Surfing at the South Jetty – Venice, Florida

One of the things that happen here in Florida during the winter season is that the wind picks up. In the summer, it’s hot, humid and just plain miserable. When you think of surfers, you think of California or Maui, not Florida. I’m lucky enough that I live about 30 minutes south of Venice, Florida where they have an active surfing beach called the South Jetty. I have written posts on this location before, such as: Water Sports in Southwest Florida, and Revisited: South Jetty Surfers – Venice, Florida. There is so much going on here all the time, which makes the photo opportunities limitless. I wish I could say the same thing for parking!

Since I teach at the Venice Art Center and at the Sarasota County Technical Institute – Venice division, this is a great place to take students to try out the “man running” on their camera dials. I was just out there recently with a group of students from the art center and we found many things to photograph. While we were there, they had a surfing contest going on. The wind wasn’t blowing as one would hope for this sport, but they worked with what they had. There were also some sailboats out in the Gulf, puttering around. Since I have written extensively on this location before, I won’t bore you with all the same details. You can click on the links above and read more.

However, for this visit, I did try something new. I took my Nikon 70mm-300mm and wanted to see how it would do. I do have a older Nikon 80mm-400mm but it’s heavy and slow focusing. The 70mm-300mm is much lighter and focuses quite faster.  Since I’m using a Nikon D300 that has a crop factor of 1.5x that makes the view of this lens a 450mm. The lens doesn’t magically grow, but since this is a full frame lens, the smaller sensor only uses the center of the lens, hence making the view seem longer. Is everyone confused yet?

For the settings, I knew I wanted a faster shutter speed such as 1/1000 to freeze the action. (This is also what the sports mode or the man running does). Since I want to get as much light into the camera as possible to keep my ISO down, I choose f/5.6. This is a variable aperture lens meaning that the aperture changes on the low end as I zoom out. The biggest opening that I can get on this lens at 300mm is f/5.6. The last part of the puzzle since I shoot in manual mode is the ISO. I want the ISO to be as low as possible to avoid any noise on my images. I was able to shoot at this high speed at ISO 400. After all, it’s daylight out at high noon. The camera was all set. I also chose “Ch” on my camera, which stands for continuous high. Some of you may know this as burst mode, basically as long as I hold down the shutter button, the camera will keep ripping off frames. I always shoot RAW files, which are much bigger than JPGs. To help combat the slower frame rate of shooting RAW files, I have a vertical grip on my camera that holds an additional battery. With two batteries working together, this allows the camera to shoot at the higher frame rate. They make these for most DSLRs, you have the choice of the official manufacturer one for the official manufacturer price or the knock off that is about 1/3 the price. I have the Nikon one as that is what they had at the trade show when I bought all my stuff.

One last tip on why I shot RAW files is dynamic range. Here’s the thing, I’m dealing with bright sunlight on the water and in the distance are these tiny black looking ants that are surfers in black wetsuits. I have to deal with white on black, and I want detail in both. This is where it can get really tricky. With a RAW file and using a program such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Elements, I can push and pull on the file and target these areas to increase the detail. JPG files are cooked in the camera and don’t hold as much information, therefore editing these file in this kind of situation can really be an issue. I’m not saying that if your camera won’t shoot a RAW file then run out and buy a new camera that does, it’s only money, that you shouldn’t try this, by all means give it a go.

 Spencer Pullen captures this kite surfer at the South Jetty at Venice, Florida.Kite Surfing – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

If you ask me this is the only way to go surfing. Swimming all the way out there and getting pushed back to shore just seems silly to me. This guy has it figured out, he would go out into the Gulf until he was a dot on the horizon, and then come back closer to shore. There wasn’t any reason to shoot him until he got closer, once he did, we let er’ rip. Once in awhile he would hit a wave and get some air. This is when I tried to shoot him, as this looked more interesting than just floating along the surface of the water.

 This surfer is coming in at the South Jetty in Venice, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.The Green V – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

This guy was the only one who had a “green v” on his back so he was easy to keep track of. He was very active and would ride every wave that was possible. Again, shooting ten frames a second, I was able to capture his whole ride on the wave and I could pick the best of the bunch and delete the rest. How many surfing photos does one need anyway?

 Spencer Pullen captures this surfer at the South Jetty in Venice, FloridaThe Green V Rides Again – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

There is another reason why I stuck with this guy, what color is his board? White, what does white do? Come on, this is worth five bonus points where the points don’t matter! White reflects light, therefore the light hitting the board is lighting his face and torso. Pretty cool, huh?

 This seascape from the Suth Jetty in Venice, Florida was used as a faux sailing magazine cover. Photography by Spencer Pullen.Sailing Magazine Cover – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

When you are out shooting, think to yourself, “Who can I sell this to?” Wouldn’t it be nice to sell some of your photos to publications to help support your addiction hobby? I can say that I have done this a few times. The key here is MONEY, if they offer you exposure, tell them to go away. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills. In this case, there was an interesting looking sailboat off in the distance and I rattled off a few frames. I kept the horizon low in the viewfinder and off to one side, thinking that this might make an interesting cover. After I spruced it up in Photoshop I added some text and added a drop shadow to give it some depth. This can all be done in either Photoshop or Elements. Go visit the visitor’s center and let them know that you are around and that you take local photos. Everyone takes photos of something whether it’s birds, athletes, seascapes or whatever. Also, check out the local newspaper and magazine and talk with the editor. Have a few 8 x 10’s printed on nice paper with your contact information so they can get a hold of you when needed. The days of having a degree from a prestigious photography school are gone, they are looking for something different, and price is always a factor. Get a website together to send out as a portfolio for places that may be out of reach initially. As I said, before, if they say “We’ll run it for exposure and give you a cutline.” you need to run like the wind out of that place. You didn’t spend thousands of dollars of camera equipment only to be taken advantage of….

OK, sorry I’m off my soapbox now. If you are ever in the area, go check out the South Jetty in Venice, Florida. There is always something going on and to photograph. I might avoid it in the summer if you can as it’s hot and you can get a nasty sunburn with the reflection off the water. At least wear your sunglasses so if this happens, you can look like a raccoon!

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Hi Spencer

    I am interested in classes on HDR or Lightroom 5 Will there be any tought at the VAC in Punta Gorda?
    Let me know if any of these classes will be coming up any time soon.

    Thank You David Kern

    • I second the HDR or Lightroom 5 classes.

    • Spencer


      That is the plan, during the summer I’ll be working on new classes. I’ll put HDR and Lightroom in the mix. Thanks…


  2. thank you for your posts – during my busy season at work it reminds me that there will be life after season and I can get back to what I really enjoy!

  3. Thanks for all the info and suggestions. Always good reading your post.


  1. Revisited: Surfing At The South Jetty – Venice, Florida | Spencer Pullen Photography and Training - […] trip. If you haven’t seen any of my other posts, you might want to check these out from the…

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