Ocean Photography: An Interview with Paul Grossman

I first saw Paul Grossman’s captivating photographs around two years ago. While the genre of ocean photography has grown exponentially in recent times, there’s a few practitioners who stand out from the crowd. Paul is one of those people and his images are breathtaking.

The Art of Mind-Surfing

Mind-surfing involves a person imagining they are riding an empty wave. You will often find surfers watching the ocean, oblivious to the conversation their friends or partners are attempting to engage them with. Commonly, they are visualising the capacity of the breaking waves to be ridden successfully and which moves could be performed.

Mind-surfing is a form of meditation and can definitely be described as a surfers “happy place.”

When I look at Paul Grossman’s ocean photography, I find myself mind-surfing the wave he has so beautifully captured. Is the swell rideable? Where could I realistically position myself? What would the outcome be?

When you have one of Paul’s photographs hanging on your wall I guarantee you spend more time staring mesmerically at the image, rather than the TV.

Ocean Photography

Who is Paul Grossman?

Paul is such a genuinely likeable and unassuming person. The chances are that you have seen an example of Paul Grossman’s ocean photography on your Instagram feed but didn’t know too much about the person behind the lens. That is due in part to the fact that Paul remains grounded and humble, despite his work now being held in truly high regard.

Paul grew up with an affinity for the ocean. The progression from surfer to ocean photographer was a natural transition and he utilised his experience of timing the breaking waves for successful rides, into timing stunning photographs.

A Stunning Piece of Wall Art for Christmas

Surfers can be notoriously difficult to buy gifts for. With Christmas just around the corner, there is no better time to contact Paul and chat about how you could give the surfer in your life the best present they’ve ever had.

Ocean Photography

An Interview with Paul Grossman

It is with great pleasure that Surfd presents an interview with Ocean Photographer Extraordinaire – Paul Grossman.

Hi Paul, it’s so great to get an opportunity to chat with you. Here at Surfd.com we are huge fans of your breath-taking images. Could you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and how you originally took up photography? 

I still don’t really see myself as a full-on ‘Ocean Photographer’, I think of myself more, as a bloke who’s got a camera and likes to shoot pictures of the Ocean.

Thank you for getting in touch Nathan, it’s much appreciated. 

Well, to start off with I didn’t really have a plan to be a photographer that sold prints or a photographer that people had an interest in what I photographed, photography was and still is a hobby that satisfies my creative and active needs. 

As a young fellow in my teens I used to sit out in the surf with my mates egging each other on to get deeper or surf bigger, gnarlier waves, I watched the waves pitch then launch masses of ocean liquid into the air, eventually crashing into knee-deep water, I used to wish I had a camera to capture the moments, at the time there weren’t too many people shooting from the water, (SLR cameras were expensive, water housings if you could find one were even more expensive and digital cameras weren’t even a thing…. all film). I guess I forgot about photography after that. 

Ocean Photography

Fast forward a lot of years, I started to work with a mate who was a photographer for the St George/Illawarra Dragons (NRL Rugby League Team), I used to talk to him often about photography and to be honest I thought ‘How Hard Can It Be?’ … buy a good camera, point the camera at a subject, press the button 

Too Easy … Yeah Right. 

I convinced my wife that I needed/wanted a camera to capture our family moments and experiences, so I went out and brought a Canon 60d with kit lenses. 

I tried to justify the purchase of the camera by photographing family moments, which was nice (and it’s still enjoyable) but it wasn’t satisfying my creative side, I shot sports (Football and Soccer) with my mate (The St George/Illawarra Dragons Photographer), I enjoyed it, it was fun, plenty of action, but once again it wasn’t doing it for me creatively, I shot Landscapes – the creativity was there but not the action. 

About a year after purchasing the camera we went on a family holiday to Queensland – Snapper Rocks, while we were there the Quicksilver Pro was on so I started to shoot the surfing with the rest of the 1000 Photographers, I really enjoyed it, but every shot was the same as almost every other surf photographer that was shooting during the Quicksilver Pro. 

