Remember those days as a kid when going to the beach? Do you remember the excitement? A cool breeze and powder soft sand under your bare feet. Seagulls hovering playfully over the scene and the buzzing waves kindling its own symphony.
Derek Bahn is looking at the ocean’s view ever since he can remember, watching surfers doing their tricks and flips. Impressed by the water sport, surfing has become a big part of his life now, being Hurley’s official photographer.
For people who are not familiar with the brand, what does Hurley stands for?
We are an action sports clothing brand owned by Nike, creating innovative product and experiences to have more fun in and around water. Disruptive innovation is our unique blend of style and performance. To help us showcase our product and influence today’s youth, we have an amazing team of surfers including the current World Champion, John John Florence. We also make connections with kids through art and music involving events and concerts showing them that having fun, expressing yourself, and enjoying life is what’s most important.
How does surfing influence your life?
I’ve been involved with taking photos of surfing and the lifestyle around surfing for a while now. I grew up in Santa Cruz, CA around the surf and skate culture so I feel like it’s always had a big influence in my life. Shooting surfing is actually how my passion for photography started. I was instantly drawn to capturing the sport’s aesthetic through photographs. The attitude, style, and action of the sport just look so cool and I wanted to be in it and capture it as much as possible. Now I really enjoy meeting all the people involved in the sport, working with pro athletes, and watching the sport grow.
❝ My biggest advice for anyone wanting to become a photographer is practice and educating yourself. The more you study all aspects of the craft and the more you can get out there and experiment, you will be able to learn by trial and error, and by the information you've learned from studying, how to eventually be the master of your craft. Being willing to learn and keep learning and getting out there and doing it as much as possible is the best thing any artist or creator can do. Also, ask questions. Find out what other people are doing and how they're doing it. Constantly look for inspiration. And create relationships with people you can learn from or with people in the field you are interested in working in. I think what it takes to be a GOOD photographer in this field is versatility. You have to be good at shooting photos of more than just one thing. Ideally, you’re good at shooting everything from people, lifestyle, portraits, product, and action. You also have to be good with people and know how to make your model/subject/athlete comfortable but also know how to push them a little out of their comfort zone to make a better photo. It’s definitely a fine line because the worst thing you could do is make your subject unhappy or uncomfortable. I really look up to Annie Leibovitz because she’s so good at directing her models and pushing them to do something they normally wouldn’t do but staying true to who they are and what they stand for. The viewer wants to see interesting and impactful imagery so as a photographer/director sometimes you have your subject do something in front of the camera that might be a little unexpected, humorous, or sexy. Shock value is a great way to get people to notice a photo and in my opinion, Annie is one of the best at getting that from her subjects. Being a photographer is something you have to love and be passionate about, just like with any artistic career. It can be a very rewarding artistic expression and it is a thrill to be able to do what you love and get paid for it. ❞
Which is the biggest challenge you experience as a photographer nowadays?
Doing something new. Finding an approach to a photograph or series of photos that genuinely feels fresh and different. I think that’s especially important in the world of advertising. One of the things that originally attracted me to photography is that fact that the possibilities are so infinite. There's an endless amount of approaches to how you can take a photo having to do with lighting, composition, angles, lenses, camera settings, color, etc. I get bored easily so I’m constantly trying to take photos that I feel like I’ve never taken before and even though there are these possibilities, the end result still has to be good. Just because something is different it doesn’t mean it’s good, so I would say the biggest challenge is coming up with fresh new ideas that still have a consistent level of quality.
What is your favorite photography accessory, other than your camera, and why?
My lights. Lighting is my favorite part of photography. Lighting is the first thing I think about when I approach shooting anything. In my opinion, lighting is the one thing a photographer has control over that will affect the look, emotion, and overall mood of a photo more than anything else. Composition plays a big part in that as well, but the lighting makes the biggest impact when it comes to communicating something through an image. Lighting keeps me interested in photography and it keeps me learning. I learn something new every time I approach lighting my subject. I'm constantly experimenting, tweaking, and discovering new things about light. Lighting can communicate shape, texture, size, scale, perspective, color, temperature, mood, and emotion based on where your light source is, how big the light is, the distance of your light to your subject, the distance of your light to your background, how many light sources you are using to capture the image, how bright your light source is, what color your light source is, how hard or soft your light source is, and what direction your light source is coming from. There are so many types of light sources that can be used in photography. I've used the sun, the moon, fog, clouds, shade, a bare bulb, a flash, softbox, umbrella, dish, can, reflector, fluorescents, ambient light, etc. All of these factors have a huge part in how a photo looks, the mood of the photo, and how impactful it is to the viewer. There are many ways a photographer can draw the viewers’ attention to a certain part of the photo, using depth of field, composition, an angle of view and perspective, but I believe the best way to draw attention is lighting.
How has photography transformed you as a human being? What are the key differences you can identify before and after starting photography?
Photography has made me a better problem solver and improviser. Nothing is more rewarding than to have a plan or goal and have it all come together exactly how you visualized it but quite often the result doesn't end up being exactly how you imagined them to turn out. A lot of times you have to think on your feet, problem solves, work with what you got, improvise, and just try your best with what you have to work with.
Photography has also made me more observant. I’m much more aware of my surroundings and how it could potentially look in a photo. Real life always looks different in a photo, so I try to visualize how it could look in a photo. I look at sunlight hitting someone’s face a certain way and I’m constantly thinking to myself how a subject or subjects would look in a photo with a certain amount of exposure or a certain type of post work. I really focus on pre-visualization and thinking about how I’m going to approach a photo before I even touch my camera.
What do you think of the photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now?
It’s pretty crazy how many photographers there are now. Not only are more and more people doing it as a hobby but there are a lot more people trying to do it as a career. It’s also because we have so much more visual access to photographs now that social media exists as a platform. Social media has really helped turn photography into a kind of saturated industry. Which is a good and a bad thing. It makes it interesting because there’s just so many photos out there now. There are more amazing photos out there because of it but it also makes for more crappy photos as well. Since there’s such a high quantity of photos, it kind of makes it a longer process to find the quality. There’s still a ton of great quality out there, you just have to look through more crap to find it. I think it’s a good thing though because it challenges me to be a better photographer and try harder to stand out.
What’s the first thing you would do if you won the lottery?
I would buy the biggest craziest photo studio money could buy. I wouldn’t worry about making money from photography anymore and just shoot photos making the best art that I could make and see where that takes me.
John John Florence is an American professional surfer. He is known as "one of the most dominant Pipe surfers of his era" and has most recently won the title of 2017 World Surf League Men's Champion