How To Shoot A Lineup

| posted on September 26, 2011

All the elements come into play amid a warm Mexican sunset. Photo: Burkard

As surfers, there are certain photos that speak directly to us. Through a calculated lens, they crisply present us The Dream in glossy, high mega-pixel form. From Tavarua to G-land and a hundred other locales in between, a stellar lineup shot has been the spark that’s launched a thousand surf trips. So what’s the trick to immortalizing a perfect moment? We called on our own master lensman, Chris Burkard, to get the ins and outs of shooting the perfect lineup.

To me, a lineup  should breathe like a landscape photo. It should give the viewer a sense of the place and ultimately keep them wanting more. A great lineup is almost always composed with a compelling background or foreground image besides the wave. This is important because it will give you sense of the place. Look for cliffscapes, trees, fences, or any subject matter that you can place in front or behind your wave. This will help create depth to your photo as well as make it more interesting. Sometimes the greatest lineups aren’t about the quality of surf, but the ability to imagine yourself ripping the wave apart.

Framing can be a great way to make a lineup interesting if there isn’t a good background or foreground. Using the edge of a building or tree foliage to make some dark areas on the image will work. It’ll also bring the focus back to the wave. Another important part of framing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to bull’s-eye your wave in the center of the image. Lineups are all about balance; so having a wave off to the side can really help with that.

Lineups can be shot with all types of lenses. Wide-angles are great for pointbreaks and waves that are perfectly lined up. The typical lens for shooting a lineup is a 70-200mm, or something that can allow you to compress the wave into the background or foreground.

Depth of field is also important for a lineup. Typically in normal daylight, you’ll be shooting somewhere in the F8 range. That will give you a good portion of the scene in focus.

My favorite element to shooting a lineup is offshore winds. When the winds are offshore it makes the ocean look more groomed and typically will make for a better image. A good tip is to always try and get above the wave when shooting offshore winds because it will allow the winds to contrast against the water, rather than get lost in the sky. The cleaner the conditions, the better the waves are going to look.


    thank you!, i enjoyed reading your ‘very informative’ post.

  • Dave

    Love surf photography – and especially Chris Burkard photography. Thanks for an inspiring article 🙂

  • adam

    thanks for a few great tips

  • More Waves

    Chris always takes insane landscapes! Cool article man!

  • Oscar Daniel Devitta

    Great tips, thanks a lot!!


    Great little article about lineup shots. Most articles like this relate to capturing the action. This is a nice variation on capturing surf photography.