Kelly Slater at Rincon

Meet Kyle Sparks, Photographer

Kyle is a passionate and talented photographer from Ventura, California. We managed to catch up with him for a quick chat.

How are you Kyle? Keeping busy?

I am doing well, as always lots going on. The surf is really small today where I live in Ventura, California so I am going to be in the office all day. The act of creating new images only makes up about 10 percent of my job, the other 90 is a mix of traveling, editing images, researching projects, meetings with clients, answering emails, and other miscellaneous office operations. Today is going to be one of those days where I get caught up on all of the other aspects of my business.

Silver Strand
Silver Strand

Have you had any good waves lately?

Last Thursday a new swell came in and the surf was pumping! Most spots were packed due to the Thanksgiving holiday but my friends and I scored one of my favorite waves in town with only a few other guys out. The wave is a reef/point mix, it starts off with a relatively mellow drop then rolls in and hits the shallow inside sections and makes a nice almond shaped barrel. I was planning on photographing the session but a massive fog bank came in making for poor lighting conditions. During the two-hour session I only made a few waves but came up laughing every time on the ones I didn’t make. For me that’s is what surfing is all about, just having fun with it. I know that is a bit cliché but if you’re surfing to prove something you might want to look into another sport sc-shortcode-cleaner-clean-content-end–>.

Let’s talk photography. Where do you do most of your work and what are the conditions generally like?

Most of my surfing work is created in either Ventura or Los Angeles County with the occasional trip to Mexico. Between Ventura and Los Angles County there are several different kinds of waves, everything from hollow beach breaks to world-class point breaks. I really enjoy shooting photos from the water, which around town hovers somewhere between the low 50’s to the upper 60’s on the hottest summer days. Because the water is on the cooler side a nice warm wetsuit with a hood is a must for surf photography if you plan on shooting from the water. I started using a Patagonia R4, a suit built for much colder water but it allows me to stay out for as long as I would like to because I just don’t get cold in it. The conditions in the fall and winter typically feature offshore winds with a northwest swell ranging from about waist high to slightly overhead. The beach breaks around town are shorter more powerful barrels and the points are longer more down the line type waves. During the spring and summer the points turn off and some of the beach breaks in Malibu get really good. They are best on short period combo swells which are rare, but when that happens it makes for some of my favorite shooting conditions. The big issue with the summer is the fog, which is generally not the best light for photos.

Shooting in Mexico is one of my favorite things to do. I love the feeling I get when I see everyone in the lineup starching for the horizon and I am just sitting in the impact zone waiting for a massive wall of water to detonate right in front of me. It’s a big rush. I have been worked several times down in Mexico, but I love it and would go back tomorrow if a trip came up.


What’s your favourite piece of kit?

My two favorite pieces of gear are my Canon 16-35mm 2.8L and my Canon 70-200mm 2.8L lens. Eighty percent of my portfolio has been shot on these two lenses and I wont leave for a shoot with out them. I feel really comfortable with these two lenses and I know that if I have them with me I will be able to produce images for my clients. I find myself telling new photographers to invest in nice glass, not cameras because cameras get replaced every few years and good glass never goes out of style sc-shortcode-cleaner-clean-content-end–>.

Favourite photographers in the surfing world?

My favorite surfing photographers in no particular are David Puu, Chris Burkard, Brian Bielmann, Todd Glaser, Dustin Humphrey, and Chris Straley. These guys are on at the top of their game creating the most unique imagery. I love seeing their work because it just keeps getting better and better.

Besides surfing do you enjoy or work in any other forms of photography?

In addition to documenting surfing I spend a lot of time shooting rock climbing. The lifestyle is very similar between the two sports, traveling around with friends, exploring new areas, pushing yourself mentally and physically. From a photographic standpoint shooting rock climbing is much more involved. I have several bags of gear in my garage that I bring out for every climbing shoot because each area is slightly different and requires a different system that I would need to rig up. Climbing as a sport is much slower of a spot than surfing is so I can really plan out exactly how I want an image to look long before I even get to the cliff. With surfing this are much simpler, wetsuit, swim fins, and my water housing. I also spend a lot of my time shooting portraits of different athletes in a wide range of outdoor spots. A good portrait can really bring a story of a person or place together and capturing that moment is something I strive for every time I photograph someone.

Many people imagine being a surf photographer as a dream job. What are your favourite aspects and what are the challenges?

My favorite moments are being in the water when the sun is just coming up or setting for the day. I have seen countless sunrises and sunsets from the water and still to this day I have a smile on my face every time I able to create new images during this time of day. Another aspect that I really enjoy is sitting down with a surfer before a session and talking about what kind of image we want to create that day. When we nail a preconceived shot it’s a job well done. The challenges are just dealing with the ocean because as we know there is no controlling that. For example if I wanted to shoot someone doing big turns one day but the surf does not offer that we have to adjust and try for something else.

Pier Jump
Pier Jump

If you could conjure up a dream surf session who would be out there, what’s the location… and where would you be?

I have a trip on the back burner that would fall under the dream session category. I want to go on an outrigger canoe powered surf trip through Lau Islands, which are located in Southeastern Fiji. The Lau Island chain is relatively uninhabited and unexplored and has loads of surf potential. This would not be a five-start surf trip so who ever ended up coming would have to have their act dialed. The Malloy Brothers, Jeff Johnson, Tim Curran and the guys I go to Mexico with would all fit right in. Our goal of the trip would be to explore the surfing possibilities within these islands in hopes that we come across a desolate section of reef with waves and nobody around for miles in any direction. I would want to spend the whole time shooting photos of every aspect of the trip from spear fishing, camping on the islands, and of course surfing. I realize that heading out into the great unknown in search of surf will generally not yield epic waves. There are indeed many factors working against us and the chances of finding ride able surf are marginal. However, in today’s day when someone can check a surf report for a set of islands, book a flight and rally a crew all from a mobile phone, it will be an exciting journey to roll the dice and break away from the pack in hopes that we stumble across peeling lines without anybody else in the lineup. Even if we never come across waves on this trip, it will not matter. . I want to document a raw adventure, not another surf trip with guaranteed waves. The exploration of these islands will provide the perfect environment for this type adventure.

How can people buy your work or find out more?

My images are for sale through my stock agency Aurora Photos and you can view my entire portfolio and find more about my photography and me at