Taking that step… – James Jagger windsurfing photographer profile

Words and pics: James Jagger

Here at WSUK we love to highlight those helping to spread the good word of windsurfing. This doesn’t just mean riders themselves, as can be seen with our second windsurfing photographer profile in the form of south coast based James Jagger. (You can read about Cornish lens man Joe Cockle here). 

As much as windsurfing is about what happens on the water there’s also a want/need for documentation – after all, without these types there wouldn’t be any vids, images or indeed magazines such as Windsurfing UK. Often unsung heroes a plethora of camera addicts exist who get all snap happy when the wind blows.  James recently went full time with his photography which prompted us to sit down with JJ for a natter.

I was always encouraged to use a camera on family holidays from an early age. The first time that stands out was on a ski trip to Austria when I captured an image of a paraglider silhouetted against the sun. I loved the way the shot showed the interaction between an adventure sport and the natural environment and from that point onwards I was hooked.

I’ve wanted to be a full-time freelance photographer for over 10 years but it’s been a question of plugging away alongside a full-time teaching job until I was in a position to make it a reality. In the last 12 months, the photography has gone to another level which has meant I’ve been able to leave my job as a teacher and go full-time with the photography.

I work for a company called ‘Alamy Live News’ who are the biggest image provider in the UK. I photograph anything to do with the UK weather, which fits in really well with windsurfing, and have to date had photos published in the Times, the Telegraph, the Express, the Mirror and the Sun. I also get commissioned to do various other shoots, including portrait shoots of the Archbishop of Canterbury, cup finals for the local football team, family portraiture and weddings. Being outdoors and capturing the elements however is definitely my favourite.

I was raised in a family who were 100% into watersports and if I didn’t join in I would have been sat bored on the beach. I very quickly fell in love with windsurfing, waterskiing, surfing and more recently SUP.

West Wittering is a firm favourite as it’s got the beautiful beach, and South Downs backdrop. It also gets a huge amount of visitors who regularly form part of the composition for my images. I also love South and West Wales as locations for photography, including Newgale and the Gower, as the scenery is just stunning and the windsurfing action can be amazing.

Outside the UK, Fuerteventura is right up there as one of my favourite photography locations with perfect beaches, crystal clear waters, wind and waves.

Originally, Ansel Adams was a photpo hero of mine for his black and white photography, and more recently David Noten for his landscape images. In watersports, I love the work of Thorsten Indra who has a real talent for watersports photography.

In terms of people on the water James Dinsmore is always great to work with. I went to school with him and he’s a Hayling Island local so is more often than not out training off the seafront. Tez P has provided some great looping sequences recently. He really works the camera and isn’t afraid to go for the big moves (thanks! – ed). I’d like to organise a shoot with Chris Audsley as I used to sail a lot with him and he’s really talented.

Windsurfing is such a colourful and dynamic sport that it lends itself to being photographed. It’s not just about the radical jumping/looping shots but also about capturing people having fun whatever their level. I’ve had images published of beginners/intermediates at Esso Beach on Hayling, to jumping shots off Wittering. The key thing is flexibility and being available to photograph when conditions are firing.

I’ve done a bit of photography from boats but its super challenging when the wind is up as the boat gets thrown around a lot. I’d like to invest in a decent waterproof housing for my camera so that I can swim out and get right into the action. To date though, my shots have always been from land.

The beauty of photography is that you can always improve and shoot images from different angles and perspectives. I love capturing the moment. In watersports, that might be an off-the-lip, a looping sequence or showing the size of the conditions in relation to the natural surroundings. The key to action shots is to get up close with a long telephoto and having a camera that has a high frame rate.

When I used film, I shot using Minolta cameras and lenses. When I went digital in 2006 I couldn’t afford to change the camera and lenses so went with Sony as they had bought out Minolta and I could carry on using my lenses. I’ve stuck with Sony ever since.

I shoot mainly with the Sony Alpha 99 mark 2 and Sony Alpha 77 mark 2 with a variety of Carl Zeiss lenses, from 24-70mm f2.8 to 70-300mm f5.6-6.3 and with my whopping Tamron 150-600mm lens a recent addition. I’ve also got a whole load of Minolta prime f1.7 to f2.8 lenses which are great for portraiture. The great thing about the Sony cameras is their frame rate which peaks at 12 frames per second which is perfect for photographing action sports and wildlife.

I’ve also had considerable success shooting with the Apple Iphone 7+ which has two fixed focal length lenses which produce stunning images.

The best camera is the one you have on you, be it a phone, a compact or a bridge camera. I travel with all of those and use my professional Sony cameras for the day-to-day work when image quality is paramount. The important thing is to get out there and find your own shooting style. I run photography tutorials and aim to help clients to improve the quality of their images no matter what their level.

Unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to make a decent living at this point if I just took images of sailors but that may change as doors open. I’ve just covered the Virgin Kitesurfing Armada at Hayling Island and got some awesome shots of the kitesurfers. One of the images made it into the Sun newspaper so it made all the hard work worthwhile. Variety is the spice of life as they say and being able to cover a range of different watersports plus the weather photography is key at the moment.

Persistence is how to ‘make it’ at anything. Keep challenging yourself technically. Have the best kit you can afford. Have a decent agent. My agent at Alamy Live News, Jessica Mann, is amazing and will call me to discuss a shoot and the markets we’re aiming for.

I think it would be great if windsurfing images weren’t published from the same two or three photographers all the time but that brands were willing to give some of the freelances a shot. That would bring greater variety to the sport as each photographer has his or her own unique style. I’d love to be commissioned to do a photoshoot for one of the major brands, either at an event or ultimately in Maui!

I first windsurfed in 1985 on a lake in SW France but it wasn’t until 1987 when I got really inspired seeing the images of Mark Angulo doing killer loops. I got my first shortboard soon after that and have never looked back. I currently use RRD boards and Ezzy sails, although I do have a magic Simmer Quantum quad which I love when conditions are firing.

Being a windsurfer absolutely helps when taking pics of sailors. Being able to anticipate what a rider is about to do really helps, so a good knowledge of the sport is key to getting saleable shots. Being a windsurfer gives you a big advantage over the competition.

It definitely gets frustrating when you’re constantly shooting. I missed some incredible conditions whilst shooting the Virgin Kitesurfing Armada and by the time I got on the water it was crowded and inconsistent. However, the great thing is that the newspapers need the images by lunchtime on the day which means the afternoon/evening is playtime! There’s nothing quite like submitting images to my agent in the morning and then seeing them online within a couple of hours on the website of a national newspaper.

I set up my surf brand ‘Six Foot & Pumpkin’ 18 months ago with the aim of producing decent quality surf wear at an affordable price and manufactured solely in the UK. I come up with the ideas, my designer, Richard Johnston, does the design work and then I get the clothing produced in South Wales by a SUP friend, Neil Jackson, who has his own printing firm. Its early days but we currently sell a really cool range of hoodies, t-shirts and beanies which are proving really popular. The biggest challenge is manufacturing in the UK at a cost-effective price, as most of the big brands produce their clothing in the Far East where manufacturing costs are way cheaper.

Windsurfing is an amazing and dynamic sport which is so much fun to photograph and take part in. I love getting action shots which bring a smile to the faces of those I’ve been photographing. My thanks go to my partner, Millie, and my family for encouraging me to take the leap into full-time photography; to my agency Alamy Live News for the opportunities they have given me; and to all the windsurfers, SUPers, surfers and kitesurfers who by accident or design are the models for many of my photoshoots.

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