Distributor of Ideas
Photo: Zak Noyle

Photo: Zak Noyle

The Inertia

There’s a rhyme and a reason to how Zak Noyle chooses his equipment every time he sets out to shoot. From something as specific as the shape of the wave itself to the surfer(s) he’s focused on, several factors determine what he’ll need to get the shot he wants.

One image we all see a ton of in surfing is photos taken with a fisheye lens, which brings a unique style and look that we all recognize the instant we see it. And as Noyle points out in his Guide to Surf Photography, one of the 18 courses (and counting) bundled into a new Inspire Courses+ membership, you’re only going to call on this lens “in very special situations.” It’s definitely not your everyday lens, as the extra wide-angle distorts your image. But the curves created in that distortion tend to fit the shape of a big, hollow barrel in a head-turning way. In fact, this lens helped him capture one of his most iconic images ever. 

“When I see that image, I think back to all the travel and effort it took to get there,” he says of the image above. “I think back to the adventure, the friendship, the stories, and the good times. That’s what an image does for me. It takes me back to those moments. There’s so much behind every image and that’s the beauty of photography. That’s what I love about capturing images: a story of a moment and how it made me feel.”

So, when should a photographer shoot with that wide-angle, fisheye look? When swimming in big, hollow waves, for one.

“This should not be used in the very standard looking straight on or too far away from the barrel. This will make the wave look smaller,” he points out. This is because the fisheye doubles the space its capturing between you and your subject. It’s similar to the “objects are closer than they appear” effect in the rearview mirror of your car.

Since this lens is best for great close ups, you’re going to have to position yourself very near your subject. If that subject is a person shooting through a rifling barrel section, your spatial awareness and swimming abilities need to be top notch — qualities that build with experience over time.

“Be conscious of that when you’re shooting a surfer or a moving wave,” Noyle reminds us. “Do not look through the viewfinder when shooting with the fisheye lens, because it’s a lot closer than you think.”

Editor’s Note:  Access Zak Noyle’s Guide to Surf Photography along with our entire library of digital courses with a membership to the brand new Inspire Courses+, which includes 18 classes (and counting) and 340 video lessons taught by icons of surf and the outdoors. For a limited time, The Inertia is offering Buy One, Gift One Free with each new membership. Perfect for the holiday season. 


Only the best. We promise.


Join our community of contributors.