What made you fall in love with surf photography?
I injured my knee surfing (1999), and instead of just sitting in the lounge, I picked up a camera and started taking photos of my mates surfing. My passion for taking photos grew from there. The learning curve was steep at the start, being self-taught and using film, but I gradually progressed the camera skills. I was also lucky enough to have 20 years of ocean experience to call upon, which is the most complex skill to learn regarding surf photography.
What’s your favorite thing about photographing surfers and the sea?
I love the ocean's connection with people from all walks of life; it's a real sense of community and coming from a surfing background and working in that type of environment feels surreal. The most complex decisions I have made have been effortless when surrounded by saltwater; it's the perfect office.
What are some challenges you face when photographing surfers?
The ocean itself is the biggest challenge when it comes to taking photos from within the water. The ocean forces me to question my fears and limitations; is it too big for my skill level, am I mentally/physically prepared, what are the risks? All the work/experience required to take these types of images happen many years prior.
Can you share a memory about your career that really stands out for you?
The way I look at my photography completely changed ten years ago, all from an accident. Taking my eyes off the sea resulted in a broken leg in two places, a dislocated knee and a seven-hour drive back to my local hospital.
While waiting for the surgeon I picked up a leading photography magazine, "Top ten wildlife images of the year". Each photographer was interviewed on the backstory behind their images and how they went about capturing their award-winning photos.
The number one image, according to the judges, was a photo of a Bengal Tiger dispersing water as it majestically left the pond. The photographer had captured it with a slow shutter, creating a perfect ring of water around the tiger while keeping the big cat in focus. Like many of the other photos, it was breathtaking.
Interested in finding out more, I began to read the backstory of the image and instantly felt disappointed, and somewhat offended, for every other photographer in that competition. How do you award first place to a wildlife photo that was captured in a zoo?
That article changed the way I look at and contemplate my photography – in reality, 99% of my work is purely just moments in time. Right place at the right time, so to speak, they lacked a story behind the image, no other adversity or skills beyond the camera and pressing the trigger.
What’s your goal as a surf photographer?
I want to experience all the elements of the ocean and start to push my boundaries. "How did you do that" and "what position are you in to take the image" are essential questions and factors far more critical than the image itself.
What impact did Red Bull Illume have on your career?
Red Bull Illume is pure inspiration for me. I look at the images and imagine the photographer's journey to capture each image; the more adversity I imagine, the greater the image becomes in my mind.
Is there something photography related you’d like to try for the first time?
I have been injured for close to 18 months now, but before that, I was training and focusing on a couple of surf spots around the world that I wanted to shoot up close and personal with different angles, which has now been put on hold. Those types of images require peak performance, and I am far from that. I will have a good look within throughout the rest of the year, set goals, and come back better than ever when the time is right.
Is there a location you would like to visit for a shooting one day?
I would love to hang out in Ireland for an extended period of time. The country looks impressive and knowing quite a few Irish people; it would be a great time.
Do you have any tips for aspiring/fellow photographers?
I love this quote: Life is about the journey, not the destination.
Be patient, learn your craft and don't get caught up in the perception of the photography world; it's not all bells and whistles, it can be a challenging journey but certainly, one worth travelling.
You can find more of Russell’s work on his website and on Instagram @russellordphoto.