Lessons From A Pentaxian Shooter & Surf Photographer by Allison Gibson urf photographer and official Pentaxian shooter Mark Dimalanta has overcome swells of obstacles—from life changing illness to shooting in dangerous waves—along his way to becoming a global documenter of the surfing lifestyle.
The doctor turned photographer has really always been a photographer at heart. Inspired at a young age by his US Naval Officer father's photos from around the world, the California native and avid surfer began shooting scenes of the So Cal beach lifestyle with his first Pentax SLR in 1984. He went on to become the chief photographer of his high school yearbook, the photo editor of his university's newspaper, and the historian for the publication of the medical school he attended. However, after completing Medical School and Internship,
You often have to pay the price—holding your breath, getting rag-dolled by a thousand gallons of water and pounds of pressure, and avoiding collisions with your camera, a surfer, or a reef—to get the money shot.
Mark was diagnosed with a debilitating illness that left him immobile in bed after multiple surgeries on his knee, dramatically halting his plans for a clinical practice. During his recovery process, Mark says, he "fell in love with photography all over again," as he began to capture photos of the athletic activities he feared he would no longer be able to partake in—namely surfing. It was at that time that Mark says, "I made a conscious decision to live for the moment from here on out, and for the passions in my life." And so, as Mark regained mobility he remained passionate about photography, and now he travels the world surfing remote breaks and capturing the essence of surfing behind the lenses of his many Pentax cameras.
Mark is notorious for photographing surfers from right beside them in the waves—a bold style that brings viewers up close and personal with the action. According to Mark, he prefers to shoot from the water over a shore perspective because it is the most challenging, and admittedly the most dangerous, warning, "You often have to pay the price—holding your breath, getting rag-dolled by a thousand gallons of water and pounds of pressure, and avoiding collisions with your camera, a surfer, or a reef—to get the money shot." On the other hand, he admits that "Land or boat shooting gives you the added benefit of the ability to pull back and showcase the landscape." To Mark, each perspective plays its own role, depending on
the source in which the photographs will be displayed. He says, "Lifestyle [editorial] criteria may require showcasing the face of the surfer and the surrounding landscape, which is a little different than a surfing editorial's requirement of intense peak action that might only be appreciated by a surfer. I am learning to blend and integrate both styles."
When asked whether or not it matters if a "surf photographer" is actually a surfer, Mark responded, "Being a surfer helps in anticipating the action and understanding what the water currents are going to do." However, he admits that it can also be a "Catch 22" to be both because he often finds himself torn between shooting and surfing, and has on a few occasions "wasted shooting opportunities by surfing instead, and vice versa."
A Worldwide Adventure
Photographing the surfing world has taken Mark all over the globe—from the sport's birthplace in Hawaii, to the surf Mecca of Southern California, to Mexico, Australia, Bali and the Indonesian Mentawai Islands, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan and the "Majestic Philippine Islands," as Mark calls them. The Philippines are where Mark's heart lies, as he spends the most time there, working with the Philippine Department of Tourism and Aloha Board Sports, alongside fellow photo/videographer Christopher Watkins to "document and showcase the core of Philippine surfing so that the world will come to recognize and respect the surfing experience born of the Philippine Islands."
In addition to being a world traveling surf-lifestyle photographer, Mark is recognized as one of Pentax Imaging (USA)'s official Pentaxian photographers. This is a title that Mark is proud of, which he came to hold after he caught the eyes of the "Powers That Be" at Pentax while posting images that he took with his Pentax eist D on various online photo forums during recovery from his surgeries. It's easy to see why they took interest in his unique story and point
Mark's Top 5 Tips For Aspiring Surf Photographers
1. Be creative. The world is bombarded by static imagery that looks repetitive. I'm a big fan of Scott Aichner; it seems that no one else gets as deep in the barrel as he heroically does.
2. Use equipment that you are comfortable with and that suits your needs. I use water housings while in the water, but since my gear is weather-sealed I am assured that it is protected while on the boat— getting splashed by wet surfers, or from wind and salt mist.
3. Young photographers often mistakenly feel that they need a 600mm lens to be defined as a photographer. Some of the best work I have ever seen or shot has been from a 300-400mm. It's all about being creative and utilizing what you have.
4. If you intend to shoot in the water, be sure that your fitness is in check.
5. The surfing world is shrinking. The reality is that to find the "perfect empty wave," modern surfers and photographers have to travel to areas where they don't speak your language and differ culturally from your own status quo. The important lesson is to never be ethnocentric, respect and honor their traditions, take only memories, and be sensitive of how you expose their lives and surroundings.
Pentax DA 10-17 fisheye (ultra-wide angle from water) Pentax DA 70 limited (telephoto from water) Pentax DA* 300 f4 (telephoto from boat, pier or jetty) Pentax DA* 60-250 f4 (versatile walkaround lens) Pentax DA* 16-50 (all purpose premium Kit) Pentax DA* 50-135 (telephoto from water) Pentax Da* 55 fl.4 for portraits (the DA* lenses are fully weather sealed) Pentax FA4 600 f4 (ultra reach from land) Induro Carbon fiber Legs
Wimberley Gimbal Head (to support the mighty 600mm) Joby Gorillapods (SLR for off camera flash support, SLR zoom, and Focus models for heavy camera support in lieu of a bulky tripod)
Tamrac Adventure 10 backpack (best surf photog's pack), Tam-rac N-19 neoprene camera straps (they absorb sweat off your neck, grip well, and dampen the weight of the camera) Tamrac Speedroller 2 for quick mobility within the terminal to hotel. Apple Macbook Pro SPL waterhousings of view as a photographer and deemed him worthy of the title of Pentaxian. The title has meant continuing his 20+ years as a Pentax shooter, and he marvels that "Pentax Legacy support is unmatched by the competition," saying, "I can use all of my 20+ year-old lenses on my modern D-SLRs." Mark offers that "These days Pentax seems to be the only manufacturer dedicated to the outdoor lifestyle," and that his current camera, the I<7 and his entire line of premium DA* lenses are weather-sealed, which is important for a surf-lifestyle photographer because, as Mark says, "We are often subjected to the elements, shooting in and around water, on boats, or near the water line."
For Mark, "Being a Pentaxian is being a purist," and he adds, "I simply do my job as a photographer, showcasing the ability and quality of the cameras in my work." Though he is a fan of die digital artistry that has developed over the past decade, he does very minimal digital manipulation on his shots. Another benefit of being a Pentaxian is that it has given Mark worldwide recognition and an unbelievable amount of exposure, and has helped him to form relationships around the world with the other Pentaxians.
Although Mark is a fan of his Pentax K7 and other D-SLR equipment, he is proud to note that he also shoots with the Pentax Optio W8—the waterproof, shock-proof 12-megapixel compact camera announced to the public this summer by the manufacturer. As Mark explains, "Camera companies are getting more and more sophisticated, and so is the equipment," and he marvels that, "The Optio W8 has image quality that bests the competition, is fully waterproof with a high speed burst mode capable of freezing a sequence of peak action, and is equipped with full HD video capability. You can literally shoot an entire surfing lifestyle editorial feature with this pocket point-and-shoot, as well as make a film documentary to boot!"
Of course, he always brings along his D-SLR, lenses and water housings as a "security blanket" on trips, but says that on "short day trips or solo boat missions, the Optio is all that you need."
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