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Nate Smith – Photographer


Nate Smith is one of the best surf photographers going around. His work has been published in most surf mags globally and his images never fail to draw you in and put you right there with him – either on the beach or in the water. The best surf photographers have a true love and appreciation for the ocean, with many being rad surfers themselves. It is this sixth sense that helps them read the wave and predict the next line the surfer caught in their lense is going to take.

Nate’s ability to also capture the personality and essence of the guy’s on tour is a true testament to his connection with the industry and what makes the surfers on tour tick. Like many great photographers of athletes, musicians and personalities – it is the photographers ability to get the shot and not get in the way from the subjects art form that is similarly an art form in itself.

Like the pros on tour – being a surf photographer following these guy’s around isn’t a bad gig if you can get it. I hit Nate up with a bunch of questions below to find out what his vibe was on both his work and the industry.

To really make you feel like you wish you were on holiday – take a look at some of Nate’s work here…



My name is Nate Smith, I live on the Northern Beaches of Sydney which for those who don’t know is about a 30 minute drive North of Bondi. The waves in my area are generally pretty fun. I’m a full time Photographer who shoots all things Surf and its Lifestyle. I have just recently become freelance after about a 15 year stint with one of Australia’s leading Surf Publications, and the feeling of now being able to shoot for a few different magazines and get the creative juices flowing a touch more is awesome. I live right across the road from a really cool little stretch of beach, it’s quiet and great for chilling. I live with my beautiful girlfriend Jodey-Alice and my Cavoodle Puppy we call Bronx, life is really cool at the moment. Travel, art, meeting people and getting outdoors are all things that I really enjoy… Oh, and sleeping, I really like this.


Q & A:

1) You’ve carved out a real niche for yourself as one of the best surf photographers in the world. How did your job come about – or was it just something that you fell into? / What is the key to getting that ultimate shot?

Ah, to be considered one of the better guys out there shooting Surf and its lifestyle is really cool, although I don’t buy into that too much, so thank you. I just like taking images and doing what i do, surfing is a really nice life style and its taken me to some amazing destinations which leads to you to some great photos. I’ve worked really hard to get myself into the position I’m in at the moment but I really think my best is yet to come. Getting the ultimate shot is something that I believe comes by paying attention and knowing what it is your after and knowing how to get it.

2) Did you always want to be a surf photographer? / Did you study photography? / What’s the best job (ie. most creative/fun/biggest project/surf trip) that you’ve worked on to date and why?

I got into photography via surfing in contests. I did this for a fair while at a good level, won a couple of events until an injury put me out for 6 months. I started shooting photos to kill time and didn’t stop. So here I am! I’m self taught. And the biggest funnest surf trip was many years ago with Quiksilver. We shot Young Guns 2, had a really big boat and a helicopter strapped to the roof of the boat for two weeks; not to mention guys like Kelly Slater, Julian Wilson, Ry Craike and Dane Reynolds among many others. That was purely an extravagant trip by Quik.

3) You’ve met and worked with all of the best surfers in the world. Do you have a favorite surfer to shoot? What’s your all time favorite photo (that you’ve shot) and what’s the story behind it?

No, i dont really have one in particular surfer to shoot, they are all really good on their day. Some guys are slightly better than others but above all they are all great. Just depends on where and what the waves are doing and who you have to shoot. Obviously guys like Kelly, Dane, Julian are great but then there are guys who live in Sydney like Kai Otton, Luke Stedman, Nathan Webster – all of whom I dig shooting.

4) If you could work on any creative project – what would that look like?

Ah good question… well if money was not an issue, I’d say a wave pool scenario which has not yet been made although I believe we are not far off … would be the thing I’d have set up. A stadium like set up with a dome roof that could open and close, a program to set your waves to your liking, and a multitude of different angles above and below the water that i could shoot from under all sorts of lighting conditions ranging from natural, to artificial etc.

5) Who have been your biggest (creative or personal) influences in getting you to where you are today? / who are your creative heroes? / What are you creatively (or ethically) passionate about?

My biggest influences when I first started in the surf game were and still are guys like Ted Grambeau, Bill Morris, Chris Van Lennup, Scott Aichner, Jeff Divine, Art Brewer, Aaron Chang, Jeff Hornbaker… Outside this, I’d say Dave LaChapelle, Annie Leibovits, Herb Ritts, Richard Avedon, Craig Stecyk 111 and Steve Sherman, ah there are so many I really admire but anything these people have done I’m into seeing. As for what I’m passionate about, well basically trying to take the best shot I’ve ever taken every time I shoot.

6) Camera equipment and technology has changed dramatically over the years. How has this changed how you shoot? / do you feel this technology has assisted you and your work creatively?

Well when I first started it was all film and manual. You had to learn from a roll of 36, not a 64 gig card and auto which ALOT of people do nowadays. I am really thankful that I started when I did, there were people around that cared about what you shot and how you shot it so you actually got to learn a lot from that. It was much slower and way more expensive but what you did shoot was usually way more rewarding when you got it right. With digital it’s all instant, people want gear yesterday! So that demand is really full on. The desire for content daily is huge and I’m a believer of quality over quantity, so the whole digital thing is a tough one. The digital process can be really great and it’s all I use now, but there really wasn’t anything wrong with film and that whole set up. Digital hasn’t landed on its feet as yet I think, so we are seeing a decline in print over digital content yet the price of imagery has gone down for the photographer yet the gear expense has gone through the roof. Clients do not want to pay for quality and a general “ah that will be ok, it’s good enough ” mentality is really noticeable.

7) You’ve surfed all around the world. Do you have a favorite surf break?

Yes, i think anywhere in Sumatra is heaven on earth. Warm water, fun to solid waves, boats, mates and really healthy food all make for a great place to surf and hangout.

8) Any career tips that you can also pass on to other aspiring action sports photographers? What is the best career advice you’ve ever received? / What are the biggest challenges that you face in your line of work?

My advice is something I get asked a lot now, so all you kiddies out there dreaming of a Surf Photographers job, get a back up job, a trade or a uni degree cause there is a good chance at some point you will need it. This industry is very small, tight and fickle. But in saying this, the advice I was given by a mate and former photo editor Lee Pegus was, its a long hard road but don’t give up. My challenges range from sharks, sunburn, bluebottles, excess baggage fees, pro pain, boredom…. but the positives are greater!

9) What’s your life motto?

Work Smart not hard, or actually both.

10) What’s next for you? Any other interesting projects on the horizon/collaborations or future goals you are yet to achieve?

I have recently just gone freelance after working with Tracks Magazine for the best part of 15 years. I had some really fun times and highly rewarding times with that mag, but its time for change. Time to work with different mags and spread my wings. I’d really like to do two things, a series of photos of the homeless people from around Sydney and another series on the Sydney Skyline. After visiting NYC last year I have come back with fresh eyes for how beautiful our own city is.






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