May 23, 2018

Arctic Surf Photography is both challenging and rewarding. The location alone is an experience, I mean it’s the Arctic full of dramatic landscapes, Iceberg factories and polar bears, even the sun hides for a few months.
It’s a place where big puffer jackets and multiple layers of merino become your uniform, jumping in the water let alone surfing, (or as a photographer floating and diving under the waves) seems ludicrous.
Hallvard Kolltveit lives and breathes arctic surf and his images speak for themselves. Having recently won gold with an amazing short film project titled “Arctic January”  at the “Cold Hawaii Film Festival” , Hallvard is inspired to share his story and a few tips on how you can get into Arctic Surf Photography.
Here is the Award winning short “Arctic January”.

How To Shoot Arctic Surfing – Hallvard Kolltveit

I still remember the moment when I fell in love with Arctic surf photography. It was on a morning in Iceland, now more than four years ago. I believe sunrise was about 3:30 in the morning, so we got up at 3:00 and looked at out the window, only to have rain and wind glance back at us.

Luckily my mate managed to convince me to try, so we took off and drove the 15 minutes over to the spot. As we hit the gravel road and turned the corner we saw one of the sickest sunrises I’ve ever seen as the sun peaked through a tiny hole in the clouds. The photos that I took that morning sparked the passion and drive for Arctic surf photography.

“Composition and Context with Arctic Surf Photography”

How to shoot arctic surf

To me it’s all about trying to tell the story of what’s happening, inspiring others to go out there and chase their own little adventure. I love to include foreground and background to give the photos a context, while still showing off a good manoeuvre or a great looking wave.

Composition as always is paramount. It’s important that the viewer can tell a photo from Lofoten and one from Denmark apart. Walk up and down the beach, look for new angles and new perspectives. I’ve hiked mountains with my long lens in order to get something new. Foregrounds can be tricky once you get to 400-600mm, so at least including a background will provide context. A tight shot of a surfer slashing a wave could be anywhere in the world, with artic surf the location really sets the image apart from the rest.

“Do You Need to Be In The Water?”

How to shoot arctic surf

No, you absolutely do not need to be in the water. That being said, if you want to do this full time you need to be able to handle water shots. Shooting from the water is something totally different, and makes you stand out from the 20 other guys on the beach.

So how do you get started shooting in the water? Other then obvious gear i.e a waterproof housing, you have to just Shoot all the time, no matter the conditions. This will make your physically and technically fit for those days when it’s pumping. I actually quit surfing myself in order to become a better water photographer, so sometimes you gotta pay the price to get the shot.

Here is the 80/20 of Arctic Surf Photography Gear.

How to shoot arctic surf

I use a Canon 1DX Mark II and Canon 24-70 F/4 IS, also in the housing. I don’t think I need to explain much about the 1DX, as it’s the best tool for the job when it gets dark, cold and things start moving fast. That 24-70 version is something that raises a couple of eyebrows now and then though. It’s a light version that suits shooting in the water pretty good, as well as having IS, which is awesome for video. It’s a “boring” lens, but it gets the job done.

What to Consider With Arctic Surf Photography?

How to shoot arctic surf

Where should I begin? Batteries? Clothing? High iso? Condensation? The list goes on and on and on. It’s a totally different ballgame. If you’re not prepared you’re going to miss some shots. Yes, you can show up in Lofoten on a sunny day in March and get some cool shots, but stay here all winter and you’ll quickly understand that your tropical routines have no place in the Arctic. Like almost every other form of winter photography its the cold that is your biggest hurdle. So you need to consider the usual things, Extra batteries, warm clothing, photography gloves, lots of microfibre cloths etc.

It’s often low light and you’re shooting action sport. This means fast shutter speeds (800 fps +) and thus High ISO. Don’t be afraid to bump the ISO way up in order to avoid motion blur and underexposed images.

“What’s the first Step to Shooting Arctic Surf Photography?”

How to shoot arctic surf

Step out the door! Go out there, take whatever gear you have already and just go shoot at the surf spots. You don’t need to spend time on forums worrying about sharpness, gear and epic locations. They say that there’s at least 10 great photos around you at every moment, so don’t worry about having to team up with pro surfers or go to the most incredible locations. Just go shoot and analyse your images afterwards.

Look at the masters of the game, the old guys and who you dig at Instagram. What do they do, how do they do it, and why? I think I’ve studied Chris Burkard more than most people, and I bet my work shows it. It’s important to have your own touch and do your own thing, but there’s nothing wrong with getting inspired by other’s work.

Happy shooting and enjoy the Arcitc!

– Hallvard Kolltveit

All images by Hallvard Kolltveit

Hallvard Kolltveit is a Norwegian Arctic surf Photographer, living in Lofoten. If you can’t find him chasing swells, running through snow with nothing but a wetsuit or dodging floating ice, he’s probably warming his toes and editing his surf photos in the back of his Mercedes camper.

“I try to include as much surroundings, story and atmosphere in my content as I’m able to. If I can inspire one person to explore somewhere new I’ve succeeded with my photography.”


Instagram: @hallvardkolltveit

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