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Shooting Flash Photos of Surfers Inside Barrel Waves

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16-year-old photographer Leroy Bellet recently turned an idea he had into a series of epic surf photos that landed on the covers of international magazines. He followed behind surfers in giant barrel waves and photographed them in action with a Nikon DSLR and an external flash.

Bellet was inspired by the work of Laurent Pujol, who pioneered “double tow” photography, which involves a photographer getting towed into a wave by a jet ski while riding a surfboard themselves and then shooting the surfer inside the barrel. The result is a dramatic perspective that offers a new view at how surfers ride waves.

Leroy Bellet doing standard double tow surf photography.
Leroy Bellet doing standard double tow surf photography.

Leroy Bellet

Bellet built upon Pujol’s idea to create flash double tow photography: by attaching a Nikon SB-910 Speedlight to his Nikon D810 full frame DSLR, Bellet was able to light up his subject from behind for gorgeous photos at sunrise and sunset.

Bellet trailing a surfer in a barrel. Photo by Montgomery.
Bellet trailing a surfer in a barrel. Photo by Montgomery.

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Equipment-wise, Bellet used a Nikon D810, a Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 fisheye lens, an Aquatech Elite D810 water housing, a Nikkor SB-910 Speedlight, an Aquatech Strike 910 Speedlight housing, and an Aquatech PD-50 dome port.

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“My basic settings were: 1/1 (full power) on the SB-910 at 17mm (the widest flash possible), ISO of 800, shutter speed of 1/800sec and aperture of 5.6 on the D810,” Bellet tells PetaPixel.

“What I’d imagined the images to look like was reflective and glossy but I was surprised at just how much clear water absorbs artificial light rather than reflecting it,” he says. “The result was an eerie image in which only turbulent water was illuminated and the surfers are either riding into the darkness or the sunrise/set.”

The concept cost 4 months of time, 3 hospital visits, and 2 broken boards, but Bellet succeeded in shooting the remarkable photos that he set out to create.

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Here’s a 3-minute behind-the-scenes video of the project:

These images are now appearing on the covers of major surfing magazines:

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You can find more of Bellet’s work over on his website and on Instagram.


Image credits: Photos and videos by Leroy Bellet/Aquatech and used with permission

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