Revisited: South Jetty Surfers – Venice, Florida

This is another action grabbing post. I was teaching a photography class in Venice, Florida which is about 30 minutes from where I live. Venice is a nice little beach town with something for everyone. Since I got in town early, I always like to head out to the South Jetty that leads out into the Gulf of Mexico to see what is going on. I have photographed many birds, boats and surfers at this location. It’s also a nice place to get a hot dog, sit and relax in the middle of winter with my shorts on! I’ve been told that you have to have a “niche” in order to be a successful professional photographer. I don’t think any of these folks have ever had to work in southwest Florida. I enjoy coming at this from a photojournalism angle, as I never know what to expect. This is exactly what I got when I arrived at the South Jetty. As I pulled in, there must have been about thirty surfers in the water. I forgot that Hurricane Sandy was off shore going by us at the time and this was kicking up the waves. I had about thirty minutes before my class, so I grabbed my gear and grabbed a few frames before the hands of time forced me to leave. This isn’t the first post that I have done on this location. Check out my other original post on this location: Flyin’ Out – Venice, Florida.

I headed back into town and got to the venue to do the class. However, I have to admit, all I could think of was getting back out to the Jetty and taking some more photos. A couple of hours the class was over and it was time to head back out to the Jetty and see what was going on. Realizing that I hadn’t eaten all day, I figured I better stop and get something that was healthy and high nourishing as I wasn’t sure what I was going to run into when I got out there. I stopped at the local convenience store and got the “family size” of Cheetos and a one liter of Mountain Dew. Off to the Jetty I went. I must have looked like a lunatic sitting there, scarfing down Cheetos as fast as I could with the orange dust going everywhere, it was then I realized my biggest mistake. Apparently I had forgotten napkins and now my fingers were caked with some kind of orange byproduct from the Cheetos. All I could think of was someone looking at this “professional” photographer with a black and orange camera. I searched around and found some tissues to get the shutter fingers as clean as possible. During this time I slammed down the bottle of Mountain Dew and I was wound tighter than a spring.

I went into the back seat of the car and gathered my cards and fitted my Nikon with the trusty 80mm-400mm lens. Since sand, wind and salt water don’t mix with camera gear, this was what I would be shooting with for the day, as not to change lenses. These guys were semi close to the beach, but the closer I can get the better. It was about 3:00 p.m., nice soft light, ya right. The first thing that I looked for was where the glare was in the water. I saw where the sun was and there was a straight line right in front of me with nothing but glare on the water. This is great if you want some silhouette shots, but I didn’t need a couple thousand frames of those. I walked down the side of the beach, watching the angle of the reflection and found a great place to camp out for a while. I got a clear shot with no glare and I was in front of the action with no obstructions in front of me. As for my camera settings, this is what I came up with: ISO 200, f/5.6 at 1/2000 of a second. I wanted a fast shutter speed as to stop these guys in their moves, and if I could freeze the water droplets that would be a plus. I also set the camera to continuous and jpg. This allows me to get about ten frames a second.  Some folks frown on this kind of shooting, they believe that you should “get the shot” in one frame. Well, I guess I’m not that good as I’m panning someone weaving back and fourth on a wave out in the middle of the Gulf, I’m just sayin’. I also like to use spot focus. I switched to spot focus about four years ago and have never looked back. Now I know wherever that square (or dot) is in my viewfinder, that is where the camera is going to lock on to. Here is one of the immediate challenges, the sun is on the front left of these surfing folks and that makes them backlit. Also, they are wearing black wet suits, so that is strike two. Since I’m shooting jpgs, I have to be a little tighter on my exposures. Since they are backlit and wearing a black suit, I ended up splitting the difference on the exposure between having the surfer going all black and keeping the detail in the water, or blowing out the waves and seeing all the detail in the suit. I pointed my camera and this was the first shot that I got off…

 spencer pullen photography venice florida south jetty crusin over the wave surferCrusin’ over the wave – Spencer Pullen © 2013 – All Rights Reserved

I was happy with the sharpness and the over all exposure of the frame. However, when I got this on the computer, it was then I realized how lucky I got. Notice how the front of his face and wet suit is lit? This is because the surfboard is actually lighting him. Being in a high contrast situation, this was a wonderful surprise. Also, notice how the wave has detail and isn’t blown out either.

 spencer pullen photography venice florida south jetty side five surferSide Five – Spencer Pullen © 2013 – All Rights Reserved

This was another gem that I realized that I captured went I got home. As I was sitting there, I noticed that one of the surfers that showed up brought a kite type of surfing tool. Since it was windy I thought this was going to be interesting. He assembled the rig together and headed out. In a flash, he was off on his board headed out to sea. After watching this guy for a few minutes, I realized this was the only way to go surfing. None of this paddling out, catching a wave in and paddling out again. That’s way too much work. This attachment turned his board into four-wheel drive machine for the water. He could go where ever he wanted and power through any wave. As he made is way around, he must have seen one of his friends and decided to surf by him and give him a “side five”.

 spencer pullen photography venice florida south jetty power up and power through surferPower up, and power through – Spencer Pullen © 2013 – All Rights Reserved

Here is the same surfer powering up a wave. Most of the other folks had to go right to left when they are surfing, this guy didn’t care, he said the hell with it and went up and over! At one point he did get some air when he was further out in the Gulf. I guess at anytime if you get tired, you can pick your feet up and go for a ride!

 spencer pullen photography venice florida south jetty side swiped surferSide Swiped – Spencer Pullen © 2013 – All Rights Reserved

The sun was starting to set and I knew that the gold light was on its way. I knew this was going to help my contrast issue, but was also going to cause havoc on my shutter speed. During this time I ended up cranking up my ISO to 800 to keep my shutter speed at 1/2000. I guess I need to start a donation fund for a 400mm f/2.8! Nevertheless, I ended up getting some decent photos in the “gold hour”.

 spencer pullen photography venice florida south jetty big board surferRidin’ the big board – Spencer Pullen © 2013 – All Rights Reserved

At this point, the sun was about 20 minutes from setting and I was getting in the last shots of the day. As you can see above, the light is really gold and is getting softer. Again, I was impressed as the sun was bouncing off the top of his board and lighting his face.

So there you have it, another successful photo shoot. You just never know what you will run into and have to be prepared to capture some amazing images when they present themselves to you. As I mentioned earlier, this was the day that Hurricane Sandy went by, I was told by one of the surfers that it’s not bad to have a hurricane every now and then. I guess he doesn’t live in New Jersey.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Great Shots, Spencer. FYI at B&H Nikon 400mm f/2.8 only $8,999.

    • Spencer

      That is why I need to start a donation fund. If you are nice, we could get an adapter ring so it would fit on your CANON!

  2. Hi spencer

    Great photos.
    Where do you teach clases becide the VAC ? And are the clases? Let me know when you can
    Thank You
    David Kern

  3. Amazing!


  1. Revisited: South Jetty Surfers, Venice Florida - [...] great time to photograph surfers. I recently wrote about these amazing athletes, here is the link: Revisited: South Jetty…

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