Last winter, SURFER staff photographer Zak Noyle decided to try something new while shooting at Pipeline. During a few epic sessions, he set down his Canon Mark 4 and pulled out the most widely-used camera in the world today—the one attached to his iPhone. Considering the equipment, the results were shocking and shifted our perspective on what mobile devices are truly capable of. Recently, I sat down with Noyle to talk about shooting the world’s most harrowing wave with a cell phone, the drawbacks, and the perspective needed to capture the perfect moment.
Editor’s Note: Zak Noyle is a professional photographer who has shot Pipeline for years. Buying a housing for your iPhone and swimming out at Pipe will not yield the same results—in fact, you will probably die.
Let’s talk about your iPhone. When did you start taking it into the lineup?
When I heard that the iPhone 4S was gonna have an 8 megapixel camera, I instantly flashed back that my first digital camera, a 20D, which was 8 megapixel. You can run an 8 megapixel shot in print and it’ll actually turn out. So I started thinking about how I could begin using my iPhone to shoot surfing. Today, my iPhone is my go to, hand-held digital camera for shooting everyday stuff. My dad, who’s a very accomplished photographer, told me that your best camera is the one that you have with you. And I’ve always got my phone with me [laughs.] So I started taking my phone out with me to Pipe and a few other breaks about a year ago and have come away with some really cool shots.
What did you use to you keep your phone dry?
There really wasn’t anything out there last year when I first started experimenting with my phone that was equipped to handle being in the lineup. They had housings for your iPhone that could get wet and handle it if you spilled water on your phone, but there was really nothing you’d want to take into the lineup. I would actually have my phone and housing in a ziplock bag. You’re most likely to swamp your gear when you’re swimming out, so I’d paddle out with my other gear and when I had a chance, I’d bust it out and try and get a few shots and then throw it back in the ziplock.
So tell me about some of the results. What have the highlights been?
It’s been really cool on a few different levels. Some of the photos have actually been run in print, the phone’s not going to replace the DSLRs anytime soon, but it’s giving us a lot of cool options. At one point, I was taking shots with my phone and texting them to the magazine to be uploaded on the website. It was almost happening in real time, and as far as I know, we were the first people to do that.
So what would you tell someone who wants to start shooting from the water with their phone?
There’s a bunch of great apps out there that are really rad. I’m really into an app called Snapseed. You can do all sorts of photo editing right there on your phone. So there’s no need for you to upload your photos to your computer; you can do it all on your phone. I think the app costs about five bucks. As far as housings go, that’s kind of tough. I’ve actually been testing a housing with a company called Water Shot. They’ve created an iPhone housing that can go 150 feet, can have a fisheye, and a pistol grip. I think that housing costs about 100 bucks. As far as shooting is concerned, you want to be a little pulled back and think of it like a 35 mm camera. It’s definitely a challenge and I’ve missed a lot moments, but it’s fun to shoot with something different. Sort of how guys like to change up their quiver. You don’t want to ride the same shortboard every day, right? I hope a lot of people start using their phone to shoot surfing.