One morning during the Quicksilver Pro I rocked up at the beach on first light to shoot the Pro Surfers free surfing before the days competition started, while watching the pros I noticed an explosion in the ocean, it was backwash from the swell hitting the rocks and rebounding into the in-coming swell … ‘Ocean Chaos’ massive Flares and Liquid Curtains…. add in the filtered morning light…. BANG … a light bulb moment… there it was, the moment when all the elements came together and sent me down the path of ‘Ocean Photography’. 

Ocean Photography

My daughter hooked me up on Instagram and I started posting a few photos and started to search ‘Ocean Photography’ (Unbelievably It had its own genre) it was amazing to see new ideas and styles. 

I look back on my teenage self, sitting out in the ocean with my mates watching the waves break and think ‘What if I had got into this ‘Ocean Photography’ thing earlier in life??? 

I’ve purposely left a lot of my early images on Instagram as a reminder of how it all started. 

I still don’t really see myself as a full-on ‘Ocean Photographer’, I think of myself more, as a bloke who’s got a camera and likes to shoot pictures of the Ocean. 

I have friends who specialise in landscape photography. They can spend weeks planning a certain shot, seeking perfect conditions. Do you approach your wave photography with a similar mindset, or does the ocean require a more “from the hip” method? 

Did they see those waves collide and morph into some wild, mutant liquid beast? 

When I’ve checked the swell forecast I try to anticipate what the weather/light conditions are going to be like, I’ve then usually got an idea of what type of image I want to achieve, I’ve got to admit though a lot of the time one or some of the elements don’t line up, so then I just have to adapt to the conditions. 

There have been many times when I’ve gone out with a particular shot in mind and I’ve really focused on getting that shot even when the conditions weren’t quite right for the particular idea, I usually get out of the water after the session frustrated knowing that I missed a lot of other awesome opportunities, I now try to go out to each session with an open mind and shoot what is in front of me, I don’t think you can force the shot, when the time is right the opportunities will arise. 

My main goal when heading out into the ocean is to shoot an image of the ocean that every one who has been to the ocean has probably seen, but did they really take any notice of what they saw? Did they see that little splash just before the wave broke? Did they notice the froth spray up in the air as the wave hit the dry sand bank on the beach? Did they see the light reflect off that little ripple on the ocean surface? Did they see those waves collide and morph into some wild, mutant liquid beast? 

Ocean Photography

We love how immersive your images are. Is being in the water important for you when capturing your shots, or do you feel the same connection to the breaking wave shooting from land?  

A bad session shooting from the water is still an enjoyable session for me, it just seems to make me feel more alive… Almost therapeutic. 

Shooting from the water is definitely my preference. 

A bad session shooting from the water is still an enjoyable session for me, it just seems to make me feel more alive… Almost therapeutic. 

Before I brought my water housing, I felt limited to what I could shoot, it was either from the rocks or beach, I felt as though a lot of my images started to look similar with the same angles and the horizon in the back ground, it was definitely a progression to shoot from the water. 

Ocean Photography

I like the different angles and moods that can be achieved by shooting from the water – Horizontal along the ocean surface, picking up little flickers of light or along the face of the wave, picking up little ripples that make interesting focal points or up towards the top of the wave – to make the wave look aggressive or placid depending on the light and conditions. 

As surfers we look at your stunning work and cannot help but mind-surf the waves visualising ourselves riding them. What is it that makes an individual frame jump out at you as a keeper?  

What made me pick those ‘Diamonds in the Rough’??? I don’t know? 

With ‘High Frame Rates’ comes either a lot of amazing images or a lot of images that are thrown into the trash? 

That’s an interesting question, I’ve never really thought about what makes an image a ‘Keeper’ or not. 

But what makes the shot a ‘Keeper’? I’m sitting here looking at the question and I still don’t know? 

Is it the light? 

Is the mood? 

Is it the shapes? 

Is it the detail? 

Is it the sharpness of the image? 

Is it the focus point? 

Is it the light flickering off the ocean ripples? 

Is it the colours? 

Is all of the above? 

I think it’s a combination of all of the above elements in some way shape or form combining in their own little way. 

Ocean Photography

There’s always the image, that I know straight away is going to be a ‘Keeper’, the second the Shutter Button pressed you just know it going to be a good shot, but as I scroll through the images on the computer there’s always a shot or two, that for some reason or another just catches your eye; the ‘Diamonds in the Rough’, with a bit of editing they end up being the pick of the bunch. 

