 

What would be your top tip for someone wanting to get into surf photography? 

Respect the water!!! Always follow your gut so if things don't look or feel right, don't do it. You're never the one in control, even if you think you are. The ocean is always going to be in charge even on still calm days. Wear a helmet! And practice. 

What would be your ‘dream come true’ for your future with surf photography?

I would love a large solo exhibition, but I do have a long way to go for that. I would also love to photograph the biggest names in the surfing world. But mainly, I would love to head up to Iceland, the Lofoten Islands and / or British Columbia (basically anywhere northern and cold af) and get in the water there to photograph the surf but also, the chance to photograph whales, sharks and the incredible wildlife that reside there. To be able to swim with wild Orcas would be a (scary) dream come true. 

Carys is a photographer based in Swansea whose passion is to document nature and people in order to revitalise the connection we have with our planet, nature and the wild. Follow her work by visiting the links below. 


Words by Tirion Jenkins & Carys Griffiths 

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