How To Make A Surf Video

If you’re a water enthusiast, the ocean’s waves are a source of endless fun. Harnessing a wave’s energy and coasting down its line is an incredibly unique experience, as no two waves are the same. The ocean’s unpredictability offers an added joy and challenge, but it can make producing a good surf video a little tricky. But fear not! Learn how to capture sweet surf action with aesthetic grace in this collaboration between Vimeo Video School and

Check out the full lesson here –

Pre Production

Location: Like any kind of film making, finding a great location is important. However, if you choose a picturesque beach with bad waves, your video will not turn out so hot. Knowing where and when the waves are working takes a lot of local knowledge. Variables such as tides, waves, and wind are always changing and work better for specific locations. Because of this, it is smart to talk to and work with talented local surfers who will know exactly where to go.

Organizing: It is always best to organize for a shoot the night before. When you arrive at the beach, you don’t want to waste time searching for that missing lens in the sand and there will almost never be electrical outlets around to charge your empty batteries. So, plan ahead and arrive ready to go the day of filming.

Dressing appropriately: Part of planning ahead the night before is knowing what to wear. When standing on a beach and filming for hours, you are very exposed to the elements. In the mornings, bring warm clothes. You’ll be surprised by how cold it can be in temperate climates during the early hours. If you’re in the tropics, make sure to bring lots of water and sun protection


Gear: When filming surfing from the beach, you’re going to want to use a tripod to keep your image as stable as possible and a telephoto lens to capture the action close up. For a tripod, use one with a fluid head to ensure smooth pans. A photo tripod will unfortunately not be suitable in this situation. Make sure that before filming, your tripod is level to the horizon so that when you film your subject surfing down the line, they are not going up or down hill.

When shooting with your telephoto lens, DSLRs with a 1.6 cropped sensor will actually come in handy, as they simulate an increase of focal length when compared to a camera with a full frame sensor. This means that you will be able to zoom in even further and your subject will appear closer.

Filming from the beach: Filming from the beach is the easiest way to capture surfing. You can stand on solid ground, keep all of your gear with you and also get a nice tan. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind to make it even easier for you. As your subject paddles out, try to study his or her paddling mannerisms and later, their surfing style so that you don’t lose them in the line up. It’s very easy for wetsuit clad people to all look the same and you don’t want to waste time filming the wrong surfer. Speaking of missing the shot, try to not get distracted in between sets. More times than not, you’re going to miss the shot of the day if you’re busy yapping on the telephone instead of looking through your viewfinder.

Okay, so your subject has finally caught a wave and you are recording. Now what? Try to keep the surfer in the back third of the frame in the direction that he or she is going at all times. Doing so becomes more and more difficult the further that you are zoomed in so it may take some practice to stay with them and to anticipate their turns and airs.

To keep your final video interesting, it’s important to mix up your shots. Try exploring different angles to find what works best at that particular break. When you move, do so quickly after your subject finishes a wave so you don’t miss anything. If you happen to have any down time before, during or after your subject’s session, shoot the surrounding scenery and some wide shots of the line up to give the action context. However, if you are filming at a secret or localized break, it’ll be in your best interest to respect the spot and not give any clues to your whereabouts.

Filming in the water: Filming in the water is much harder than on the beach but it can also be a lot of fun and give you some amazing vantages. If you are just starting out, using a waterproof compact camera with a wide angle lens will be your best bet. Hold the camera steady and position yourself close to the surfer as he or she rides by, the closer you are to the action, the better your shot will be, but not so close that you will get hit. While you are worrying about staying out of your subject’s way, also do the same and respect the other surfers at the break. No one likes a cameraman who gets in the way of a good wave. For more on the basics of shooting in water check out this lesson.

Post Production

Editing: If you’ve followed the pre production and production tips, you should be in good shape to edit a cool surf video. Way to go! When you get home, download your footage to your computer immediately. Chances are, tomorrow will be another good day to film and as you now know, preparing the night before is the way to go and having empty memory cards is crucial. Once your video files are on your computer, it is time to organize. Rename your clips with information from the day like the name of the surfer, the date and the name of the break. Mark the good shots before you process the footage, this way, you will only have to process the good clips that you’ll actually want to use come editing time. Once all your footage is converted and ready to go, think of the story arc that you are trying to tell. Was it a mellow, fun day or was it a big day filled with lots of radical aerial maneuvers? Whatever it was, try and find a song in the Vimeo Music Store that will help convey the mood of your video.

Director Cyrus Sutton
Camera/Edit James Campbell
Special Thanks Vimeo