When the swell fills in, you are guaranteed to see some incredible photos from the day captured by XTERRA SURF staff photographer Lee Bertrand. Between chasing swells, swimming with sharks and playing with his daughter, Lee has become a staple in the San Diego surf scene. We were able to catch up with Lee for a little Q&A to get to know the man behind the lens.
Q: What do you enjoy or find unique about shooting in your current city of San Diego?
A. I love the diverse coastline. I think it's awesome that in one county, on one swell, it can be completely flat in one area and then pumping in another. Not to mention the ocean floor. One spot is reef, another is a sand bar with a massive canyon out the back! Pretty ridiculous.
Q: Can you tell me about the first time you picked up a camera?
A. I actually was gifted a DSLR camera about 11 years ago. At first, I was using it to photograph nature and to draw inspiration for the paintings and illustrations I was doing. The next thing I knew, I was taking it everywhere and it became my go-to creative outlet and eventually, my career.
Q: What is your current weapon of choice in terms of equipment?
A. Definitely my Nikkor 14-24mm f/ 2.8 lens. From landscapes to surf photography, it's my favorite lens in my bag. It is really difficult to position yourself in the line up on a big day with this lens, but to me, nothing beats it when you connect on a barrel shot, up close and personal. The type of shot that Todd Glaser and Rob Machado connect on so effortlessly.
Q: What subject do you enjoy shooting most? Surfing, empty waves, etc?
A. Tough one....lately I find my self obsessed with swimming with large marine life. Sharks and other large mammals have been a recent focus of mine.....but in the grand scheme of things, my photography is all geared towards capturing the raw power and beauty of water. I think it's so fascinating how harsh and relentless the ocean can be one moment and completely harmless in another. I'm really drawn to the impact it has on nature. Slot canyons, rivers, coastlines. It's all great. Ultimately, the more hours logged in the ocean, the better.
Q: What would you say has been the most profound event in your life and how does that influence your photography?
A. Easy one... without a doubt, the birth of my daughter has been the biggest and best thing to ever happen to me. Two weeks after she was born, I resigned from my day job to make my part-time photography business a full-time career. She gives me a reason to do things better. Photography is my passion and by finding success doing what I love, I am setting a good example for my daughter. In turn, that pushes me harder to achieve my own goals.
Q: Give us an anecdote from one of your recent travels.
A. Recently, I traveled on a solo mission to Quintana Roo, Mexico. I made my way up from Tulum to Isla Mujeres. On the final leg of the trip, my goal was to photograph whale sharks in the wild. After a 2 hour boat ride, I was sitting on the back of the boat with my fins hanging over the side and camera, ready to jump in at the site of a whale shark.. I have swam with these gentle giants before and I know that even when they are swimming effortlessly it can be difficult to keep up, especially while trying to capture a photo. All of a sudden, a massive whale shark appeared and the captain told me to jump off. I was so caught in the moment and so focused on getting my shot. I yelled at him to drive a little further up and to drop me off so I could position myself in the sharks path to get my shot (all of a sudden I thought I was an expert) haha. He said "No! You're going to miss it!" So I jumped off the boat as the shark was coming towards me and it suddenly just went completely vertical and just started hovering there sucking in mass amounts of water. I was so close I could see the water going in the mouth and coming out of the gills. I stopped swimming and just drifted right over the mouth. It was so surreal. I got back on the boat and everyone laughed at me for questioning the captain. I had to eat my words and caught a much deserved hard time. It was epic.
Q: What is the top location on your bucketlist to shoot?
A. I want to travel to the Southern Pacific Ocean. Specifically, to the Kingdom of Tonga to swim with and photograph Humpback Whales! I'm hoping to scratch this one off of the list in 2018.
We headed north up the frigid coast until we found a peeling left coming off a pier. Sean suited up and I went out to the snow-covered pier to shoot. Although it was challenging conditions to shoot in trying to keep the subject in focus during the blizzard, and not knowing if my toes were going to fall off, it was truly a moment us surfers and surf photographers live for.