The Inertia Founder

The Inertia

A portrait of the surf photographer: Nate Smith.

A portrait of the surf photographer: Nate Smith.

At the end of 2012, we held our inaugural Portfolio Challenge to honor and celebrate the talented photographers who have shared their work on The Inertia, and we left it to the public to vote on their favorite. When the dust settled, Spanish photographer Lucas Tozzi emerged as the top-vote getter, but we also wanted to recognize the photographer who received the most votes from The Inertia’s Editorial Team. In yet another very close race, Nate Smith collected the most tallies, and I must say, his shot of Magnum Martinez at Pipeline might be the cleanest surf photo I’ve ever seen. You could safely eat off it. No doubt.

How do you feel about winning The Inertia’s first Portfolio Challenge, Editors’ Pick? Were you surprised to find out that you won?

I’m really happy with winning the Editors’ Pick for the first Inertia Portfolio Challenge; having the general public admire your work is one thing, and it’s always nice, but having your work judged by industry-type people who see images day in and day out who understand photography and know what goes into getting a shot – the technicalities of it all – I find highly rewarding. And, yes, I was surprised by the call that I’d won as there are some really inspiring folios amongst all this and some outstanding images.

Did you have another favorite photographer in the contest? If you could have voted for anyone other than yourself who would you have chosen?


I had the pleasure of going through all the folios and saw many, many amazing images. My interpretation of a Portfolio Challenge is a collection of your best or favorite works. Surfing is so much more than just guys and girls riding waves; it’s a lifestyle and a way of life for most of us involved, and being a surfer myself and photographer who shoots all things surf and the lifestyle, I tend to look at more than just the riding waves part. We are constantly around cool and interesting people and characters, visiting beautiful places and seeing all sorts of rad things that a surf photographer would come across in our travels that are just too good not to shoot. Jason Kenworthy has a damn fine eye for it all, knows how to shoot everything and does it extremely well. I personally think you have to have more than one style shot in your repertoire these days if you plan on staying around for a while.

Do you have a guiding philosophy in your photography?

Yeah I do. I’m always trying to shoot as if I’ve never shot my best shot; its my kind of my nemesis. I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to being really picky with my own work. I come from a film background, and I’m still shooting as if it’s a roll of 36. Swimming Pipe back in the day on dark meant you learned to make those 36 shots count. I learn every time shoot, and I only shoot when I feel it. There is nothing worse than shooting because you have to, and if that’s the case it will show in your work. I have evolved with the digital age and I think I’ve found my groove and style with it and that’s good; otherwise I’d probably be doing something else. I love where photography is at and how instant it is, but I don`t like over-Photoshopped trickery that comes with the digital age.


Pipeline. Magnum Martinez. Clean. Almost too clean. Photo: Nate Smith

Pipeline. Magnum Martinez. Clean. Almost too clean. Photo: Nate Smith

It seems like the potential to edit a photo is endless. How do you know when you’re finished editing an image?

Well, this could have a whole book written and taught to some of the younger kids out there coming through. Coming from a film background, has definitely made me aware of when to stop. I mean out of the 3-5 types of color slides we had to choose from say ten or so years ago, i always chose the films that best suited what I had in my mind. The main film was Velvia but that wasn`t always the right choice, sometimes Kodak 100VS was better because of the water color or later on Agfa Scala was a cool B&W Tranny to use on a cloudy day and was also great for simple portraits. Kodak EPP was awesome for color portraits and lifestyle. I see a lot of average shots out there days that have been over processed in Photoshop to make up for the general lack of appeal that the photo actually has. The late Larry `FLAME’ Moore from Surfing Mag was really encouraging and helpful to me back in the day before he passed away and anyone who knew Larry knew how he shot; he kept it simple and clean. His shots were always really, really great to look at. Lee Pegus, a former Photo Editor, was also great for feedback when he worked with ASL. He and Larry were tight, so basically I still carry what those guys passed onto me. Not many people pass on feedback in this day and age and I think we can see that in some of the images that show up from time to time.

What kind of gear do you use?

I use all Canon Gear and Aquatech Water Housings. Both companies look after me really well with great gear and service.

Are you self-taught or do you have formal training?

I’m self-taught here. I’ve never ever taken one course in anything to do with photography or Photoshop. A lot of it has been trial and error, but that half the fun of it right? But it doesn`t stop a lot of people from emailing and asking me questions like what shutter speed or lens setting do you use when you do underwater photos for example… If you shoot digital it’s fun to work that out and rewarding when you get it right; it’s not that expensive either – only time wise.


Who are the greatest influences on your work?

Ted Grambeau, Jon Frank, Chris Van Lennup, Art Brewer, Steve Sherman, Jeff Hornbaker, Brad Elterman, Craig R. Stecyk III, Herb Ritz, Annie Leibovitz, Jez Smith…ah man there are so many people out there whose work I dig. That’s why photography is so fun, there are so many creative people out there making super cool images.

Outside of surfing, what else do you like to photograph?

Just about anything I like. I`m really into city scapes at the moment as I just spent 9 days in NYC for the first time last September and I definitely got my geek on there, which was fun and really eye-opening. I`ve been shooting the odd bit of fashion and lookbooks here and there when I get time and I’m in between trips, girls, and swimsuits is something I shoot a bit of, and I also dig shooting portraits, but I’ve always liked that.

Do you have a favorite image that you’ve taken? Tell us a little about it. Please include it, if so.

I guess at the moment the one shot that’s given me the most legs and some really cool exposure is my Andrew Mooney shot that I won the 2010 Best Close and Athletes Choice Award in the Red Bull Illume Contest. A free trip to Dublin, Ireland and a week of meeting some really talented Photographers from all over the world and sightseeing a really old fascinating City. So that shot has done me well.


What would you say is the biggest achievement in your photography career?

My Red Bull Illume Awards is probably the highlight, but to be honest its not about the awards or accolades – just the fact that I`ve been shooting a sport/lifetsyle that I love for as long as I have and am still really loving is just awesome. That’s the best, really.


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