“One of the greatest challenges [in photography] is distinguishing yourself.” -Brian Clifford
Meet surf photographer and Los Angeles native, Brian Clifford. With both a Bachelor’s Degree in Art from the University of Oregon, and continued schooling at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Clifford has his sights set on traveling the world to preserve timeless imagery within the surf industry.
Having already explored the beautiful California coastline, the young artist is already making a name for himself with incredible photos of San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Ventura, and looks up to some of the best photographers in the business for inspiration.
Keep your eyes peeled for Clifford’s images in publications to come, and get to know him in this exclusive Surf Channel interview below.
How did you get into photography?
Brian Clifford: I first got into photography when I was around 12 years old. My best friend’s dad has been a commercial car photographer for over 30 years. I remember when I was younger going to his studio and watching him work. I was so fascinated with all of the lights and how he would use them to accentuate the design of the car. I remember him letting me look through the viewfinder during a shoot and everything came to life. I was immediately hooked.
How long have you been shooting?
BC: The first camera I used was my mom’s Canon 35mm film camera. I forget what model it was, but I know I was around 13 years old when I started shooting.
Describe what it’s like to shoot surfing.
BC: Shooting surfing is a very difficult, but amazing thing to do. There are so many factors that come into it: lighting, action, and composition. These surfers are riding a tube of energy that they have little control over, and it is my job to capture them at their highest peak of action. I’ve always tried to create images that provoke thought, conversation, and emotion.
Where is your dream location to shoot?
BC: I have not been there yet, but I really want to go to Western Australia, an incredibly beautiful destination. I’ve seen pictures and heard stories. I am eager to create my own.
Favorite break to shoot in California?
BC: If I told you my favorite place, I know some locals who would not be happy about it, haha. So, I’ll tell you my second favorite break to shoot which is Rincon, the Queen of the coast at the county line of Santa Barbara and Ventura.
Favorite athletes to shoot?
BC: The Santa Barbara/Ventura area is full of world-class surfers. Dane Reynolds, Bobby Martinez, Yadin Nicol, and the Coffin Brothers are just a few of the best surfers in the area. But I have been fortunate enough to develop a relationship with two groms whom I love to shoot: Shane Borland and Micky Clarke.
All time favorite image?
BC: I would say it is the image of Ocean Beach in San Francisco. I went up to San Francisco to visit some friends, and I saw that there was going to be a swell while I was there. Ocean Beach can be a fickle break. The conditions have to be perfect, and on that morning, they were. I knew I had to get above the wave to contrast the offshore winds with the ocean. I had never been to this break before, so I didn’t really know where to go. I found a random apartment building, climbed up the fire escape, and got a perfect view of the whole entire beach.
What makes an incredible surf photo?
BC: I believe that an incredible surf photo is a photo that can be timeless. The lighting, location, and action of the surfer all play an important roll. Shooting the same breaks everyday challenges you to step out of your comfort zone and find new ways to create.
What are the greatest challenges of a surf photographer?
BC: One of the greatest challenges is distinguishing yourself. There are so many photographers in the industry who are amazing. To break out and be recognized, you have to come up with your own style of shooting and editing. Creating images or shooting angles that no one has seen before is something that gets you recognized.
Who inspires you?
BC: There are a lot of photographers in this industry that I look up to: Ryan Craig, Morgan Maassen, Willie Kessel, Nick Liotta, Corey Wilson, Mark Mcinnis, Chris Burkard, Seth De Roulet are just a few of the many that I look to for inspiration. These guys all have their unique style and absolutely blow my mind with the images they create.
What have you learned most about photography over the years?
BC: How to keep myself motivated. Any artist will hit a creative lull. I feel that it is important to have an interest in other genres of photography and art to draw ideas and motivation from instead of fully immersing yourself in one. For example, my favorite photographer doesn’t even work in the surf industry. He is a conceptual photographer named Gregory Crewdson.
What are your goals as a photographer for 2015?
BC: I have a lot of goals for my work this year. I have had some of my work published last year, but it is my goal to have one of my photos printed in either Surfer or Surfing Magazine. I want to travel to a different continent this year, and I want to continue to build relationships in this industry.