The third in our series of up close profiles of Red Bull Illume judges from around the world is South Africa's Calvin Bradley, photo editor at Zigzag magazine.
With consistent, world-class surf at places like the Garden Route, the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast, J-Bay and Cape Town on their doorsteps, photographers in South Africa are spoilt for choice for awesome surf locations. As the photo editor of the country’s leading surf magazine, Calvin Bradley of course knows where many of the best breaks are, shark-infested or not.
South Africa has over 3,000km of coastline swept by two ocean currents, the warm Mozambique-Agulhas current and the cold Benguela. Calvin’s job is to pick out the best spots during the country's main surf season between March and September and to also commission shoots from around the world. "Photographers are our publication’s lifeblood," says Calvin. "Without the great images we receive from our contributing photographers our magazine would be a lot less interesting."
After studying graphic design and working as a clothes designer for a local surf company in South Africa, Calvin found his way back into photography after moving into the graphic design and publishing industry. "I’ve always loved art and design. Although it was great fun designing clothes, the actual industry did not interest me so much. So I started to work with a graphic design company and in amongst the designing I did hours and hours of desktop publishing work - retouching photos, color corrections, airbrushing."
Calvin’s typical day revolves around checking wave forecasts, contacting photographers and ‘board’ meetings – quite literally. "I usually check the wave forecasts and see which areas of South Africa will be ‘firing.’ Then I call up the photographers in those areas to try and organize some photo shoots for the mag. I also check the webcams often to see if the surf is good and then head out if I can. It’s really important to get as much surf time as possible and mix it up with your readers."
"Our entire coastline is surfable, it just depends what you are looking for. If you just want a quick surf after work then the city beaches are great although you will be sharing your waves. The Wild Coast area is pretty hard to access unless you have a 4x4, but this is where you will find some real gem waves and no crowds. South Africa also has Jeffrey’s Bay, which most surfers regard as having the best right-hand breaking waves in the world."
After starting at Zigzag three years ago and having surfed for eighteen years, Calvin is old enough to have noticed the evolution of surf photography in the digital age. "During the 90s there were so many really tight, closely cropped action shots being shot. It was okay then because that was the style, the fashion, but today the readers want more so the style has changed and the photographers have had to evolve and re-think what they are doing. These days it’s moved onto board-mounted cams and getting the viewer in on the action, or photographers putting themselves into ever more critical positions to capture that really unique photo."
For Calvin, being a good action sports photographer is all about having a passion for the lifestyle. "With action sports photographers, they need to understand and be a part of the action lifestyle and culture. Without that, they won’t know which tricks are the ones worth shooting and their timing would be way off when trying to capture the maneuver. Capture the action too soon and you lose impact, capture it too late and the moment has passed."
"I also feel that people involved with action sports have a lot more creativity and flair than people involved with mainstream sports and therefore the photographers are a lot more creative than the regular photographers. The only similarity is the desire to shoot a masterpiece."
As well as attracting world-class surf championships, Calvin thinks that the surf industry in South Africa is in good shape. "The country doesn’t have the sales figures of huge surfing nations like the USA and Australia. But in comparison with the number of surfers we have in South Africa, we have a thriving surf industry."
Why is he getting involved as a judge? "Competitions like Red Bull Illume are a great way to showcase just what great photographers are out there in this big world of ours. The exciting part about this competition is to see how the photographers are interpreting certain photographic opportunities. Gone are the days of simply capturing the maneuver the athletes are performing, to cut it these days the photographer has to capture the action as well as the mood of the scene of the action."
See the slide-show for photos from Zigzag magazine's senior photographers Greg Ewing, Alan Van Gysen and Louis Wulff.