Essential Tips for Kitesurfing Photography

Essential Tips for Kitesurfing Photography

When Shayne Thomas offered to give you tips gained from years of experience creating unique images, we advise you to pay attention.

Shayne Thomas has been a professional photographer since finding himself shipwrecked on the island of Zanzibar some time around 2010. This is also about the time that KiteSista met Shayne and he became a close friend and collaborator every since.

After shooting on the island for a number of years Shayne found love and new direction and ended up first in Finland and then in Germany where he now runs a very successful wedding photography business

Shayne’s images from his time in Zanzibar and recent visits back to the island remain unique which in the world of modern photography is certainly a rare find, so when Shayne offered to share some tips with us about what he has learned over the years, we did not hesitate to say yes.

Now over to Shayne...

Before I get into the nitty-gritty details on how I think you could improve your Kite Surfing Photography as a beginner / avid-hobbyist; I do, for the sake of my security, need to bring to attention a disclaimer: The tips, ideas, suggestions and guidances below are written based on my own personal experiences; and I do not take responsibility for any damages to your equipment or self by following these tips. I risked it myself and was lucky. I cannot be held responsible if something goes wrong on your end.

Kite Surfing is an amazing sport to photograph. There can be so much action and variations in style and disciplines that the creative outcomes can seemingly be endless. I started photographing kite surfing in Zanzibar and while I was blessed with being in warm, shallow water, a lot of these tips could be helpful anywhere in the world.

1. Use the right gear

Yes, let’s start with the gear tip first and get it out the way since I do feel it’s NOT the most important. But it is good to know.
If you plan to get in the water; invest in a housing for your camera. There are a ton of great brands out there like ikelite & aquatech who cater for a huge range of models & brands of cameras. Yes, they’re expensive. But it’s cheaper to buy it than to replace your camera & lens because you couldn’t be arsed for a housing – and your stuff got destroyed in the water. Apart from that, having a wide angle & zoom lens is a good starting point.


photo: Shayne Thomas

2. Be different

Besides learning how to use your equipment and understanding the basics of photography (which, I hope you do), one of the biggest things I would suggest would be to be different. By this, I mean, look at whats being done NOW, and what you can do to be… different. To stand out. Sure, its nice to get the really great shots that all the pro’s do; but, in the end – it’s nicer to have something that no one else does (or very few).

Angles, Places, Elements, People, Styling, Lens choices, what you include, what you don’t, what time of day, how you frame it… 

These are just a tiny percentage of things you can manipulate to make your work different. When people are shooting from the beach, I get into the water. I get right up and close to the riders with a wide angle lens, and shoot INTO the sun (Follow me to learn how to Edit shots like this). I dress up the riders in funky clothes & have them mess around in the water. Not many people do this. Its not everyones cup of tea. But it is… my tea and it’s fun.


photo: Shayne Thomas

3. Communication

This is a pretty easy-to-understand point; and that is to communicate (and communicate Well) with the rider. Especially if you are going to be in the water and right on their line (their path that the follow when riding). Its important that you atleast meet before you start shooting and ask them if you can take their photos. Otherwise, they may not see you and thats when bad things can happen. Like. Really bad things.

Not only does communication allow you guys to know where and when you’ll be doing something / taking photos, you’ll also be able to time things. Kite Surfing is a lot about timing. Timing the jump. Timing the Shot.


photo: Shayne Thomas

4. Know thy subject

I think having an understanding of each individual riders style & habits is pretty much the most crucial point in photographing and capturing those perfectly timed moments. Every rider is different; and the best thing is, if you don’t personally know each other, you can learn so much about their riding style just by watching. Look at when they prepare for the pop to jump, look how they land and what their direction is. It doesn’t take much to see this once you start “seeing this”. Also equally important, especially if you’re getting into the water, is to be familiar with how Kite surfing works. How they use the wind, and ride upwind and downwind ( knowing what those two words mean is also…important). The more knowledge you have of your subject, the setting, the conditions and the actions – the better it is. Without a doubt.


