Revisited: Surfing At The South Jetty – Venice, Florida

I don’t have an athletic bone in my body, well except for my Krispy Kreme eating arm. Even though I really don’t watch sports or participate in them, I do enjoy photographing them. I think it has to do with the split second timing and the action of everything going on. All with the common goal of getting the camera to freeze that slice in time where that moment will last forever. With the camera shooting at high speed and when the subject is in the box (focus point) and the exposures are on, it’s like going down the highway at 100 mph and watching the tachometer heading for the red zone. Ok, back to reality, I’m a guy what can I say.

This particular venue is no stranger with me. This is one of the hot spots for water sports in our area. It’s a hit or miss as I’m never sure what I’m going to be presented with. There is a surfing cam so I can check the conditions before I make the 45 minute trip. If you haven’t seen any of my other posts, you might want to check these out from the past: Surfing at the South Jetty – Venice, Florida, Revisited: South Jetty Surfers, Venice Florida and Revisited: South Jetty Surfers – Venice, Florida. Every time I go, it’s a new experience as there are different surfers, conditions and even skill levels. I can’t do any of it, so I’m impressed that these folks even get out in the turbulent water to begin with.

As for equipment I travel light, for a couple of reasons. First, I have to walk across an embankment that is falling apart with jagged rocks below. This isn’t the time to carry everything and the kitchen sink. I like to take the longest lens that I have. In the past, I have used my trusty Nikon 80-400. This lens has served me well and is a great wildlife and sports lens for people who don’t have $12,000 for the “big glass”. However, I had someone who was interested in purchasing the lens so it has found a new home. Going through the lens suitcase, the next longest lens that I have is a Nikon 70-300. This lens is also wonderful as it’s light, sharp and fast focusing. These are all good qualities when walking over uneven terrain and the subject is moving erratically. Most of you know that I’m pro tripod, but this is one of those times it’s going to be useless, not to mention at the speeds that I’m going to be at, I wouldn’t need one anyway. Which leads me to the next part, camera settings. The faster the subject the higher the shutter speed needs to be. In this case, not only are the surfers all over the place, we have crashing waves to deal with. I’m out in bright full sun, no clouds. This means that I can keep my ISO down to keep the noise down. I went with ISO 200. The lens biggest opening at the 300mm end is f/5.6 as this is a variable aperture lens. After taking some test shots, I settled on 1/2500 for shutter speed. This is perfect; I should be able to stop a bullet at this speed, well almost. A good rule of thumb is that you want to be at your apparent focal length for shutter speed to keep your photos sharp. For example, I’m using a crop sensor with a 1.5 multiplication factor. If I take 300mm x 1.5 (my crop factor) = 450. This means that my shutter speed needs to be above 1/450 or the next available shutter speed which is 1/500 to get sharp photos with this lens, depending on how fast your subject is moving. At 1/2500, this is why I really didn’t need a tripod as the speed is what is going to save me. One last note, Take LOTS of camera cards with you. I took six cards and I filled five in about 90 minutes of shooting. I also shoot RAW. I don’t bother with JPG. In this case, I’m going to be dealing with harsh sun and I’m going to need all of the processing power that I can get on the post side, JPG isn’t going to get me the extra info in the file that I’m going to need. Some of you might be thinking that shooting a RAW file is going to slow your burst rate down. That is correct, however there is a way to fix this. Don’t kill the messenger; get a battery grip for the camera. I have one and when attached, the camera has two batteries working for it and this allows for faster RAW shooting. It’s kind of like putting a V8 engine into a Yugo.

 Spencer Pullen captured this surfer on his board at the top of the wave. Photography by Spencer Pullen.Breaking The Wave – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Having shot surfers for a couple of times, I’m starting to understand what they are looking for. This helps as I only come home with 1,000 photos instead of 3,000! The spot at the South Jetty is nice as it get you above the surfers and you can shoot down on them. I like seeing their face with the top of the board when possible. This high ground allows me to get the angle that I’m looking for.

 Spencer Pullen photographs this surfer jumping off the board before falling. Taken at the South Jetty in Venice, Florida.Time To Ditch – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

This surfer knew the ride was over and took a dive. I like the wipeouts as much as their great surfing skills. Some jumped onto a wave such as this person and others just went down with the board to reappear moments later when the wave passed.

 Spencer Pullen photographs these surfers sharing a wave at the South Jetty in Venice, Florida.Share A Wave – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Some waves were big enough that two or three surfers could share it. I hope they can steer, as it could be a bad collision if one person zigs, while the other zags. Is this something that insurance covers?

 This surfer is grabing a wave at the South Jetty in Venice, Florida. Photography by Spencer Pullen.Wave Grabbin’ – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

I’ve seen some folks grab the wave as they go by. I’m sure this has a name but for now it’s called wave grabbin’. It’s my story, I can tell it how I want it to sound! I also use spot focus on my camera. This way, as long as I can keep them on my focus point, the camera will lock focus and forget the rest. This is good thing as there isn’t any time for the camera to try and acquire focus or the moment would be over by the time the camera figures out what it’s supposed to be doing.

 This surfer is jumping out of a wave at the South Jetty in Venice, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.Hanging On – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

I noticed that this particular surfer seemed to be able to handle the waves pretty good. Every time I would see him get into position I would raise my camera and start to fire away. I loved the facial expression and it looks like he’s either ready to dump it or going to recover for a cheer from then crowd. You decide. When shooting these types of subjects, it’s not uncommon to have them wear dark clothes against a white crashing wave. This is why I shoot a RAW file. I shoot for the highlight in this case, the crashing wave and adjust for the darker areas in post.

 This surfer is in the tube at the South Jetty in Venice, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.In The Tube – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

This is a shot that I have wanted to get for a while. As you can see the surfer is “in the tube” or riding inside the wave as it’s crashing behind him. Normally, from the shooting position that I picked, it would be virtually impossible. I happened to be at the correct angle and the camera God’s were on my side.

Just a quick note on post-processing, I took these into Adobe Camera RAW and cropped them. I didn’t do any other adjustments in Camera RAW. Once the file was passed to Photoshop, I let my Nik filters take over. I used the Pro Contrast, Vivesa and polarization filter. Then after down sizing for the web I used Nik’s Sharpener Pro. Total time invested working on these photos….less than five minutes per photo. That is what a RAW file gives you and Nik makes it pretty easy to make some adjustments. To lighten up the darker areas, I added a control point with Vivesa and told it to lighten just that area, no masking required. Easy and quick.

If you are ever in the Venice area, I would stop by and see what is going on. Even if there aren’t any surfers, it’s still a beautiful place to shoot and watch sunsets. The water is teal and there is always something going on. There are usually endless fishermen and you can watch the money go in and out of the jetty (boats). On a windy day, take a trip with a fully charged battery and lots of empty camera cards and you just never know what you’ll be coming home with.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. As former So. Californians, we are chuckling at what Floridians call “surf”!!! Pretty puny! Great shots however, Spence!!!!!

    • Spencer

      I’m sure these aren’t the big waves like in the Pacific, but I’ll take what ever we can get! Thanks…


  2. Where did you stand to take these?

    • Spencer

      I was on the beach. On the left side of the Jetty. Thanks…


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