North Shore surf and landscape photographer Sean Davey has evolved with an everchanging industry, building a body of work that contains some of surfing’s most stunning imagery. He has traveled the globe and captured some unforgettable moments in surf history, and now maintains an impressive social media presence, giving the globe the gift of the North Shore through beautiful photographs regularly shared on his Facebook page. Sean took some time to do a short interview with me, and give us some insight into what has shaped him as a photographer and where he is now. Check it out below.
Q: How long have you been into photography? (What inspired you to start and when?)
I’ve been shooting photos since I first picked up a Kodak Instamatic back in 1977, Oct 20th. I was inspired to photograph a small wave at the beach where I lived. I took just the one photo at the time and it was enough to inspire me to keep shooting.
Q: What was the first camera you bought yourself? Do you still have it?
The first camera that I bought myself was a Praktica L with a 50mm lens. A poorly made Russian camera that actually fell to pieces. I threw it away after the film crank handle fell off and I was no longer able to advance the film in the camera. I wore it out.
Q: How has the industry changed from the time you got started with your work to now?
That has been a major thing actually. As you would probably know already the world financial crisis destroyed so many photographic markets. I saw it coming for a few years and had already changed my business so that I was submitting more imagery to the stock libraries, and that worked really well for the first year after Bush, but then every other photog who lost their gig did the same thing and flooded the stock libraries to the point where many of them stopped accepting subs for a while till they got their head around the problem. I then moved away from stock and…started selling prints and canvas and that’s what I’m still doing, although it does seem to be harder with more and more others doing the same thing. There are very few names left in the game that were the go to guys before the world financial crisis. The upside is technology has handed us a bunch of new tools to work with. So I guess it’s a matter of evolving where you can to stay operational. Social media has actually been a big part of that for me.
Q: Do you surf? If so, what is your home break?
I don’t surf so much anymore, but still swim and bodysurf all the time, usually with a camera in my hand. My favourite is Pupukea Sandbar, just to the east of Pipeline, on the North Shore.
Q: When did you decide to make surf photography your career, and how did you make it happen?
Right from the moment that I took that first picture, I knew I wanted to be a photographer and my passion was fueled by all the surf magazines. I wanted to be able to shoot pictures as well as all those guys and so supported my passion by working in professional color labs. This was a good thing because it taught me so much about film and processing. It gave me a big edge on my competition. Meanwhile, while I was working in these color labs, I was still shooting all I could and submitting it to surf magazines.
Q: Tell me about a photo you will never forget taking. Who was it of, where was it taken, what makes it remarkable?
I have so many images like that actually, but I guess one stands out simply because I don’t think I could shoot it again, no matter how much money or planning went into it. I photographed North Shore surfer Flynn Novak performing an aerial maneuver right in front of a solar eclipse. Magazines freaked on it.
Q: What would be the “Shot of a Lifetime” for you?
I really couldn’t say. I see new ways to shoot all the time. What would be that shot yesterday, would be a completely different shot tomorrow.
Q: What are three things that make your job amazing?
The beach is a fantastic place to work one’s craft.
I love to create different looking imagery. That’s what motivates me the most.
Just being in and around the ocean on a regular basis is the best life therapy there is, especially when it’s as beautiful as it is here on the North Shore.
Q: How about three things that make your job difficult?
Income is very inconsistent.
Because the surf industry is so cheap at the way they do things, I see a lot of very, very talented lensmen beingpushed aside to allow for younger and most of the time not very talented shooters, who do it for cheap or even free.
There are a lot of ways to get hurt swimming with a camera in big surf. Not to mention your camera gear also takes a beating.
Q: What is your favorite WCT stop and why?
I guess the Pipe Masters is the best, but ironically I don’t shoot it anymore because there’s no living to be made from it. And with all the traffic here on the North Shore, it’s best to be avoided usually.
Q: Who inspires you?
Anyone who is making it on their own and especially those who are original and don’t simply copy others. Those are the most inspiring individuals. Back when I was still coming up through the ranks, it was photographers like Max Dupain, Warren Bolster and Woody Woodworth, to name a few.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?
Advice would be, don’t commit yourself to being a surf shooter if you want a career as so very few make it that far. Certainly you’ll need to be very passionate about taking pictures. That’s really how I did it. I was just passionate about it and so it just happened for me as a consequence.