The Best Camera For Surf Photography

I still get asked for these blogs that used to be on my personal site, and as The Plastic Project is essentially a photographic project, they sit nicely and updated here. I’m not sponsored by anyone, we have had some support from all major camera brands in the form of lens loans etc., but I pay full price for every bit of gear I own so this is a real analysis. I’d also say, if you already have a bunch of lenses for one system, probably best to stick with that system so you don’t have to re-invest all over again. The real world difference especially between the top end cameras is very negligible. As the old saying goes as well – The best camera is the one you have with you.

Nikon

I was a real Nikon fan boy for years and they make awesome cameras, so I have had the joy of owning/using all of these.

Money No Object

The Nikon D5 is a shit hot camera, if you have 4k + to burn and Nikon lenses it’s awesome for shooting surf. It ticks along at 12fps and the low light performance is pretty epic. It still isn’t truly revolutionary, it’s an upgrade on the D4s, but Nikon still haven’t captured the massive step up and revolutionary performance they had when they released the D3s. Having said that, the thing all work in anything, so is a very good surf camera, as well as everything else.

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The Nikon D3s, this used to be the best full frame camera for sports in the world, low light performance which is critical for us in Northern Europe is awesome, frame rate ticks along nicely at 9fps, you can happily shoot at ISO 3200 and beyond and it is practically indestructible. If you want a top end pro camera for under £1k this is an awesome option. Couple it with the Nikon 16mm fisheye and a good water housing and you have a good water rig.

Mid Range

I’m talking £800 – £3000 here, what the manufacturers like to call semi pro setups. When I first wrote this Nikon didn’t really have a semi pro camera when it comes to shooting surf/sports which is what we’re all about in ether full frame or APSC, but that has all changed.

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The Nikon D500 is basically a baby D5, it clocks along at 10fps, and has a 200 shot RAW buffer, and it is compatible with every Nikon mount lens. Modern APSC sensors are also so good, there is a question of why you need to go full frame, there are only a few occasions where you need that resolution. Couple that with the extra reach it gives, and the incredible Nikon 10mm f2.8 fisheye and this is an awesome sell camera.

Nikon have also released the Nikon D850, again it ticks along at up to 9fps, and has an incredible 45 megapixel full frame sensor, if you want to be the next Ray Collins, the is not only one of the cameras he uses, but s probably the one for you.

In the rest of the full frame lineup the D610, 750 and 800 are all very good cameras, they do really good in low light, but their frame rates are a little lacking. Six and six and a half frames per second isn’t sluggish, and don’t be ruled by frame rates, but especially when shooting fast action in and out of the water they are important.

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When it comes to the other mid range up to date APSC sized sensor then Nikon went from having the market leader to a very good but slightly restricted offering in the D7000/71000/7200. The image quality and low light ability, as well as the autofocus on these is very good, the frame rate however is a little low at 6fps, and the buffer depth in RAW, is also poor. (that’s the number of shots it takes to fill the memory before the frame rate slows down).

Bargains – Sub £800

Nikon  kill it when it comes to bargain cameras. First the full frame D700, this is an epic camera, with a grip and dedicated battery it will burn along at 8fps for three seconds, has amazing low light ability, decent autofocus and great ergonomics. It’s essentially a non weather sealed baby D3s, and if you hunt around, you can pick one of these up for £450-600, a housing for about the same, and you have a pro rig for very little. Granted the resolution and overall image quality isn’t as good as a modern model, but this thing will spit out double page spreads until its shutter fails, which will be a while.

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If that’s a little pricey, how about the same camera except with a smaller APSC sensor? The Nikon D300 with a booster is a weapon, and I just checked on ebay and there is a tatty one going for £150, in five years at Wavelength this was both mine and Ben Selway’s weapon of choice. I only upgraded two years ago, and at 8fps, with great autofocus it’s a bargain sports camera to get you going in and out of the water. Downside compared to modern cameras is the resolution and ISO performance, I wouldn’t use over ISO 800, and it’s best at 200-400.

Canon

Money no object

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The Canon 1DX2 is currently the best DSLR for sports in the world, no two ways about it. Autofocus, low light performance and frame rate (14fps), coupled with a full frame sensor smoke everything. Whilst Nikon were high fiving that the D3s was the best camera in the world and laughing at Canon’s inability to make a full frame sensor sports cam (the 1d 1/2/3/4, are all APS-H), rather than figuring out they could make the D4/5 amazing, Canon went away and smashed them with first the 1dx and then the mark 2. At this moment it is the best DSLR for sports in the world, and the video is pretty good as well. If you have £4k + to burn and don’t own loads of Nikon lenses get this, it won’t make you a better photographer, but it will allow you to do things easier and more efficiently. In the real world I doubt a D5 is that much different, but having used them both I just feel this has several notches up on everything, hence why I own mark one.

Mid Range

Personally I’m not a fan of the 1d Mk1/2/3 you can pick them up for absolute bargains, as little as a few hundred pounds, but their low light performance is terrible and there are autofocus issues in all of them from my experience. The Mk4 is a different kettle of fish, good autofocus, decent low light ability, fast and decent video, it just sucks it hasn’t got a full frame sensor in it, but is still a good camera and pro level and goes for around £1k new!

Then there is the 5d1V, it’s an awesome camera, decent low light performance, decent autofocus, and a useable 6 fps, make it a solid pro alternative to the 1DX. Being full frame you can utilise the amazing Canon 15mm lens in the water, and it makes for a good all round filming and photographic body. If you want full frame, and don’t have the pockets for a 1DX get this.

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Canon changed the game really by introducing the 7D Mk11, the 7D has issues, but the Mk11 is a pretty sick bit of kit. It is essentially a baby 1DX, 10fps, very advanced autofocus, and critically Canon have sorted out the image quality which plagued the Mk1. It’s still not perfect as the sensors in Sony’s APSC sized cameras outclass it in image quality and low light ability but it is an awesome camera, and having that crop factor when shooting from the beach is a huge advantage over a full frame. This is essentially a pro camera.

Bargains – Sub £800

The 7d MK1, awesome camera, good autofoucs, good frame rate at 8fps, great ergonomics, small in size, but it sucked even at relatively low ISO for image quality. I owned one, we used to cringe when we got files shot over ISO 320 at Wavelength, and this really lets these cameras down in my opinion. Having used one, for about 8 months, I would advise to stay clear. Having said that the video is pretty sick.

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So at a lower end I’d go a Canon 70d/60d – Little slower frame rate wise at 7fps, but the 70 has incredible autofocus, great video and awesome image quality, I really like this camera and would go for it over the 7d MK1 any day.

SONY

A few years ago I knew little about the full frame Sony’s but recently it has been the only thing I have used, up until the MK3’s of the A7 and A7r were released they suffered from an underwhelming frame rate and buffer and truly shocking battery life, which meant for water shooting it was a massive pain in the arse. But all of the has changed.

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The A7111 is probably the best value full frame camera you can purchase, at just under £2k new, it cranks along at 10fps and and the mage quality is as good or better than the top end Canikons in the same price range, and more expensive and its low light performance s borderline magic. I’d say its autofocus is not quite as good as the pro level Canon and Nikons, but it’s not far off.

The A7R3 is even more incredible its megapixel count, 10fps, and battery life make it a high quality dream. It blows away the Nikons and Canon top end cameras for around £1500 less, but just lacks very slightly on autofocus, and out and out speed, but if you’re looking for quality, this your camera. A lot of pros use this, for example legendary Carve Ed Sharpy shoots both stills and vid with it.

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Then there is the A9, a camera that’s borderline witchcraft, incredible image quality in all light, ridiculous autofocus, and it ticks along at 20fps for 220 frames at full quality, which makes it a surf photographers dream. It doesn’t have the battery life of the Canon or Nikon pro series cameras, but it is good enough, and it comes in cheaper than both canon and Nikon flagship models. The downside? Although weather sealed this just does not seem to be as bomb proof as the Nikon D seres or 1d for canon, other than that it is the best camera in the world for shooting acton.

The A6000

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I love this camera, it doesn’t cost much, sub £500 new, it ticks along at 11fps, the image quality is insane, the autofocus whilst not as good at the 7d mk11, 1dx or Nikon D, is still more than respectable. I own one, it’s my back up to a 1DX. I love this camera! If you don’t believe me, check out Burky’s review of it here to see what it can do.

Battery life is a downside and the weather sealing is zero, but for the money it is epic. If you want a little more, skip the A6300 and go the A6500, it has the advantage over the A6000 of better image just and an almost unlimited buffer depth but is three times the price.

Anyway hope this helps, it’s not full reviews just my personal thoughts on cameras, in summary, get what you can afford, it’s better to be shooting with a cheap camera than saving for an expensive one, good photos come from the photographer’s creativity not the price tag.

My recommendation would be though –

Money no object – Canon 1DX2 or If you want to go Mirrorless the Sony A9

Bargain Pro Level Camera – Nikon D700, but the Nikon D3s s n this category now

Best APSC DSLR – Nikon D500

Best Bargain – Sony A6000

What do I shoot with, well I do love the A9, and got one secondhand and it died, which sucked. So as I do a lot of shoots in really crappy conditions I switched back to a Canon 1DX, and it is bomb proof, and you can pick one up now for around £1500.  then have a Sony A6000 as backup.

FUJI/PENTAX/PANASONIC

FUJI

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I originally said I knew Fuji were good, and they have some of the best lenses in the world, but hadn’t had a go on one, well I have now, the blisteringly good XT3. There is not much not to like with this camera, it’s small but has a very well thought out layout, the autofocus is very good, not A9/1DX2 good but heading that way, the image quality even though it is an APSC camera is exceptional and I would say unless you have a high megapixel count cameras, or a pro camera it beats or matches all full frames, and crucially for us it burns along at 20fps, and in a crop mode 30fps. It’s those numbers that got me excited. FPS is not everything, timing is everything, but especially in the water every frame counts. There is but one downside though, the buffer kind of lets this camera down, if it were a little deeper, it would be an incredible camera. You can work with it, at 10fps you get about 50 frames before you hit the buffer shooting RAW, at 20fps which I reckon is the optimum for water stuff you get about 4o frames before hitting the buffer which is doable, and at 30FPS around 30-35. So at 20fps you get a very useable 2 seconds at the highest speed, which if you’re timing is good is a killer for fisheye water stuff. It also excels at JPEGS, which pushes the buffer depths further. Having used and spoken to people who use it, it kills all other mirrorless APSC cameras, and at sub £1500 and fully weather sealed starts to ask the question do you need a full frame pro camera when this is here? Got me thinking…

Pentax, pretty good as well, if you’re invested n their glass, excellent cameras

Panasonc – awesome micro four thirds performance, but more for video than stills.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER PHOTOGRAPHERS TAKE PICTURES< CAMERAS ARE JUST A TOOL, SO WHILST I BANG ON ABOUT THE MERITS OF EXPENSIVE CAMERAS SOME OF THE BEST SHOTS EVER TAKEN ARE ON CAMERAS WHICH COST JUS A FEW POUNDS SO ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT AND DONT GET TOO GEAR OBSESSED

 

If you’d like to come along on a weekend workshop click HERE

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10 Pieces of Marine Litter a long way from their point of origin

10 Family Circle Biscuits

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Who does not like a biscuit assortment at Christmas, I for one go up a wetsuit size purely down to this sort of thing. This box was filled and packaged in Leicestershire, we found it on a beach in The Lofoten Islands, that’s a distance of around 1000 miles give or take. Where it actually entered the ocean, we’ll never know, but it was a long way from its birth place.

9 Fishing Cratehike4

Alliance Fish of Scarborough, pretty straightforward this one, again found in the Lofoten Islands, obviously fell off a fishing vessel at some point in its life and ended up here, in a particularly scenic bay.

8 Carrefour Tag

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We think this is probably a label off some bananas although the item code was a little feint. What is for sure it is from French Supermarket giant Carrefour, again probably ended up overboard from a French fishing boat, and drifted its way to Oldshoremore in western Scotland.

7 Idun Ketchupold9Difficult to say which Scandie country this originated from, it’s prolific in all from Iceland to Denmark, this seems to have been bottled just outside Oslo though, again probably dumped from a fishing boat, and ended up at Oldeshoremore on the west coast of Scotland. That’s a good journey from point of origin.

6 Tesco Motor Oil

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I didn’t stage this. This can of oil sat proudly in the middle of all this crap at Oldshoremore. We’ve traced this can back to origin probably in the Midlands although there are a couple of plants it could have been made. Nearest Tesco to this beach is a solid three hours away.

5 Mussel Farm Buoyeriboll3

Micah Lester hauling this buoy off the shores of Loch Erribol, this was the least travelled of all the stuff we have found, it came from about two miles up the sea loch, we took it back for them

4 Dried Maxeebl Souphike8

Had a hard time tracking this maker of Russian dried foods, soup and jam, not quite sure where it originated from exactly, possibly St Petersburg, possibly a suburb of Moscow. Whichever it ended up on a beach in the Lofoten Islands.

3 The Pen

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United Fisheries Limited, Donegal Road, Killibegs, I’m heading to Ireland soon so I’m going to take it back to them. Most likely it went overboard from a fishing vessel, remarkably it ended up in the Lofoten Islands over a 1000 clicks from its origin, and it still worked.

2 Icelandic Soft Drinktoppur

Found this in a nook just round the corner from Bag Pipe in Scotland, I instantly recognised it as a sugary soft drink from Iceland, produced by Coca Cola, it had come a long way from its point of origin just outside  Reykjavik.

1 The Torch

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Not the most awe inspiring shot I have ever posted, but this torch is only sold in the US of A. We found it covered in weed in Arctic Norway. I found out by tracking the serial number and name, and whilst made in China it is specific to one chain store in the US. So made in China, sold in US, ended up on a beach in Norway.

Will have a lot more tracing of products, and talking to the people who made them to hopefully sway them on their attitude towards plastic and non recyclables. As always if you fancy helping us you can do below.

 

 

Shooting Rubbish

Thanks to everybody who has mailed wanting to become part of the plastic project, I haven’t been able to respond to you all yet (there are about 900 emails), but I will individually. For those of you who don’t know, our primary role has become to provide an open resource of images that any school on the planet can access, and use in classes to show the affects of plastic pollution, on a local level and then global. Whilst clearing this stuff up, and designing it out in the first place is really important, altering young peoples perceptions of plastic, especially those who live far from the sea, is equally as important, so we don’t continue to make these errors in the future.

We started doing this alone, then we brought on other surf and adventure photographers, and now we want to bring in all of you, if you’d like to be a part of this. The most commonly asked question, or the bit we have to reply to on shots is, exactly what we are looking for. This is important, we want to show plastic pollution in the natural environment, so not beach cleans, head over the the 2 minute crew for that, we need to show it as it is, untouched, in the wild, so we can show everyone what is really going wrong. So as a guidance, check out the shots below, and drop me a line if you’d like to be involved – timnunnphoto@gmail.com – I will get back to you, I’m trying to answer 40/50 a day at the moment.

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If you’d like to help in another way we are trying to raise our annual running cost fee of five thousand pounds by the end of the year, we have about two thousand five hundred from sponsors, but there is the chance for our community to get involved with a £2.50 friend donation. We know we all have pressure on finances so we want no more, and it all goes to the educational project, no one works here, we all do bits voluntarily.

 

We also do weekend photography workshops that you can find out about HERE

Waterhousings for surfing

OK I opened a can of worms, thanks for the messages regarding the cameras, they are only meant to be a guide, Fuji are very good, but i simply have very little experience with them, so all Fuji lovers I apologise. The other questions were what is the best Waterhousing, and whats the best all round camera for surf/adventure photography, so I’ll do two more blogs starting with water housings.

After your camera, this is the most expensive item you will probably purchase, especially if you want to get into the water. Things have changed rapidly over the last few years, new companies, old ones getting better, and a general improvement in housing design and cost.

In the past there were really only a couple of different models pros used, and thus the housings were limited in model and manufacturers, but the explosion of mirrorless cameras, and the shrinking of size, has really mixed things up. So this is a manufacturer by manufacturer guide.

Aquatech

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These guys have been around for ages, my first film housings 18 years ago were Aquatech and I have been using them on and off ever since. They are incredibly well designed, and absolutely bomb proof. Some people don’t dig the clips, but I love them, and they were essential back in the days of film. Some people worry that they may pop, but it has never happened to me, or anyone I know. The housings are pretty light, the port system is easy to change and covers everything you would ever need. They also have a very sensible system of allowing people to start off with a control-less base housing, which can be modified to fit Sony/Nikon/Canon/Panasonic and then as you get better you can just convert the housing for more controls until you settle on the long term camera. They are not crazily expensive either. Down-side, the Polyurethane construction is awesome, it is light, and I prefer it to metal housings, however, it does mean the moulds are not as tight to cameras, this doesn’t bother me when it comes to things like a 1DX or a 5d or even the Sony A7 series, but the housings for the A6000 series, and the Fujis are a little bigger than I would like. When compared to a liquideye or Salty housing for the same cameras, they are huge. It’s a minor gripe, but if you own one of these smaller mirrorless cameras one of the advantages is swimming with something tiny.

Salty Surf Housings

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Matt at Salty has really shaken things up with these housings. They are aluminium front loading, with a front plate with a changeable port system. Nothing massively revolutionary, but Matt spotted that cameras were changing much faster than housing manufacturers, and he came up with the solution, so much so that he has more housing models than any other manufacturer and if a camera comes out, he is onto it, and what is more the housing is barely bigger than the camera, which when you want to shoot in decent waves helps a lot when swimming. Some people don’t like the screws, but they work, we don’t have to change film anymore, so it’s all good. But loving these well thought out housings, for me these are leading the way at the moment, especially when it comes to a housing that exactly fits your gear.

Liquideye

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I’ve owned a couple of these housings and got to say they are solid. I had one for a 1d Mkiv and one for a Sony A6000, they are light, robust, well thought out and pretty much bomb proof. Their cable-less pistol grip connections are great/boardering on magic, and I’ve never had any issues with them. They are decent value, and well made, only real gripe is my bank wouldn’t let me transfer the fee to the Indonesian bank where they are based, so when I came to get a new one I couldn’t! Other than that good housings. They have a recessed bolt system which requires a tool, but means there are not wing nuts sticking out.

CMT

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I had looked on with envy at these carbon fibre beauties for years. I hadn’t really seen one in the flesh, then out of the blue I ended up owning one for my Canon 1DX. They are quite simply the lightest housings out there, and when you have a 1DX or something of that size you want to save the weight, I bloody love it, and the overall construction and port system is epic. They have a screw system like the Salties, which works just fine. From what I have seen of the smaller housings they cant get them as small as the salties and liquid eyes for cameras like the A6000, but they are beauties never the less.

SPL

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Back in the day, realistically you either owned an SPL or Aquatech, when I was at Wavelength mag I couldn’t afford an Aquatech, and they didn’t make one for a Nikon D300 with a booster, but SPL did, and it was an absolutely bomb proof water housing, and one that I have shot more with than any other. Can’t really fault them too much, they are aluminium again, well made, good port system and trusted for years.

The above housings I have used a lot, so have detailed knowledge of the next group I have seen/used briefly so do not have an in-depth knowledge of.

Essex – solid housings, their modular slanted design was a good idea, but I always though it was limited when it came to housing models, not sure they are still in existence.

Brother – These are a good budget idea, they fit every camera except the Nikon D and Canon 1 D series, come with interchangeable ports and different cables for different models, they are quite large, but at only around £600 pretty good as a proper budget option.

Box Waterhousings – Never used one in the water, just held one, pretty close to CMT housings, carbon based and seemed really nice.

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Wave Housing Solutions – This Portuguese outfit make some nice housings, I’ve never used one but held one, and they are well made, and from what I hear work really well.

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There are more, in Australia, Hawaii and the States, and there are plenty of smaller makers as well, so check them all out.

There is a final one to mention and that is Meikon. These guys are essentially plastic housings for a variety of cameras, and they come from Hong Kong. When the Sony A6000 came out they were first to market for months with a housing and it only cost £125, and I got to say for long lens work was a pretty OK housing. They are a dive housing company, but have just launched a surf focussed arm for the A6xxx series of cameras and reports are good. They are not as bomb proof as the above manufacturers, but if you only have £150-350 to spend and cant find a second-hand camera housing then these work, and it’s better to be in the water than not.

