Capturing Great Lakes with Beth Price

Beth Price.jpg

Beth Price has found her passion in the cold and windy months on Lake Michigan.  Bundled up in warm winter gear and even a wetsuit Beth ventures into rare and uncharted photographic territory and what started out as a personal project has now turned into an inland surf masterpiece.  Her work is chilling and her pictures are inspiring and revealing.  Be sure to check out more from her website:  bethpricephotography.com.  

How long have you been shooting sports photography?  

I never really shot sports photography until recently.  What happened was the great beauty and meaning I find in the natural landscapes around me merged with my outdoor, active lifestyle and my career as a photographer.  I am in awe when I witness a serious athlete surrounded by a stunning, natural backdrop.  To me, it’s an art form.  The challenge is then for me to understand the sport enough so I may accurately translate the artistic edge with the technical. 

When I look through some of my first surf photographs, although aesthetically pleasing, they wouldn’t wow a surfer.  It’s taken time for me to learn what components make a good surf photograph which is why I held off at first in sharing my images.  I wanted to build a portfolio I was proud of and that the surf community would embrace.

 Photo: Beth Price

Photo: Beth Price

How and when did you get into SUP/surf photography?

It began as a personal project. I was questioning the direction of my career and needed an outlet.  An artist friend challenged me to pick up my camera for and shoot as if I’d never make any money from what I photographed.  Then one day I heard that people were surfing on Lake Michigan so I decided to investigate and that’s when I realized that I had found my personal project.

I’ve become rather obsessed with fresh water surfing.  It took awhile for me to feel confident enough to share my work for a variety of reasons.  Mainly I wasn’t sure if I wanted to turn my personal project into part of my career.  When I realized I did want this, I had to learn what truly makes an exceptional surf photograph - one that’s portfolio-worthy and that I wanted to share. 

Recently my work has been gaining more attention.  One of the first emails of encouragement I received was from a surfer.  All it said was “Awesome PICS Beth!!! Keep shooting!!!”  I sat at my computer, had a good cry, then typed back, “Thank you!!  I will.”

 Photo: Beth Price

Photo: Beth Price

What kind of camera do you use and how do you keep warm?

My main camera system is Canon.  I use a 5D Mark III and a variety of L series lenses.  Sharpness is critical to me so I’ve invested in my glass.  I also recently invested in a Liquid Eye water housing system.  

When shooting from shore I keep warm because I know how to layer.  It’s a serious matter to me because when I’m cold, I’m useless. I’m pretty loyal to the Patagonia brand.  I have an entire layering system built mainly around their clothing and I’m not being paid to say this nor am I being given free product, although I wish I were!

In the water I’m grateful for the two wetsuits that were given to me.  Neither one is warm enough for winter conditions so I’m saving up and doing my research. I’d love to be able to jump in the water any month of the year.  

As far as surfing in the great lakes goes or big lake surfing how do you plan your shoots for last minute surf?

It’s tough when the surf is last minute.  Often times I am able to rearrange my schedule but sometimes I simply do not make the surf if I’m committed to something else.  I joke that I may lose my day job over this, but in all seriousness, I am in the process of figuring out how to make this a greater part of my day job.  I try to plan as much in advance as possible by researching the weather and communicating with a circle of contacts I’ve made.  These new friends are reliable and I am extremely grateful to have gained their trust and expertise. 

 Photo: Beth Price

Photo: Beth Price

From your perspective, how have these sports grown?  Do you see more and more people getting into wetsuits in the winter?  

In just a few years I’ve seen a good deal of growth in this community so I can only imagine what other photographers have seen.  My friend Loukas talks about an epic wind summer in the 90’s. Typically there isn’t much wind around here in July and August, but that summer Loukas and his friend Blake surfed up and down the Lake Michigan coast and were pretty much the only ones out there.  It makes me drool thinking about it.

Currently a windy day in the spring and fall months (or a rare windy day in July or August) means the water is filled with people surfing, SUPing and kiteboarding, meanwhile the shoreline is full of beachgoers and swimmers.  It can become crowded so it’s important on these days to be especially aware of your surroundings and to be extra cautious.  Once the snow flies, it’s a ghost town.  Last December there was a day when there were two surfers in the water and myself on shore.  It was worth it.  The conditions were magical! 

Can you tell us something interesting about your experiences and/or connection to the lake surfing world.  Have you tried it out?

First off, I cannot say enough about our surfing community on the Great Lakes.  My new friends are kind and encouraging and have embraced the fact that I’m out there trying to take the most meaningful photos that I can.

I may have gone about it backwards.  I first began photographing surfing and now I’m learning to surf.  Although I own a custom shaped board (Fresh Surfboards/Loukas Berthea), I don’t take it out often.  If I’m out there I want to be shooting versus surfing. 

When I’m at the ocean, that’s when I surf.  I don’t have as much desire to shoot saltwater surfing.  I like my fresh water niche and in general feel more comfortable in fresh water.  Last winter I traveled to Playa Grande in Costa Rica to learn more and to practice and this winter I’ll be in El Paredon, Guatemala for a few days sharpening my surfing skills. 

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