Imagine starting your work day at a beach every morning. The ocean is your office. Your work hours depend on whether or not it's sunny outside. Your colleagues are surfers and your only real responsibility is to chase waves. You're headquartered in Hawaii, but every now and again you get sent out to Tahiti or Bali for business trips.
This is the life of Laserwolf, a water photographer.
The 28 year old has a more traditional name, but he doesn't like revealing it. The mysterious moniker works well for his freelance photography business, which is based on the idyllic and vicious North Shore of Oahu. His work has been featured in Surfing Magazine, Surfline, Stab Magazine, Hawaii's Freesurf and Eastern Surf Magazine.
If you ask him how he got the pseudonym, he might tell you he was raised by laser-shooting wolves -- although his answer, he admits, really depends on his mood.
Above photo courtesy of Jaredd Bell.
Stepping into the world of surf photography is no easy feat, especially in a town that equates itself to the Hollywood of the surfing industry. The North Shore's bone rattling waves and jagged, shallow reef are obvious obstacles, but the unspoken pecking order of photographers is a less apparent hurdle.
The Banzai Pipeline, for example, is one of the world's most photographed and challenging waves. "You can't just swim out to Pipeline and start shooting pictures," Laserwolf told Huffington Post. "You have to wait your turn and give priority to the veteran [photographers] who have been shooting there for years."
"I call this one beginner's luck because I nailed it my first time shooting out at Pipeline," Laserwolf said of the photograph above.
On a good day at Pipeline, dozens of surfers scramble over each other to catch a wave, while surf photographers scramble to get a shot of the day's best ride. Beginner photographers and hobbyists, according to Laserwolf, are at the bottom of the pecking order. If you try to cross the invisible boundary, a warning bark from one of the higher ups will put you back in your place.
"For the most part, everyone knows the order and respects it," Laserwolf said. "You just have to figure out how you're going to position yourself."
Sometimes, finding the right angle for the perfect shot means positioning yourself in dangerous sections of the wave. The photo above is an example of a unique, albeit risky, photo op Laserwolf discovered while shooting in Tahiti.
"This is probably my favorite photo that I've shot," he said. "I'm up in the lip of the wave looking down on the surfer inside the barrel. I don't know how I didn't get sucked over."
Consider the angle of the photo above. Laserwolf captured this photo just as the surfer swipes by and the wave closes up. "This is a dangerous place to be," he points out. "The surfer is much closer than he appears and the lip of that wave is about to come crashing down on me."
During the winter season on the North Shore, waves reach up to 25 and 30 feet, making it both dangerous and difficult to both tread water and successfully point a camera.
"This is something cool that people never get to see," Laserwolf says, pointing out the rope-like tubes in the photo above. "Those are little tornadoes that run along the back of a wave. When one of these grabs a hold of you, there is no escaping it. You will be sucked over and slammed to the bottom of the sand."
Above photo courtesy of Damea Doresy.
Above photo courtesy of Damea Doresy.
Weather is one of the most challenging details of water photography, according to Laserwolf. All of the elements need to line up for an ideal day of shooting. Wind, lighting, swell direction, and the size of the surf combined can either make or break a photo shoot.
Every morning, Laserwolf checks the surf conditions to evaluate which equipment to bring out. If the waves are big and barreling into hollow tubes, he uses a fisheye lens to get close into the wave while still getting a wide angle. Smaller days call for a longer lens.
When all of the elements work in his favor, Laserwolf captures incredible moments.
"I got up really early to shoot the sunrise this morning," he said. "The sky was on fire with all sorts of reds, pinks and oranges."
"This is Gavin Beschen. He’s my favorite surfer to shoot. He has tons of style, which makes my job really easy."
Still early in his career, Laserwolf admits that water and surf photography is just enough to pay his bills. As a freelancer, he shoots for free and hopes publications will accept -- and pay for -- his work. "It's full on starving artist vibes," he said.
He aspires to be like established photographers Jim Russi, Brent Bielman and Zak Noyle, and hopes to one day land a job as a staff photographer for a magazine.
But for now?
"I'm grateful to just be in the ocean," he says. "It's where I'm most comfortable, so to be able to call it my office really is a blessing."