Being a big wave photographer requires a special combination of skill and talent. You’ve got to stay cool and composed even while staring down the barrel (quite literally) of nature’s most intimidating displays. Maintaining both a creative eye and mastery of camera technique requires experience, dedication and endless hours out the ocean.
Andrew Chisholm is a surf photographer based near Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. When he is not exploring the spectacular coastline and pristine wilderness you can find him out in the line-up at places like Shipsterns Bluff, which is one of the jewels of the big wave surf scene. Andrew’s images capture the raw power of nature and contrast this with rare moments of human bravery.
We caught up with him to talk about life, photography and big wave adventures with his crew.
Hey Andrew, how and where are you today?
Little bit of a quiet day so far. I’m chilling at home in the foothills of Mt. Wellington just outside of Hobart, the wind is howling outside and a fair bit of rain. A whole group of us just went and watched “The Equalizer”, Denzel Washington’s new movie, was pretty rad!
Have you had any good sessions lately?
Up until a few weeks ago we were having a pretty good run of east coast swell. Mostly I was hanging and shooting with Marti Paradisis, either surfing or playing heaps of golf. We had a pretty lucky run of pumping waves recently with hardly anyone about, really clear water and perfect sunny conditions. You really have to spend a huge amount of time driving to get any sort of decent waves here, and when everything comes together there is no better feeling.
Your images of serious waves, notably Shipsterns, have had huge success. How does it feel being out there on those epic days and how do you prepare for shoots when you know it’s going to be on?
Honestly I cant stress how lucky we have been, our group, to be in this generation of exploration. Use of skis to help ride these waves like Shippies and Pedra that we are lucky enough to have in our state. Probably 2 or 3 times a day buoyweather gets checked, it’s an addiction, not buoyweather but the chance of a swell, a session to chase. I love it and sure I could have been successful in getting a normal job, whatever, this is a dream. I just wish we’d get more giant surf! Preparation-wise our group, Mikey Brennan, James and Tyler Holmer-Cross and Marti Paradisis, we are always in contact, sussing out ideas. Should we go, should we not. Usually we organise a boat for the offshore missions and just logistics for that one day mission is pretty tricky. Shooting-wise, just make sure lenses are clean, batteries charged, empty card, pretty standard really. Make sure the lens cap is off!
Beyond the ocean you’ve captured some amazing images of everything from stars to cliffs, forests and sunsets. A real love of nature shines through your work. Tell us the story of your relationship with the nature and how photographing it inspires or motivates you?
Fortunately I do get a fair bit of down time. Plus my fiancee loves bush walking so we get out a little and do some exploring. Tasmania has an amazing array of wilderness, so many tracks lead to stunning places. There is something about here that makes me want more, just try harder, push further, to find that moment when the magic happens. Nearly every mission we do down here is through our amazing scenery and coastline. Narrow tracks are are hidden from above by huge eucalyptus gums only thinning out towards the rocky cliff viewing platform once you get to the coast. Hopefully once you complete your 2 hour walk the surf is pumping, which usually it is!
What is your creative process? Do you have a daily routine or does it change with every project?
My approach would have to be, casual, I always know something will pop up. The images I find the best to capture are spur of the moment. Some of my best work was just a compilation of a quick decision to rush off and snap away. Tasmania has this great natural light and amazing unique wilderness, something about it which brings me back. There is always a moment throughout the day which brings a fantastic image.
Do you take breaks from photography or is your camera part of you? How do you unwind?
I sleep in! The camera is never too far away from me but I do wish I would take more photos. Unwind time is either golf or mountain biking or surf, whatever really. I’m only a small, part-time shooter, my other job is commercial abalone fishing. It’s not a job, I call it an adventure, perhaps that is my unwind.
If you could conjure a dream photo shoot at any time in history who would be there?
Wow, what a tough question so so many possibilities, any moment in time? I can’t answer that. Surf-wise the ultimate would be a trip to a wave here in Tassie, with no wind, perhaps a offshore overnight and a 10 metre swell. Just the lads and a bbq on board with a couple cases of beer to talk complete and utter shit on the way home. That’s what makes me happy.
You are a real inspiration for many creative people out in the world. Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for someone hoping to make a career of a creative passion?
One cannot give up, find something inside you that will drive you to complete your goal, it’s out there and you can find it. I was so lucky with Shipstern to have that place in my backyard, what a gift. Just keep believing you can and one day you will see your goal. If your passionate about something you will be rewarded.