photo: Shayne Thomas

5. Stay dry

While this is a pretty obvious one, although it might sound counter to what I said about getting in the water, I would highly recommend you keep your equipment dry for the most part. If you have a water housing or some sort of water-protection casing for your camera – thats a good start. But what can ruin a shot are those water drops on the lens / glass of the housing. I can’t tell you how many shots have been ruined due to 1 f***ing water drop right on the most crucial part of the frame. It’s good practice to check the front of the housing after each jump / pass of the rider (as they do spray quite a lot of water). Spitting apparently helps. Or, a towel wrapped around your neck can be a life saver.


photo: Shayne Thomas

6. Share your work

This doesn’t just apply to kite surfing photography – but in any thing that you do creatively. Share your work with other people in the industry / area. You’ll be amazed at how much a simple bit of advice can help you learn and grow. I am always trying to share my latest work in forums and groups and ask for meaningful constructive criticism. Without it, I may never have known where I went wrong & why I didn’t feel so into that exact picture. Having external eyes really makes a difference and I would encourage everyone to do the same. We all start somewhere right?


photo: Shayne Thomas / Aquaholics Zanzibar

7. Take notes

The next time you’re browsing the internet, reading a magazine or watching a kite video – take notes about how and why images and videos were shot in a certain way. Take note of the composition, what the rider is doing, where the camera is, what is in the frame and what isn’t. Doing this on images that you genuinely really like is a great way to help you apply it to your own style and work. After all, nothing in this world is truly original, right? Everything that is created is somehow influenced by something else; an element from this & and element from that to create this… Read “Steal like an artist“.


photo: Shayne Thomas

8. Time of day matters

Another no brainer here for people into photography. The time of day really does matter when it comes to kite surfing photography too. The reason is much the same as any other photography that is based outdoors – and that is how it affects your image. You could shoot at sunset and get a completely different look and feel as you would in the early morning. Personally, im not a fan of shooting at around midday for the main reason that it looks, more often than not, boring. Experiement with differnet times of the day and see what results you can get. It may even be worth getting up that morning during sunrise and hit the water with your subject (Note: Ask them first! Don’t wake them up without prior warning. Badness follows otherwise #wink ).


photo: Shayne Thomas

9. Check the weather

Keeping an eye on the weather is always a good thing. Finding a day where theres clouds in the sky can really make a difference between a pretty normal blue sky image; over a dramatic stormy image. Of course, this is nature at work and things most likely wont go to plan – but just get out there and give it your best. If it doesn’t work; try again. and again. and again. and again…


photo: Shayne Thomas

10. Embrace the sun

You may have read or have been told about keeping the sun behind you as it will light your subject from the front. Yes, thats true. And sometimes, if done right, can look great. But; well – I think a sun IN the picture is way more striking. Don’t be afraid to shoot into the sun. Expose your camera to get the skin & water right, and don’t worry too much about the sky. You’ll be amazed at how you can bring that back in post-production (Im considering releasing a post on how I edit my images – keen? let me know in the comments). Play around with it, and even try mess around at home, or on the beach…anywhere. Shoot a subject into the sun and see what you can get. Which leads me to my final point…


photo: Shayne Thomas / Aquaholics Zanzibar

11. Know your camera

Yes, you’ve heard / read / seen this everywhere and anywhere. Know. Your. Camera. Fullstop. Know what Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO, FPS, RAW, Metering, Shooting Modes, Mf / Af,… all of this. In order to be good at this sort of fast paced, action-oriented subject – you can’t waste time thinking about the camera settings. Well.. thats a lie. Between tacks (when the rider goes up and down wind) you’ve got enough time to think, sing a song, catch a fish and all that… But still… knowing your camera is crucial. Regardless of how much time you have.


photo: Shayne Thomas

Well that basically sums up my tips I have for you about Kite Surfing Photography. Did I leave anything out? Know something I don’t and want to share? Leave us all (me and the other readers) some pretty cool info!

Community over competition. Always.


You can follow Shayne on Facebook and Instagram and check out his work at and
If you are interested in surfing in Zanzibar you can also check out

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