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Under the Lens: Interview with Surf Photographer Jordan Godley

Meet the avid traveler and excellent surf photographer Jordan Godley who chatted with us about his biggest passion, Surf Photography. Natural, smooth lighting, depth, and good timing is what characterize Jordan's pictures. Read further!

Old Man's on the incoming...

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Thanks a lot for chatting with us today, Jordan. First of all, where did you grow up?

I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney, 2 hours from the beach.My mum used to drive me a few times during the school holidays and for my birthday to the beach. But I didn't get to the beach much as a kid. When I was old enough I used to catch the train then ferry to Manly beach, which usually took around 2 hours one way, or another 2 hour train trip south to Cronulla beach. We used to camp at the beach every school holidays, Easter and Christmas was always spent at the beach. We mainly went down the south coast of New South Wales, Gerringong, Sussex Inlet.

How did you get into surf photography?

I just enjoyed videoing and taking photos of our Surf trips (with a disposable camera) and it just progressed from there. Around 17 years old when we could drive to the beach I started taking pictures, I guess it was at this age also because I had a job and could afford to purchase a disposable camera. I can't really say I was getting amongst big surf when I was younger, but I didn't start shooting waves until the age of 17-ish so by that stage I was pretty comfortable in the ocean and big waves.

By the time I moved to the beach to live (when I was 23). I was fine with any waves. I mainly shoot reefs at home so most of the time once you get used to the break it was ok, not too many bad rips etc.

At which breaks did you start as a surf photographer, do you have any favourites (without spoiling any secret spots)?

I started shooting anywhere we surfed, I didn't have a local beach growing up, but mainly on the south coast of NSW, Australia. Anywhere on the south coast of NSW, there are heaps of amazing waves. My favorites are slabbing reefs, and maybe one beach break. Pretty much all are reefs, I love big slabbing waves and that's what I've had close by in the past 10 years.

Little man - solid wave

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Is it dangerous being a photographer in those conditions?

It can be if you don't understand the ocean or the wave etc. You always end up with scratches and cuts nearly every surf (mainly from getting in and out of the water), but nothing too serious.

What is the biggest appeal about surf photography, and what do you like to shoot?

The feeling I get from capturing special moments in the water, seclusion in the ocean also floating around by myself watching the sun rise or set. What gear do you currently use? I have a Nikon D750 D500, Nikon 70-200 f/4, Sigma 35mm 1.4 art, Nikon 20mm 1.8G Aquatech housing. In what format do you shoot? Do you edit your photos at all (in Lightroom, Photoshop etc.)? I shoot RAW files always and process the images through Lightroom. I've never really used Photoshop, I don't need or want to edit my images that much so I just stick to basic processing through Lightroom.

What camera housings have you used over the years?

I've stuck to Aquatech housings, I love the clip system they use, whereas other housing manufacturers use nuts/bolts etc. which I don't think I could stand to use.

What's your favorite moment out in the surf?

Jumping into the ocean in the dark and watching heavy waves breaking on first light, seeing beautiful colors and how it reflects off the waves trying to capture this magic naturally rather than needing Photoshop saturation etc. (which I hate seeing).

Any specific sessions come to mind?

There are way too many! I've had a lot of good times in the ocean, from my first good image I nailed of the best friend, to my first image I had published, swimming with seals, dolphins etc. Most of the epic sessions I've had are early morning before the sun has come up, just the feeling of walking through the muddy track, knowing it could be pumping, it's freezing cold but you don't care and no one is around its just you and pumping waves. Those are the days I chase and dream about.

Have you had any scary moments?

I've seen a fair few sharks, although never been attacked or bothered by them. I've also been thrown over the falls at a heavy slab when I was still in recovery from knee surgery ha ha, and luckily I ended up ok. Other than that nothing really, just learnt to be in the right spot and constantly swimming to make sure I'm in position.

Wow, what kind of sharks do you see down in Oz? And what happened when you got sucked over the falls?

I'm no shark expert so I'm not too sure what sharks they were, but a few of them have been really big! Going over the falls was OK, it was more I thought I would have twisted my knee again, but the water goes from shallow to deep pretty quick and I've never hit the bottom at this spot so the whole time I was just worried about the knee. It was a reef wave, probably 6ft plus that day, pretty solid and I was sitting wide on my bodyboard shooting with an 85mm prime lens, so it was more of a surprise to get caught by a rogue wave.

Where to from here?

Just continue to focus on taking good quality photos and experimenting in the way I present my work.

Do you have any dream spots you'd love to shoot? What is it about that break that appeals to you?

I have two types of waves I would love to shoot, one, super heavy slabbing waves and two, is waves that involve some adventure to get to and have an epic location and backdrop. I would say Indonesia has some amazingly scenic waves. I was in the Banyak Islands last year and some of the spots there are so beautiful! I guess I'd love to shoot in Tahiti (with no crowds), South Australia has some amazing waves, Lagundri Bay in Nias, Greenbush in the Mentawai islands and Apocalypse on Java.

Where did you travel during your year? Did you visit any epic breaks?

I started off in the Banyak Islands, Indonesia for around 3 months, then I was in Bali (Canggu) for a few months of the year, then I did a few short trips to Java (Batu Karas, Watukarung), Sumbawa (Supersuck), Rote Island. All these places had amazing waves! And towards the end of the year I flew from Bali to England, France then Portugal where I got some amazing waves in Ericiera, Peniche and now I've just arrived in Morocco... then I'll head to the Canary Islands.

What are your sources of revenue?

Currently I'm living off savings. I had a few photography jobs early last year that allowed me to travel most of the year but now I'm down to savings from my old job. I also worked as a photographer on a surf boat for a few months. Then I've made some money through private sales of images and private shooting sessions and having a few images run on websites. I don't make much money at all, I had saved up a fair amount of money before leaving home so I didn't need to chase money with my photography, and I just wanted to focus on taking good photographs of good waves. BUT I will need to try make some money soon otherwise I will run out, ha ha.

Tell us more about selling images to regular everyday surfers.

When I'm out shooting in the water people will approach me asking if they can purchase the images or view what images I have of them. I usually would direct them to my website and send them a link to a gallery of the images from that session, then sometimes they will ask to buy the images and sometimes they will just screenshot the image and use it without my permission... which is not cool at all.

Any advice for the young/inexperienced?

Read your camera manual and understand your camera inside and out, refer to YouTube tutorials on how to get the best images out of your camera. Ask questions to photographers whose work you like. Analyze your own photos and understand what you like and dislike about them. Be open to criticism and comments regarding your photography, it helps you grow. With Surf photography it's also handy to understand and study surf conditions and what surf spots work in what conditions etc. Also preparation is key for me, I prepare all my gear the night before I shoot, then when I wake up at some crazy early hour I don't need to think and hence I won't forget anything (whether it be contacts, battery, memory card, wax, flippers, wetsuit etc.).

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A @craig__anderson look alike 🧐 #samesamebutdifferent #switchfoot

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Connect with Jordan here:

Jordan Godley: http://www.jordangodleyphoto.com/
@jordangodleyphoto (Instagram)