Monday, April 15, 2013


by Jamie Goodsell
All images © Todd Glaser
website •

Surf photography is something I’ve always respected and enjoyed. It’s hard not to get completely awestruck when picking up a copy of Surfer Magazine. The photographers that grace those pages put themselves in really extreme situations for the sake of getting a great image. Todd Glaser is a staff photographer at Surfer Magazine and if you’ve seen any surfing photos in the past couple of years, you can bet some of them have been his. He gets to be out in the water and photograph some of the greatest athletes and human beings on planet Earth. I was lucky enough to get some of Todd’s time and ask him some questions. 


Where are you from originally?
San Diego, California.

Who influenced you to start taking photographs and what is your first memory of picking up a camera?

My dad was always taking photos of my sister and I when we were younger, so I would play around with his cameras as a kid. I would take it with me everywhere we went. 

Where did you go to school?

I went to the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara and graduated after three years with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Commercial Advertising. 

Who are three of your biggest photographic influences?

That's a hard one. I admire a lot of people's work but if I had to choose...

3 in no order:

Anton Corbijn- I'm kind of obsessed with his work. It's so natural yet he always shoots his subjects in a way that shows the viewer something they may not know about them. Hasselblad Master. 

Scott Aichner- In my opinion the images he captures in the water with a wide-angle are the best out there. 

Patrick Trefz- He mixes the fine art world and incorporates it into the surf world. He doesn't shoot a lot, but when he does he always comes back with a fresh perspective. I especially like his work during the making of "Thread".

How did you end up shooting for Surfer Magazine?

A bit of dumb luck and countless submissions to Grant Ellis, the Photo Editor. I would submit images, sometimes get a response, sometimes not, continue to bug him with more images until he gave me the opportunity to go on an assignment. It was to Mavericks. I went up there to chase a swell and he liked the images I brought back. I've been working for them ever since. 

What's in your camera bag? Do you have a favorite camera or format? 
Way too much depends on where I am going or what I'm shooting, but a typical trip will have me bringing: 

1D Mark IV and 5D Mark III for digital bodies. Lenses ranging from a fisheye, to a 500mm lens, a Hasselblad 500C and a point and shoot or two. Two housings just in case one goes down while shooting. My favorite camera is my Hasselblad. I like to shoot most of my lineups and portraits with that camera. The square aesthetic is easy on the eyes and you can't beat the quality of film with Zeiss glass. 

Can you go in some depth and talk about all of your gear you use to shoot surf photography?

All of my housings are made from Del Mar Waterhousings. In my opinion they are the lightest and strongest housings out there. I have ports that fit a fisheye, a 50mm, an 85mm, and a 70-200mm. I usually bring two sets of swim-fins and a warm wetsuit. 

How many different countries have you travelled to so far through surf photography?
I don't know how many countries I've been to in the past couple of years...I do know that I just had to get new pages in my passport because I filled a new one up in two years. 

You've built a reputation not just as a surf photographer but a person who works hard and stays devoted to the craft. Where do you see yourself ten years from now? 

Ten years from now, I will be married...still chasing swells and working on more commercial campaigns and editorial assignments both inside and outside of the industry. I love photography and enjoy shooting subjects outside of surfing too. Maybe getting into the motion world a little bit. At this point I'm not too sure, kind of taking it one day at a time right now. 

How do you edit your work? What was the thought process for your new site?

Originally I built my own website in Flash, but soon realized after I built it that Flash isn't compatible on most handheld devices and iPads. Sadly enough, that's what most people and clients are viewing our work on these days. So I decided to build a clean way to show my images that's easy to change. I shoot quite a bit so it's important to me that I can change my portfolios without spending too much time. The more time I spend on a website and editing, the less time I can be out surfing or shooting photos. As far as my work goes, I use a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop

Could you talk about one of your favorite images? 
I don't really have a favorite. There are some images that I like more than others but I don't like to look at my work and pick favorites. Maybe that's why I am not the best editor. I feel like the minute you look at your work and become comfortable with it you lose the edge to want to continue to create and capture. I like some of my images for different reasons. Usually the images I like are the ones that I have a connection with...but others may not feel the same way about it.

Can you tell us something about surf photography that we wouldn't think about on our own?

For all of the days you see beautiful images from, there are countless days of thinking you're going to score only to have the winds switch, the rider have the wrong board, and the tide to be wrong. Surfing is one of the only sports to photograph where all the elements are always moving. The wave, the wind, the sand, the subject and you as the photographer. With that being said, when everything does come together it is magical. It's those magic moments that keep us coming back for more. 

