Chances are you have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of her images shared around the world from dream surf destinations. Without the direct stress of competition, ASP World Championship Tour photographer, Kirstin Scholtz, has been able to pursue her dreams as an artist capturing the best moments in professional surfing.
Growing up in Cape Town, South Africa, Scholtz began her career after studying photojournalism at the university level, and later shadowed Pierre Tostee, the world’s first digital surf photographer. From there, she went on to take over the Digital Imagery position for the Association of Surfing Professionals. Learn more about what it’s like to be a traveling surf photographer in this exclusive interview with The Surf Channel.
When did you start surfing?
Kirstin Scholtz: I was introduced to surfing when my mother moved my sister and I to Cape Town when I was about 12. My home break was a long crumbling wave called Muizemburg, perfect for longboarding and learning to surf.
When did you decide to become a photographer?
KS: When I was studying journalism at a university, our course gave us the option to specialize in one genre of journalism and I chose photojournalism.
KS: All Canon – 5D Mark 111; 1D Mark 1v; 70 – 200mm F2.8 IS; 24- 70 F2.8; 50mm F1.8; 80mm F1.8; fisheye.
Who were your mentors?
KS: Pierre Tostee. He was the world’s first digital surf photographer and was the official photographer on the ASP World Tour until 2007. I am inspired by a number of different photographers, but my earliest inspirations were documentary/ reportage photographers in South Africa during the apartheid year, in particular, Alf Kumalo and the Bang Bang Club including Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva.
How did you get involved with the ASP?
KS: As soon as I started working for Pierre in 2004, I started assisting at ASP WCT events. I assisted in J-Bay and in Hawai’i for the first few years, until in 2006 when I was sent to shoot a Women’s WCT by myself. I basically worked my way up within the system until 2008 when Pierre retired from tour and ASP hired me in his place.
How has surfing influenced your life?
KS: Surfing has given me so much, from a dream career to amazing friendships all over the world. It is through surfing that I have been able to live my dream and make money by traveling the world and shooting photos.
What do you love most about shooting competitive surfing?
KS: Victory! I love watching surfers win. The emotion and the sheer determination it takes to conquer both your opponent and the ocean at the same time is inspirational. The story behind the victory, all the preparation that goes into it, the trials and tribulations along the way – it’s an ongoing story that I love being a part of. It’s inspiring and intriguing.
What are ideal lighting conditions for surf photography?
KS: Interesting light, early morning or late afternoon is best. Light that creates shadows and highlights that allows for dramatic images.
How do you approach composition?
KS: I do a lot of thinking. I try to find ways for all the elements in an image to compliment one another, whether it’s a whole lot of dramatic sky and a small amount of land or a foreground that helps frame the image, leading your eyes to the point of interest. I always think about how to make an image interesting to the viewer and once I’ve shot a few frames, how I could shoot it better.
Any quirky travel stories?
KS: I travel 11 months of the year. So yeah, there are so many, but one of the funniest ones was the Rip Curl Pro Search Bali. I arrived by myself and had an email with the address of where I was staying. After hours driving around in a taxi that got completely lost, we eventually found the villa I thought I was staying in. I unpacked and got into bed and was woken up in the middle of the night by the people who were actually meant to be staying there. Turns out our accommodation had changed and I hadn’t got the email and I was sleeping in someone else’s bed!
Favorite destinations to shoot:
KS: Fiji. Cloudbreak is an incredible wave and being so far out to sea, the conditions are constantly changing. It can go from horrible onshore to perfect offshore, stormy grey black skies to dreamy sunset colors, all within half an hour. The backdrop of the sky and the clouds lends itself to very dramatic images.
What makes surf photography so unique?
KS: The ever-changing nature of the elements.
Take us through a typical editing process.
KS: My editing process while working a contest is something that is defined by speed and efficiency. The goal being to get the best images out to the world press as quickly as possible. I’ve refined the art of doing this and it comes down to a primary selection and then picking the eyes out of the best images. I work in raw so I will do minor adjustments, and a crop. As the images are primarily for editorial, I have to keep them as close to reality as possible.
Fill in the blank: Photography is: vision.
Where can we find more of your work?
instagram: @asp @kirstinscholtz