Behind The Lens With Travis Johnson

Published on 14/01/2021

Introducing our second installment of ‘Behind The Lens’ – where we sit down with some of Queensland’s best surfing photographers and they talk us through some of their favourite images. We caught up with Travis Johnson who has some incredible images to share with us!

Stephanie Gilmore, Duranbah Beach

This shot is particularly special as it is my first cover shot, which just recently came out in edition 354 of Surfing Life magazine. For all surf photographers there’s a list of the big names we all want to tick off our list. Mick, Kelly, Steph. When you’re beginning they, amongst others, are the names who you dream of nailing a good shot of. I hadn’t had much luck getting good shots of Steph before this. I’d either just miss her session, be out of position or worse still be in position only to see someone drop in. I mean, who drops in on a 7-time World Champ? Occupational hazards of some of the worlds most crowded waves I suppose. So I had some shots of her but they weren’t anything outstanding. On this day Steph was throwing a few airs and I decided to drop behind the wave and see if I could take advantage of the morning light shining directly on her as she flew by. I just hoped I could be in the right position. I saw Steph’s head just over the top of the wave from behind and as she dipped slightly, I knew she was getting momentum up to take off on a little ramp and I had the camera at the ready pointing to the spot in the air where I thought she’d end up. I just remember a flash of orange board across the viewfinder and the feeling I’d nailed one good frame, but still all I could think of for the rest of the session was ‘please be in focus…please be in focus!’ My first shot was out of focus but the next one was spot on and I was stoked. The thing I like the most about this one, apart from it being Steph doing Steph things, is the water trail through the air. Sometimes you just get lucky with weird and wonderful things that the water is doing at a thousandth of a second and this is one of those occasions.

Mick Fanning, Snapper Rocks

Luckily for me this day I happened to be the only shooter in position when this wave came through. When I paddled out for some reason there weren’t any other shooters out that I could see, which for a pumping Snapper day was a rarity and tripped me out a little. Normally there’s at least a couple on a day like this. I later found out there was someone way down the break but they weren’t anywhere nearby. One wave of Mick’s from a previous swell we had four of us in almost the same spot shooting the same wave, so to get him on a bomb like this all to myself was a treat. The thing I remember the most about it was the spray behind him shooting miles up into the air. It made the thing look monstrous. I snapped off a shot of Mick on his bottom turn into the barrel then waited until I was directly in line with him, then began firing off shots through to where I floated over the shoulder of the wave. After he went past and I finished shooting I ducked under the water and let out a scream, turning full froth head in the moment which I tend to do! When I surfaced someone paddling past me gave me a funny look, he must have been thinking ‘what is that guy doing down there?’

Jack Freestone, Rocky Point, Hawaii

I was lucky enough to do a quick week-long strike mission to Oahu last year around the Pipeline Masters and scored some mad waves. This was the first day I was there and the waves weren’t really on at Pipe but around the corner at Rocky Point it was doing just nicely. There were nice open walls that provided some great carve sections but also clean face to take a run up and punt off. I originally positioned myself on the sand under the shade of the tree line backed up against the beachside houses, shooting directly at the face of the wave. Ryan Miller from the WSL and a bunch of other shooters came down the beach and set up right next to me. This prompted me to go searching for another angle and I settled for a spot on the rocks with a slightly more side on angle of the wave as it wrapped around the little rocky outlet. Jack came flying along and off a big run up threw this enormous floating oop. The height he got on his air was jaw dropping and luckily for me I ended up with a good angle of it with the entire board facing flush to my lens after moving positions. It only a matter of maybe 20-30 meters but the angle change made all the difference.

Harry Martin, Point Danger

This shot stands out to me as one of my favorites because of the look on his face. On this day the froth in the water from the groms was palpable. All they wanted was to do was slot into a barrel even if it meant a close out on the head, which most of the waves were doing. Harry and one of his mates both got barreled on this same wave but at different points. The first frame from the sequence Harry is just about to slide under the lip while his mate is 20 meters behind getting pitted himself. When I look at the shot I see the pure froth of being a grom and the adrenaline rush of being inside the barrel. Harry made it out of this one by the way, I know this because after I’d gone through the wave and popped up the other side I heard him yelling to his mates ‘I made it, I made it!’ No easy feat on a day of shallow, sandy closeouts. His mate behind him wasn’t so lucky, he copped the closeout section. This picture came 9th in the 2020 Nikon Surf Photo of the Year competition.

Kalani Chapman, Pipeline, Hawaii

Shooting Pipeline from the water was at the top of my list of dream things to do. This was one afternoon after the Pipeline Masters last year. I’d shoot by the beach all day, hydrating the whole time in anticipation for the afternoon swim post competition. I loved shooting the world’s best from the shore but all you can think of throughout the day is being amongst the action yourself. That challenge and the feeling of being in the cauldron of one of the world’s greatest and most deadly breaks is a rush. That wave up close is both beautiful and fearsome. You can feel the power of it through your bones as it crashes into the reef. Sometimes I’d lift the earpiece of my gaff helmet to listen to it. I know Pipe has made all the local veterans pay their price over the years yet despite this, and how daunting it is, some of them seem to make it look easy. Kalani Chapman here looks like he’s out for a cruisy Sunday stroll while the grom in foreground looks on just as casually. The lighting there is truly magical at this time of day and that just added to the experience. Just one of many ‘wow’ moments from a memorable trip. This one came 9th in the Surfing Life Photo of the Year comp. Looks like 9 was my lucky number for 2020!

Unknown, Pipeline, Hawaii

I thought I was gone for here. I was shooting 50mm at a pumping Pipeline and had pushed in towards the impact zone. I had a set come from a little bit more north than the previous set and suddenly I was caught inside. As the wave was rearing up in front of me I’m calculating the decision I have to make; do I try and race it and get underneath and risk being taken over the falls or do I let it land nearly on me and try and get to the bottom of the reef and hope it doesn’t crush me into it. This is happening in a matter of seconds but it kind of felt like everything was slowing down around me. Towards the end of this quick decision making process I thought ‘I’m done for anyway’, so I snapped off one quick frame of an unknown surfer trying to duckdive (who may or may not have made it through) before myself ducking for my life. Somehow, I got caught in between the vortex under the wave and it spat me out the other side into clear water. The feeling of relief was incredible but it was also fleeting, there were 3 more sets coming….


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