michael february. portraits of a surfer.

Last week I had a couple of commercial shoots fall through. It’s the nature of the beast. Adamant to shoot anyway, I threw my energy towards setting up a passion project for the weekend. I wanted to do a sunrise beach shoot – something special that I could have the freedom to play with, without the restraints of a brief.

I called my friend Kent Locke, who is an incredible sports and action photographer, to see if he could hook me up with a surfer friend of his. He reckoned that it would be impossible to find a surfer willing to wake up before 10am for a shoot, but he put his feelers out, and super-surfer Michael February took the bait. I’ve wanted to set up a shoot with Michael for a while, so I was super excited to shoot together.  He’s a cool guy who is fun and easy to work with.

The weather predictions were in my favour for Saturday. The last time I shot on a beach in Cape Town, the wind very nearly had the better of one of my lights, so I was stoked that forecast was clear.

My mate Clinton, who’s an avid young videographer came along to shot some behind-the-scenes. This is what transpired:

The guys at Photohire were kind enough to hook me up with lighting gear.

Here's a gear grid of what I used.

1. Broncolor Move Pack. 1200w of studio flash power on location. This is probably the easiest location pack to use. It also comes with a shoulder bag – so Clinton, my assistant (and behind-the-scenes videographer) could hang it over his shoulder and it never had to touch the beach sand. Beach sand is bad.

2. Spare batteries. I never used them, but just in case.

3. My favourite light-shaping tool – the Broncolor Parra 88. Fortunately there wasn’t any wind, otherwise this would have turned into a sail. Being Cape Town, there is always a chance of wind, so I had a plan, just in case. See number 5.

4. Focusing rod for the Parra. I kept the light in its most focused position to concentrate the light on Michael. The less light fell on the background, the more he stood out.

5. Just in case there was too much wind to use the Parra, I brought along a white beauty dish. This is much hardier in the wind, and is smaller so it doesn’t get blown around as much.

6. A silver beauty dish. The dish provides a much harder light than the white version – making it perfect for imitating morning sun. If the sun wasn’t coming up in the right position, or there was too much cloud cover, I could cover the silver beauty dish with two layers of CTO (Color Temperature Orange) warm up gel to emulate the sun and place it exactly where I wanted it. But there was no need.

7. CTO warm up Gel – two layers of this on the silver beauty dish and we could recreate the sun.

8. Crocodile clips to clip the CTO onto the silver beauty dish.

9. Manfrotto stacking light stands. Compact but sturdy.

10. Sandbags. Always sandbag. Lighting gear, especially the top of the range Broncolor which I used, is super expensive. Sandbags weigh it down in the wind to prevent the stands toppling over and my lights landing facedown in the sand – or waves.

11. Broncolor mobile flash heads.

12. Head extensions. 1 per light. Because the one light would be the key on Michael and the other may have needed to be placed behind him to emulate the sun, I would need head extensions to allow the heads to reach the pack. In this case, we didn’t use them as we didn’t need to create a fake sun light – but it’s always better to be prepared.

13. Gear hates sand. I’ll often wrap things in black dustbin bags to prevent sad getting in contact with gear. In this case, I wrapped the joins where the head extensions and heads connected. Once sand gets in, it’s nearly impossible to get out.

14. Wrap things in black bags and them use gaffer tape to secure.

15. My trusty Canon 5dmk3 with battery grip. I seldom use a strap on my camera, but I’ll always have the battery grip for extra weight and ease of use when shooting in portrait orientation.

16. My current go-to lens for a shoot like this, the Canon 24-70 f2.8mk2L. A note for safety: never, ever, change lenses on the beach.

17. A blower to get rid of sand.

18. A shoe brush. This is super handy getting sand off gear before packing the gear back into the car. Look after your gear and keep it clean – it lasts longer that way.

19. My car has an electronic egg-shaped key, which is super cool and allows me to remotely open and close my windows and boot. Those features though don’t work once the key has come into contact with water (they’re also madly expensive to replace), so I bring a spare – that can’t be damaged. It doesn’t have the cool features, but it can get wet. So I leave my original key safely in my car and lock and unlock the doors with this guy. I didn’t have to think twice about ending up waist high in the waves to get the shot.

20. My trusty Apple Macbook Pro 15” Retina. So much processing power.

21. My stylish new glasses. It’s like the world is in 4k with these puppies on.

22. Snap back cap – for protection from the sun, but mostly to look cool.

23. I’ve left this little guy for last because he was one of my favourite tools on this job. The Broncolor wireless transmitter RFS2.1. This meant not only could I trigger the lights wirelessly, I could also adjust the power setting of the Move Pack while it was hanging over Clinton’s shoulder. I don’t know what power settings I used, I never once looked at the pack. If it was too powerful, I turned it down using the buttons on the top, and visa-versa. Easy peasy.




Most of how I lit the shots is covered in the description of the gear grid. I only used the Parra – and only really in the most focused position. The picture right shows the proximity of the light to the Michael. That was pretty much our entire setup.










I did a basic colour grading on the images and cleaned up some of the sand on the beach in post, but that’s about it. I’ve included an image I shot with and without the light – so you can see what affect the light has.






Many thanks must go out to Michael – for being a great sport, waking up before the sun was out and being a smashing model. Clinton (who could also be a model), for filming epic behind-the-scenes clips and stills for me. Pieter, Calvin and my friends at photohire and Broncolor for allowing me to use the gear.

The final images are in the gallery below, as well as the behind the scenes pictures.

I’d love to know your thoughts and comments – especially on Facebook or Instagram (I’m much faster at replying on those platforms than anywhere else.)

Photography is magic. Create.