It’s hard to totally recommend one housing, I love the Aquatechs they will not let you down, but are a little more pricey than most, but you are getting years of R and D in there and a solid backup service.

I really love Salty Surf housings they really have shook things up for me and make epic housings that are the best fit and design for a lot of cameras now, and they are constantly developing and have some sick colour ways. I use one with an A6000, and it is an incredible housing, and I’ll be getting one for an A9 when I can afford it.

The CMT I am using is also amazing, I’ve only used it for a 1DX so I’m not sure not he others, but I love the carbon fibre lightness.

I would recommend any of the above anyway, and if you had the chance to get a liquideye or an SPL, I’d say the same as well. I wouldn’t say there are bad housing manufacturers, and there definitely isn’t a perfect one either, so go for something in your budget and try and match it to a camera that you will be using for a while.

One last bit of advice, try and avoid bulky dive housings, they really are not designed to shoot in the surf.

 

If you’d like to come on a photo workshop you can HERE

or become a friend of the plastic project…

 

 

 

TPP Update

We’ve been a little bit quiet of late, the reason being we’ve been hard at work delivering our educational program, which has now officially reached 2.5 million young people world wide. We now have an incredible resource of images which we are giving away to schools and collages for free, and whilst they have been living on a drop box of late, they will soon all be on this website as well. We’re very proud of this, it’s our own unique angle on the global plastic problem, and the area where we feel we can make a positive difference. Being a voluntary organisation, with no paid staff, and in fact usually just one person running it all means we are prioritising what we can do. So we are winding down our own social media as it takes up huge amount of time, and lets face it there are thousands of instagram accounts about plastic, and focussing on education, and working with partners so they can use the thousands of surf, adventure and plastic shots we have for their own feeds. That way we reach a lot more people and help our friends and sponsors along the way.

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So if you have a company or are an individual who’d lie to become a sponsor and thus gain access to literally thousands of images for your brand/self drop us a line.

Book wise, most have it now and thanks for the epic feedback, those that haven’t or they have gone astray you will have a copy in the next two weeks. If you’d like one, sadly they are now all gone .

Thanks for everyones support as always, plastic in the ocean gets worse every day, so we got to keep working.

Spot Check Northern Iceland

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This is the shot that got me personally really fired up, taken eight years ago now, this is now a pretty famous point, in reality it is very pretty and has drawn a lot of people to Iceland, but it’s a bit fat, and always a little windy so probably not worth the drive. But form a photographers point of view ultra scenic, only thing is, I can’t find a shot of the place without any plastic in it, in fact the whole north coast of Iceland is powered by plastic. Why is this particularly shocking? Because it’s so remote, so out of regular ocean currents that it means more than anything we have saturated our oceans with rubbish.

 

 

 

Spot Check – Lofoten

It sits high in the Norwegian Arctic, an archipelago pointing out towards the North Atlantic, rugged and resolute, and amongst the most spectacular island chains on Earth. It bares the brunt of both North Atlantic and Arctic swell, and is a harsh place to carve out an existence. Yet it is home to some epic surf, a booming fishing industry and it’s location also means it is at the end of the line when it comes to plastic.

The problem that the Lofoten chain has is that is literally the end of the line. The North Atlantic current ends up here, low pressure systems ends up here and there are eve currents coming from northern Russia that end up here. It is a convergence of water, and thus it is a place of incredible beauty covered in rubbish.

Even the remotest beaches are strewn with trash, if you haven’t seen the film North Of The Sun, I suggest you get on Vimeo on demand and watch it, the below cabin is built on one of these remote beaches, made entirely of stuff washed up on it. The guys in the film also removed 3.5 tonnes from the beach as well over a long harsh winter.

It’s an incredible example of one of the world’s remotest coastlines that has been decimated by rubbish, and that rubbish has often travelled thousands of miles to get there. Whilst there we made Cold Reality with director Mike Cunliffe.

 

If you’d like to help us with the project it would be hugely appreciated, you can become a friend or a supporter below, when you do this you get entered for our dram for a new Patagonia wetsuit and surfboard in November as well. It is all a massive help and we couldn’t do it without your help.

We also have some of our books left which you can order below, and they will be delivered in early November.