Alex Williams has been there, done that and definitely got the t-shirt, it’s safe to say. From a watersports photography point of view he’s snapped all manner of disciplines, from high performance surfing to being the official pro windsurfing tour photographer back in the day. Now leading a quieter life in South Devon we thought we’d catch up for a natter.
How did you get started in photography?
My father was always really into wildlife and conservancy, so as I grew up, I got into wildlife photography from about 8/10 yrs old but also being a stone throw from Bantham beach it was not long before I was starting to surf. I went to art & design college in Plymouth to do wildlife photography but by then I was hooked on surfing and all my collage projects seemed to be involving surfing!! So in 1978/9 I started shooting for the first colour surfing magazines. My speciality was working getting shots in the water. About a year or so later a lot of my surfing friends were starting to windsurf so I was starting to shoot them in the water and so contributing to the windsurfing magazines. Within a year or so I was splitting my year between surfing and windsurfing.
Was it always about surfing/windsurfing or does all types of shooting inspire you?
All types of shooting inspired me but obviously surfing and windsurfing were my key focus. It’s amazing how good photography in other fields can inspire you to do something a little different in watersports photography.
If you had to choose one type of subject to snap for the rest of your days what would it be and why?
That’s a difficult one!!!! Now I love shooting empty waves but back in the day I loved shooting both sports because of the pureness of them, Surfing for the waves and windsurfing for the colour and technicality of the equipment and manoeuvres. I’ve never tired of shooting waves though, so it would have to be that…
Who, or what, has been your main source of inspiration?
Well, starting out it was all the great watersports photographers in surfing and windsurfing. Steve Wikings, Darrel Wong, Yuri Farrant, Eric Aeder, Ulle Seer and so on. But then it became more about the sailor and showing what they could do or catching the height of the action in whatever – be it wave sailing, speed sailing or racing.
You’ve shot all manner of surfing pros. Give us your top three surfers who have/are great to work with and why.
I’ve shot with a lot of different surfers around the world but some of the best guys have been UK guys to do trips with. Back in the day Carwyn Williams who in the early 80’s was way ahead of his time. He was hopping airs since the early 1980s. Of course Russel Winter and Spensor Hargraves but to be honest there are 30 other guys that are as great to shoot with as well.
And what about windsurfers?
Well, I always loved doing trips with Brian Talma, Josh Stone, Scott McKercher, Gary Gibson, Farrell O’Shea and Peter Hart. The roll call is endless; so many great windsurf guys and women that I have worked with over the years.
How did you get the official windsurfing pro tour photographer job?
Back in the early 199’s the days of the PBA had Cill Webb shooting and doing all the media for them. It was getting bigger and bigger, Cliff had less time to shoot, so he asked Thorsten Indra and I if we would take on the photography side. So Thorsten and I split the events between us for the year and doubled up on the biggest ones.
How long did you do that for?
I think 1992/3 was the first event for PBA and I did my last one in 2006 for the PWA which was Ulsan in Korea. By then it was John Carter and I doing the events. Around the year or so before Rich (Page) asked us both to give a quote for doing all the events rather than splitting them but this did not work for me as I was a staff photographer for Orca Publication, shooting for Carve magazine, Threesixty magazine and Surfgirl magazine. So I told John if there was any he could not do I would step in if needed, but mostly he should take on the majority of the work.
Any particular highlights from your time doing that?
All of it! Every event and trip was a blast from Sylt to Hawaii and of course the O’Neill events in Baja and Fiji.
Where was your fave tour spot to shoot and why?
Hawaii, because of the light, waves and action. You just know that everybody will pull out all the stops and go big! So to capture those moments is very special; first forward loops landed, wave 360s, double loops and so on.
How come it ended? Was it just a case of moving on?
Competition wise my commitments required focus elsewhere. But I was still doing trips with guys like Brian Talma and Josh Stone until a few years ago.
Where‘re you at now in terms of watersports photography? Is it still a job or are you doing it more out of passion these days?
Yep, doing it out of passion these days as have a farm and wife and kids to look after. We own also a camp ground that is busy from April to October. In fact, it’s SO busy this year with everyone staycationing.
Talk to us about your local area and what that offers in terms of windsurfing/surfing photography?
Bantham, Bigbury and Thurlestone are just a stone throw away and great for everything: windsurfing, SUP, kiting and surfing. There are places for all wind angles if you know where to go. Bigbury was where I cut my teeth doing windsurfing water photography in those early days and is still a great spot with interesting backdrops from land and sea.
And what about other types of shoot?
It’s such a great area for all types of shoots. I’ve shot brochures and catalogues for all manner of clients here.
What’s your opinion on modern watersports photography (surfing, windsurfing or other)? Is it easier to make a living from it these days do you think?
No, I don’t think it is! Because there are so many people shooting and giving shots away free. The time, knowledge, cost of equipment and so on all add up. But it is way better for the photographer equipment wise. Cameras are so good and with a large memory card you can sit out in the water and shoot for hours and not need to come in and reload after shooting 36 rolls of film.
What’s your one defining moment as a photographer?
Seeing my first photo published.
Any final comments on your time as a photo man?
Surfing and windsurfing photography has taken me around the world since the mid 1970s meeting some amazing people and seeing places that you would normally not get to. Anyone starting out on that avenue and is doggedly determined and professional has a great chance of it being a lifelong career.
Thanks and praise?
To every windsurfer/surfer that has let me work with them: they are the stars! And of course, all the editors that have used my pics, all the people that have believed I’ll always come back with the goods, thank you!