November 27th, 2015
BEHIND THE LENS WITH TED GRAMBEAU
Born the son of a legendary Australian football coach in the late 1950s, Ted Grambeau’s expected destiny was to become a brilliant footballer himself. But thanks to a self-described “lazy” attitude and a fortuitous injury, Ted eagerly sought out his other interest in surf photography. His early subjects were his mates at their local breaks in Wonthaggi and Foster, back then small country towns in
In your experience, how vital is formal education to a successful career in photography?
Although not essential, it certainly is an advantage to have a formal background in photography. Like anything, knowledge is power to a certain extent. Some great photographers have little technical knowledge but may surround themselves with talent. Whatever works. I believe a great eye, passion and dedication are probably equally as important as sound technical knowledge.
What is more important to you: Great equipment or a great subject?
Great photos are sort of like baking a cake. If you use all the best ingredients in the best kitchen with the best chef, you will probably end up with the best cake. That being said, “the subject” is undoubtedly the vital ingredient—a beautiful model, the hottest surfer… whatever the subject is, is paramount.
History has pretty much shown the man stopping the tank in Tiananmen square, The napalmed little girl during the Vietnam War , the fall of the
But on a competitive level, if all other things being equal (light, subject etc…) the better quality equipment will win out. Note: Standing on the beach on the
Describe a “classic” Grambeau surf photo.
I don’t see a shot that has a definitive style of mine, however I have shots that represent a lot of what I’m about. I think the Cyclops shot on the cover of the Surfers Journal represented not only a beautiful wave, it was also something that required a lot of effort to be found—as well the limit of what currently ” can and can not” be surfed! And it also holds something special to anyone who surfs. It literally sends a shiver up one’s spine! Maybe with my fashion shots I’m developing a look, but I’m not really sure.
Describe your general work flow.
Traditionally, my surf trips were to explore unusual locations that would likely have surf, gather some surfers from the companies and go explore. For me now, it’s as much about the journey as it is the surf. Recent times have seen companies recognize the value of such endeavors and created major marketing campaigns around them. This is the passion side of my work flow. The magazines I work with usually support my proposals and cover my costs, and my income is derived from images published or sold to the companies for advertising.
Next to that is scanning weather maps, swell forecasts and reacting with short term trips (3 – 4 days), to a location where the surf looks like almost a certainty. Pro surfers prefer these types of trips as they don’t like being away long and stand a very good chance of getting waves.
Commercial work now makes up the bulk of my income and most of it is still derived from the surf industry. I have a great relationship with most of the big companies and do a lot of work with Rip Curl. That may involve going on a location with an art director, models, make up, and an assistant, and producing lifestyle fashion images, wetsuit campaigns, etc. This area has been made possible for me after having somewhat more of a formal photographic training. It is exciting and challenging to work more as a team than that of an editorial shoot. It’s also an area that has a lot more inherent pressure to produce. You can’t just say, “It wasn’t sunny during those days, can we wait?” You must come up with results every time.
It’s basically creative problem solving. I’ve been fortunate to work with some great creative people over the last few years. In particular the creative director for Rip Curl, James Taylor, has been a driving force behind some of the best results I’ve ever photographed.
How has digital photography changed your style / work flow?
It has indeed changed a lot of things, but in another way nothing has changed. Let me address the last part of that statement. Digital has not made anyone who wasn’t a good photographer before a better photographer now! It doesn’t make he or she get up earlier and capture the magic. It doesn’t make them see any differently than before. What it does do is facilitate that person’s talent so that what they see can be more immediately realized. Which in some ways has shortened the life event of photography from a month or two (when the monthly magazines would come out) to a few days (once it’s been on the web).
Combined with Photoshop, there is a down-grading of standards with the acceptance of “we’ll fix it in Photoshop!” in the digital age. The sheer volume we now shoot in digital (because we can) is estimated at five times previously shot on film. So work flow has become the big issue with photographers—editing, storage (at least three times as much), hard drives, software, computers, expensive digital cameras that are out dated every two years.
Photographers really got screwed in the surf editorial industry. They saved the magazines film, processing and scans costs, but have to pay between $6,000 to $20,000 a year in new equipment for the same return.
What was your most recent equipment purchase and why?
Last camera was a Canon 1-Ds 111, 21-meg camera, at $12,000 AUS. I bought it because it’s the best quality camera in its class. It allows me to shoot a photojournalist style of fashion /advertising while maintaining the highest quality. The other recent acquisition was an 85 F1.2 Canon lens. It’s a low light fast lens that extends the shooting time for hand held photography during the interesting times of morning and twilight. I’m a lover of fast prime lenses.
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