Surf Photography at Bells Beach on The Great Ocean Road

A surfer, catching some waves while being illuminated with late afternoon light at Bells Beach, Australia.

I remember the day I decided it was time to try my hand at surf photography. I headed for Bells Beach, the world famous surfing mecca around 1 ½ hours drive south west of Melbourne, along Australia’s Great Ocean Road.

Long ago I was employed as a newspaper photography. I photographed mainly editorial and advertising assignments, but I also did my fare share of sports photography.

It’s true that sports photography isn’t my first love. However, as an educator, I’ve always believed that it’s important that I try as many types of photography as possible. The fact is I’ve enjoyed it all.

The broad and diverse range of photography I’ve undertaken over the years is why I consider myself a generalist in a world of specialists.

How Surf Photography Has Helped Me

But photographing all manner of scenes and subjects along my own creative journey is only part of the story.

It’s the mistakes I’ve made along the way and the lessons I’ve learned that enables me to better respond to the needs of aspiring photographers.

This is one of the reasons why I’m a good teacher.

My experiences help me to both understand and empathize with the frustrations most enthusiast photographers experience along their own creative path.

Helping people make better photos is part of my mission in life. It’s one of the reasons I’m here, on this earth.

Surf Photography At Bells Beach

To be able to make great surf photos at Bells Beach I knew I needed a super telephoto lens.

I managed to arrange the loan of a Canon 600mm f/4 IS lens from a contact at Canon Australia.

It’s a monster of a lens and far too heavy for the sort of tripod I was using at the time.

Most folks would be better served with the much more versatile, and far more affordable, Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L series lens that I’ve linked to above.

Because of the size and weight of the Canon 600mm lens I had to leave my relatively compact and more versatile carbon fibre tripod at home.

In its place I brought along an extremely heavy aluminum tripod from a photography college I once worked at.

The combination of a super telephoto and sturdy tripod allowed me to set up close to my car at the top of the cliff, overlooking the famous Bells Beach surf, and photograph down on the action.

The high viewpoint emphasized the three dimensional qualities of the scene by highlighting definite foreground, mid ground (the surfer and the breaking wave) and background elements.

A fast 1/2000-second shutter speed was chosen to freeze the fast moving surfer and breaking wave in each of the photos features in this post.

A surfer on an early morning surf at the famous Bells Beach along the Great Ocean Road in Australia.

Bells Beach Is The Place For Surf Photography

I live in Melbourne, Australia so I undertook this particular Great Ocean Road drive on a Saturday afternoon and photographed under late afternoon and early evening light.

The next morning I photographed a spectacular sunrise, prior to returning for some more surf photography at Bells Beach and the nearby Winkipop.

It was a blast, though my shoulder was sore for a week after carrying that 600mm lens and that massive aluminium tripod over my shoulder.

It was a great weekend and, for me, life doesn’t get much better than when I’m traveling and making photos.

The next time you’re considering driving the Great Ocean Road consider including the Torquay surf beach and the famous Bells Beach on your itinerary.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru