Interview by: Tony Heff
You’d be hard pressed to find another photographer who works as hard as Brent Bielmann does. He’s been to ends of the earth and has the photos to prove it. I got the chance to sit down with Mr. Bielmann and pick his brain on a few topics that might be pertinent to the aspiring surf photographer. Read carefully and you may learn something.
What is a good beginner rig for beginning surf photographers?
I can’t think of anything besides the Canon 7d. If you got a 7d mark II, that’s the next
best thing to a 1dx. If you have $1500 to get a 7d mark ii, you’re money. A good beginner lens would be a 50 mm. I feel like it’s more versatile. You can only do so much with the fisheye and honestly, it’s starting to get a little played out. There’s so many shore break shots. If you could only get one lens, I’d suggest the 50 mil. As far as water housings, I’d say the two best are CMT and SPL. You’re going to spend a little more with the SPL but it’s a little more durable. But the CMT is super light and nice to swim with.
What would be a professional go-to rig these days?
Canon 1dx with a 24-105. It’s pretty much all I’ve been shooting with lately. With that lens you can kinda get everything. And at 24mm it almost looks fisheye. I’m kinda getting lazy with that setup. It’s so nice.
What are some necessary tools the trade?
If you don’t have a good pair of fins, you’re going to be sinking. I would definitely say a helmet over everything else. If I wasn’t wearing a helmet this winter, I guarantee I wouldn’t be sitting here.
That was actually my next question..
How important is wearing a helmet when shooting from the water?
I really believe it saved my life. There are huge gashes in my helmet from when I
hit my head on the reef this winter. I got a concussion, and on and off for the next 5 days I couldn’t remember my friend’s names.
What is the most difficult part of your job?
Honestly, I think the most difficult part is the expectations from the companies, magazines, and surfers. They don’t understand how much work goes into making a single photo sometimes, and these days with social media everybody wants everything so instantly. You spend a lot of time getting the photo, and sometimes you can just be exhausted and all you want to do is go home, make dinner and lay down. But after you’ve worked so hard all day, either the surfers are texting you, ‘Hey can I please get that shot? Can you send me it?” Or the mags are like, “Hey, can you get that over right now?” And I’m like…I haven’t even had time to take a shower and have dinner yet! That’s what irritates me the most. Social Media. If it was up to me…I wish we were still shooting film. You’d take your film downtown. Hang out, go watch a movie. All the surf photographers get together, all get in a car and go down. It would be so nice.
What is the worst travel story you have?
My worst travel story…I’m not sure what would be the worst. I’ve been in some weird situations. When I was younger I was in Indo and I went out with these two chicks that were kind of older. They got me super wasted. I woke up, I don’t know where but they had
me on a bed. The one chick was kinda fat, and the other was kinda cute…but they had pink fuzzy handcuffs, and they were trying to handcuff me to the bedpost. And I freaked out and jumped out of bed and took off. I got lost, ran through rice fields up to my knees for like an hour. I heard there’s all kinds of cobras in there too. I finally got to the road at Canggu, and while I was walking a dog bit me on the hand. I’m pretty sure it had rabies, the thing was just going nuts. I got to the police station and the policeman wouldn’t help me get back to my place unless I gave him $50. I gave him the money, got back to my place, but had barely slept. Woke up in the morning and had to work. And for the next three days I had to get a rabies shot in my ass. And the shot…I kid you not was one of those huge ones from the 50s. It hurt so bad. And it made me feel like I was in a dream. That was the worst.
What are some necessary travel essentials?
Music for sure. Sunglasses. You’d die without sunglasses on some of those trips. Oh… Munipricin. It’s prescription triple antibiotic ointment that fights staph. I can’t tell you how many times it has probably saved my life. And not just that. I take a full first aid kit. Antibiotics, sutures, numbing spray, gauze, something to stitch myself up if I have to, which I have. That’s the most important thing I’d say, a really good fist aid kit.
How do feel like surf photography has changed in recent years?
We kind of touched on that with the social media thing. I guess that’s the main thing. I feel like there’s all these kid photographers and no one is really trying to makea living anymore. A lot of them are not thinking of how they can make a living at this or support themselves Everybody just wants to get famous on social media. They want to have a hundred thousand followers. They
feel like that’s what make you accomplished as a photographer. I think people just get off on getting five or ten thousand likes on a photo. To me, I could seriously care less. But now I’m forced to do it for work and companies to make a living. I just wish it wasn’t like that. It seems like sometimes people aren’t smart enough to say that’s a great photo if the photographer only has like, a hundred followers. But if someone has a hundred thousand followers they can post any photo and everyone says “Oh my God! It’s amazing!” And you’re just like…it looks like every other photo on Instagram.
What advice might you give to a beginner water photographer?
Do something everyone is not doing.
What is something you’d change about surf photography, if you could?
I’d definitely raise the pay rate for surf photographers. It’s ridiculous how much time we put in. And it sounds a little cliche but you really are risking your life when it’s big and thumping. You’re putting yourself in some really heavy situations and then you come in with a really good shot you have the surf company saying, “Oh, actually we can only afford this much.” And they try to nickel and dime you and you know they really want the photo because otherwise they wouldn’t even be negotiating with you. Yeah, that’s what I’d change. Because my uncle was even saying, it’s been the same salary since the late 80s. It hasn’t changed at all. I mean, it’s been almost 30 years.