Photo Credit: Cate Brown
Rhode Island, USA
Photo Credit: Chelsea Mandes
Surfer: Claire Hodson
Surfer: Abby Boone
Photo Credit: Chelsea Mandes
Years in surf photography: 2012, but most active in the surf community since fall 2017
Favorite Camera: Water kit includes Nikon D750, 50mm lens, and LiquidEye Housing with Pistol Grip
Photography website: catebrownphoto.com & catebrown.art
What is your philosophy on surf photography? For me, surf photography is a constant collaboration. Either I’m out shooting with surfers, and we’re working together to get in our best respective positions and capture a moment of physical achievement. Or I’m collaborating with the elements, focusing on the details of the water when the light hits them just right, capturing the perfect coastal scene from land so others can feel what it was like to stand on that beach. It’s never just me and my camera. It’s always something bigger than myself. I love the feeling of being part of a greater whole, and to fully achieve that feeling I often have to be submersed in the ocean, which brings along a happiness that no other aspects of my photography can even come close to.
Best surf photography story? The arctic blast. Late this past January, Winter Storm Harper brought absolute frigid temperatures down from the arctic circle. Here in Rhode Island we experienced about 9°F temps with -15°F windchill. A few of us were out chasing chest high waves, but the combination of other-worldly conditions made it perhaps a once in a lifetime experience. I suited up in the car, ran across the wind blown parking lot, swam in the 36°F water for about 20 minutes until it was simply too cold. Even if I brought my housing out of the water for a few moments to take shots, within about 10 second a thin layer of ice would start to form on the port, making shots soft and blurry. This was perhaps one of the only times I was warmer being submerged in the water than the surfers were sitting on their boards.
Most memorable surf photography moment? There are two sessions in particular that come to mind. The first was Winter Storm Jayden, which came on the heels of Winter Storm Harper in late January this year. It’s unclear whether the swell was just leftovers from one storm or the precursor for the next, but I was out with some of the ladies for a 2′ slide session at sunset. What was first a gorgeous dusky golden hour became a wintery snow session as a weather front pushed wind and snow up the coast while we were in the lineup. It felt like we were in a snow globe, and everything became eerily quiet. We were protected from the squall winds given the geography of the break, but it was still a remarkable experience.
Secondly was another time this past winter. I was out shooting a wave that’s not necessarily surf-able, but makes for great shots. A storm had just moved through, the horizon to the east was gray, dark and ominous. But behind me, the horizon was clearing and the clouds were broken. Just as sunset rolled around, the clouds gave way and shining rays of rose gold light came beaming across the beach, illuminating the turquoise clear waves along the shoreline. A rainbow broke out on the horizon, and the colors of the entire scene were simply surreal. It was so gorgeous I almost forgot to take pictures, I just sat there in awe.
What do you love/hate about surf culture as it pertains to female surf photographers? I love the immediate camaraderie I’ve experienced with so many women in the lineup, whether it’s women surfing or women wanting to learn to shoot too. You can immediately tell a female in the water, whether we’re in 5mm neoprene or not! There’s much less intimidation or ego from any of the women, and it brings the whole level of tension down. I have yet to have one of my surf girls carry a sub-par session with them once we’ve reached dry land, quite unlike the boys who will let their bad sessions haunt them forever with thoughts about “shoulda woulda coulda” hahaha. For the girls it’s all about just hanging with friends, catching a few good waves if the opportunity presents, and if not then it’s just onto the next.