Has a drone reshaped the game of big-wave photography?
Have you seen this photo of smallish Waimea Bay doing the rounds? It was shot a week ago by the North Shore-based photographer Brandon Campbell (aka Laserwolf) and posted on the website Surfline. I saw it and felt a twang and I ain’t felt since the daring Rosy Hodge wore underwear for a Stab shoot three years ago.
Best big-wave photo?
Yeah, I can’t think of anything remotely as filmic, as textured or as spectacularly dramatic. When I asked Laserwolf about it, turned out it was only the second time he’d ever flown a drone (“Call it beginner’s luck,” he says), that he used to think drones were a tool of oppressive governments (“I was convinced it was a government conspiracy to get us used to the idea of them buzzing around all the time before Big Brother really gets in our grill”) and that there’s actually a hierarchy in the sky among the drone operators, something he found out when another photographer’s bird flew under him.
“I’ve put in my time and earned my spot in the hierarchy at Pipeline but what about the air?” he says. “Am I a newbie all over again? Will it be another five years before I’m established and can bark at invasive droners?”
Laser says he got into the drones after seeing the former Surfing magazine gun Corey Wilson’s skill as a pilot.
“Corey Wilson was getting some really cool photos this winter,” he says. “He definitely inspired me to mix it up. A photographer like myself can’t just be posting the same beautiful, blue tube shots all the time on Instagram. Also, a lot of the brands I work with have been asking If I can shoot drone stuff. I think it’s becoming the new standard to have in your arsenal. Full on weapon of mass creation. I broke my hand really bad back in September (Editor’s note: more on that tomoz!) and have to go in for one more surgery so I’m stoked I’ll have something to keep me occupied while I’m out of the water.”
What kinda drone gets you a photo like this? Laser got in close to the entry level with a the DJI Phantom 4 Pro. With a stock 20 meg camera, a few batteries (they last 25 minutes each), a screen and a controller, he spent two-and-a-half gees. A good investment? Yeah, he’s thrilled.
If you look real close at the photo, you can see Mike Ho, Reef McIntosh, Ross Clark Jones, Eden Saul and “the usual Waimea suspects,” says Laser, adding, “I just really like how you can feel the raw and beautiful energy of the ocean. It’s like the image is alive. My friend Casey Decotis, who got me into photography, once told me that a good photographer can bring anything to life through a photo.”
How big is it? This is where the drone angle deceives.
“It wasn’t huge, maybe ten-to-twelve feet, but still plenty of energy,” says Laser.
Not that he’s claiming it deserves to be in the pantheon of greatest big-wave shots. “I’m honored you like it,” he says, “but I think the best big wave photo ever taken was of Sion Milowski by Daniel Russo at one of the outer reefs here in Hawaii. Sion was on a big, vibrant blue gun shaped by rhino chaser extraordinaire Bret Marumoto. The wave looks one hundred foot and Sion is absolutely sending it. I surf that wave a lot but I’ve have never scored it bigger then twenty feet and I don’t think I want to either. I can’t even imagine it any bigger then that. It must have been such an incredible thing to witness in person.”
Laser thinks for a moment.
“Wait, I take that all back,” he says. “The best big-wave photo ever taken was that iconic shot of Greg Noll standing on the beach in front of a pumping Pipeline, shot by John Severson.”