What are some surfing terms that you could familiarize the non-surfing public with? 

Hi - A lot of people have egos when they paddle out in the water. A simple hi or hello goes a long way in the lineup or in the parking lot.

Go - Not used as often as it should, but usually means that you just had a good wave and rather than taking the next wave, you let someone else have it and get to ride it themselves.

Burrito - The most commonly eaten meal after surfing in Southern California. It's a delicious combination of Beans, Rice, Cheese, Guacamole, and your choice of meat (meat is optional). Served with a side of Salsa.

How would you describe your work to a blind person? 

Boring, flat, and like an old folk song. 

Can you take us through a typical day for Todd Glaser taking surf photos?

It depends where I am and what the waves are doing. I usually wake up pretty early wherever I am, check the waves on the internet, check the wind, drink a glass of water or two, coffee, light breakfast. Depending on the waves we'll go try to shoot during the sunrise light, eat some more, surf again, lunch, maybe a couple of emails or phone calls to see where the waves could be good for the afternoon, surf/shoot again, eat dinner, download the photos at night, back them up twice, charge the batteries, prep my gear for the morning to do it all over again. 

Where do you think your passion comes from? 
Combining my two passions of surfing and photography gives me a lot of inspiration to wake up everyday. I guess it's the unknown that gets me excited to wake up everyday. Every morning you get the opportunity to do something new or see something fresh. Maybe that's what makes surfing so special, no two waves are the same, such as no two surf photos are the same. I think if I shot football or basketball knowing I was going to the same court everyday it wouldn't be too inspiring. 

What are you doing to get more out of your images every time you go out? 

Every time I shoot I try to think about what I have done, what worked, what didn't and apply that to the next shoot. Photography is always evolving. The minute you become complacent is the minute you lose your creativity. 

I believe in slowing the shutter speed down when I'm shooting live music photographs. My favorite images sometimes are the blurry ones. Do you ever experiment with this kind of thing on the water?

Absolutely. I think some of our best images come from happy mistakes. Steve Sherman taught me that a long time ago. It's good to know the rules, and just as important to break the rules. With the increase of photographers it's important to constantly challenge yourself and push yourself to create something that others may not be doing. Especially with speedblurs, they can give so much more feeling. 

What do you look for in a portrait?
A portrait is all about a connection with the camera. I struggle with them, but am trying to shoot as many as I can to become more well rounded. 

What are some highlights of your career so far?
Being able to wake up everyday and think about what images I want to make next is a highlight, as has filling up a couple passports with stamps, chasing swells, and seeing places I never thought I'd be able to go to. As far as tangible achievements, winning the Follow the Light Award helped kick start my career as a photographer. When Quicksilver used my images to celebrate Kelly Slater's 10th and 11th world titles that was pretty cool too. We have made some images together that we are both proud of. It's still early on in my career so time will tell what happens next! 

Can you mention some legends you've been lucky enough to photograph?

I've been fortunate enough to work and photograph some amazingly talented surfers and athletes. There's more to being a talented surfer that makes them a legend. I am very fortunate that the guys I travel with are all solid humans out of the water too. 

How do you adjust so quickly for composition when you're shooting fast moving subjects? Is that kind of environment so intense that it's like in slow motion at times? 
Shooting surfing is an understanding of light, your subject, and anticipation where the peak moment will occur. Sometimes it means you have to swim a little faster to get in the spot to capture the peak action at what in your opinion is the best angle. There's no right or wrong, it's what you think looks good. Communication is key with the surfers though. Letting them know what lens you're using and having an idea what the image you are hoping to achieve, can make capturing surfing a lot more productive. 

What have you learned from your shooting experience so far? 

Keep your O-ring clean! Any sand or hair, and your cameras going to be swimming in water in no time. Words I'd use to describe it would be: hot, cold, fast-moving, hurry up and wait, exhilarating, sunburn, swim, traffic, airports, fresh fruit, fresh fish, new foods, new places, new friends, new music, a symphony of all of the above put together with a hi-5 to finish the day. 

Do you listen to surf music? 
You can't go wrong with The Beach Boys for good ol' surf music. 

What's next for Todd Glaser? 

I'm about to make some lunch, just got home from surfing this morning. There are a couple swells on the maps so I am trying to figure out where the best wind, weather, waves are going to be. Hopefully go there and make some new images. I would love to do an art show or book at some point, but I don't think I have enough work yet. Thank you for letting me ramble!

Visit to experience Todd's vision which is updated regularly. 

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