What made me pick those ‘Diamonds in the Rough’??? I don’t know? 

It’s just something that catches the eye as I’m scrolling through the gallery. 

There are a lot of images that do not make it off the computer screen, but every now and then I’ll go through my old files for a bit of a clean up and I’ll find a few images that at the time didn’t make the cut and now all of a sudden I’m stoked with them, maybe I was looking at the images previously with different moods or thoughts and ideas. 

So, I guess I still don’t know what makes an image worth keeping or not. But what I do know is that everybody sees an image differently, I’ll show my wife and kids finished images and I’ll end up with several different critiques about the images… good and bad…. 

Who are your biggest influences?  

the first images that I saw that blew my mind were from Clark Little – his images were unbelievable and crazy. 

When I first purchased my camera and started to think about shooting the ocean, my daughters got me on Instagram and I started to search for ‘Ocean Photography’ (as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t know it was a genre), the first images that I saw that blew my mind were from Clark Little – his images were unbelievable and crazy. 

As I searched more, I found a few Photographers that were local to where I live (Warren Keelan, Ray Collins, Lloyd Meudell, Dylan Hannah and Seb Diaz) those Photographers gave me a good vision of what was possible when shooting the Ocean. 

Ocean Photography

Warren Keelan (my biggest influence) – the way he captures the ocean and light is perfect, powerful and awesome…. Inspirational, not only just massively awesome shore breaks, but varying images of ‘Ocean Scapes’ massive ugly bombs of perfect clarity and colour that show the beauty in the ugliness to below the water ‘Vortex’ images. 

I met Warren and started to shoot with him, an absolute gentleman and friend who offered so much advice and assistance. 

I later met Dylan Hannah and Seb Diaz, we all met up regularly through 2020 (Due to Covid, not working) and shoot together, pushing each other to shoot more intensely and develop our work. 

The surf photographers I have worked with over the years tend to be Canon guys, Nikon guys, or more recently Sony guys. What sort of kit are you using and how important is your equipment in the pursuit of incredible photographs?  

I shoot with a Canon 7D mark2 body which gives a high frame rate with either a 35mm or 70-200mm lens depending on the conditions or what kind of image I might be trying to achieve. 

When I’m shooting in the ocean, I use an Aquatech Housing which gives me all the control of the Camera needed.   

I guess in time I’d like to upgrade all my equipment, but the question is whether to go with the new Mirrorless range of cameras or stay with the Digital SLR cameras that I’m comfortable with. 

Ocean Photography

The equipment I use is very important to how I shoot and what I want to shoot, at the end of the day you can have the best camera equipment in the world, but what separates the Good Photographers from the Great Photographers??? I’ve seen images from photographers that were shooting film in the Ocean in the 80’s and 90’s (Before the time of Digital Cameras) and they have taken some awesome images – a time when photography was much more of an art before the photo was taken (to ensure the light and subject was right) as opposed to digital photography where it is possible to create a great image after the image is taken in post editing. 

Don’t get me wrong but I’m much happier to create images with digital photography then I would have been with film (definitely a greater challenge).      

Is there one of your images, or perhaps a sequence of images that you consider your all-time favourite? 

I don’t think I have a particular favourite image or sequence, each image or sequence has its own story or achievement – I do have a lot images  and sequences I like to look at and stand out more than others for one reason or another (the conditions of the day, putting myself in a position that I normally wouldn’t put myself in). 

Ocean Photography

I think when I look at most of my images, I see various things that I would like to improve on the next time I shoot that location again, maybe it is getting in closer the peak or shoot wider to get the whole landscape in to the frame, different shutter speed or use a different focal point, I guess it’s a never-ending form of evolution and improvement.   

Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. Just finally, where can our readers find out more about your work and potentially get one of your magnificent images hanging on their wall?  

Currently the only way people can contact me to purchase images is through Instagram and Facebook paul_grossmann_images’ – my email details are in the bio – unfortunately, I do not have a website as yet (work in progress). 

For more examples of stunning ocean based photography check out our 30 of the Best Surf Photographers on Instagram.