2019 PHOTO COMP WINNER: Meet the winner of the Tee Pee Surf 'PEOPLE' category - Ryan Hill. Born and raised in South Africa, now living on the Central Coast of Cali, Ryan's career has seen him work with some of the biggest brands and labels in the world including The North Face, AirBnB and Fitbit just to name a few. His camera has taken him all over the world, with his latest adventure to remote Alaska for a cold water surf trip to score some of the better waves he's ever seen. With a vicious rumour circulating that Ryan will have feature in SV Issue 4 - we can't wait to show you what he's been cooking up.
Ryan, firstly congrats on taking out the 2019 People category. How’s the stoke?
Thanks man! Honestly super stoked and grateful to be apart of such a talented group of photographers. Been a big fan of the magazine and beyond stoked to grace its pages!
Tell us a little bit about the winning image. I.e. what’s the story behind it? What equipment did you use when shooting? Where is it? Who is the legend in the shot? What was the inspiration behind it? Etc.
Russell Holliday wind-chapped, soaked, more than a little cold and just making our way home well past dark. After a few rainy weeks in the so-called sunshine state of California, our better judgment (or maybe it's just simply boredom) got the best of us and we decided to try and go get stuck on some mountain roads. I've always been fond of this image I’ve always felt this image really captured how I knew Russell: Calm even when confronted with chaos. I’ve been in my fair share of sticky situations with this guy, and he’s always held up his end and more.
I shot this on a Sony A7r3 with a 35mm 1.4 prime lens! That and the 55mm 1.8 have been my two favorite workhorses lately!
Rumour has it you will have a feature in Surf Visuals Issue 4, what have you got cooking up?
Yeah! I’ve been going through imagery from around home on the Central Coast and trying to show the beauty that’s on this little less known section of the California Coast and introduce you to some of the people who call it home. I’ve been going through photos from the last few years trying to whittle down thousands of photos to a few hundred, its been challenging for sure but stoked on what is rising to the top!
Where abouts are you from? And how did you get into photography?
I grew up in inland California however my mom was born and raised in South Africa and I’ve spent 2 months there every year seeing family and surfing. It was those trips that led me to pick up a camera and then once I was in college I started using it as a tool to fund gas for surf trips and document some of the in-between moments that would occur. I went to school to study Winemaking and kind of stumbled into photography through the course of college and post college life. It’s only further developed into an obsession and career from there. Thank god because I’m not sure how I would have taken to full time winery life.
You are very well-traveled. Always seem to be off on a new adventure. What has been your favorite place to visit of late? And what is the first thing you pack?
Yeah.. Man, it’s crazy where a camera has taken me. I trip out on it daily. My last trip was to remote Alaska for a cold water surf trip for Roark, it was kind of the dream trip to be honest. It was a trip that finally combined all the elements that I’ve been chasing in a surf trip: good waves, cold water, and remote locations. To top it off we absolutely scored. It was such a wild experience taking quads to inaccessible beaches and scoring some of the better waves I’ve ever seen. We will see, I’ll be hard pressed to top that one anytime soon. But I’m sure going to try. In terms of packing the first thing for every trip is cameras, batteries, and memory cards. If you have those you can at least shoot photos! To be perfectly honest I’m an obsessive packer and my process involves a thousand lists, a sleepless night or two, around three repacks, and atleast a few last-minute online orders. So I’m probably not the sanest person to ask for packing advice!
What’s your favourite thing to do when you’re not behind the lens?
Surf. It’s not even a question. After you spend enough all-time-days on the beach you learn quick to pick your days and be stoked about hanging up the wetsuit for a camera or vice versa.
Best surf you’ve ever witnessed? Did you get out there? (Don’t have to mention specific breaks).
Man. Tough one. I’ve seen some pretty amazing surf. It’s hard to pick one.. Best surf ever was probably Skeleton Bay. I swam for a bit but definitely one of the hardest waves to shoot I’ve ever experienced. Hats off to Alan Van Gysen and all the legends that have put the time in out there. Hope to make it back for many more laps up the point.
Got any funny or memorable surf trip tales to share?
Hahaha for sure. I have a collection of film photos from different trips over the years and 85% of them are funny images of my friends and who I’m traveling with documenting all those weird travel experiences that happen on the road. There was one time I had to leave Alex Smith in Mexico after losing his passport. The time We drove across Chile with the back of our camper open for 100 miles nearly losing a backpack with a passport. Or when we got stuck chassis deep at midnight in sand deep in Southern Chile. The time Chris Burkard accidentally kissed me in the middle of the night during a 48 hour ferry trip in India. . There are too many to go into here haha! And that’s just the surf trips.
What gear are you currently shooting with? Do you dabble in film mediums as well?
I shoot with the Sony platform. I’ve been shooting it for about 6 years and don’t really see myself shifting to another platform in the foreseeable future. It suits my workflow and shooting style really well and the cameras have shaped my photography style. Right now no other camera style gets me fired up (other then film)! I’ve always got a film camera on me as well! It’s become somewhat of an obsession but it’s never been the focus up to this point, if anything it’s something that I do to keep the excitement high and experiment. I started with point and shoots and has grown to medium format and beyond. I’ve listed my main camera setups below: Sony a7riv, Mamiya 6, Contax G1, Nikon 35TI !
Who do you get influenced by?
Man… I pull some inspiration from everyone. For surf: Corey Wilson. how he’s been able to make a living and build an amazing portfolio through his relationship with RipCurl and his work in general. Tommy Pearsall (driftwoodphotography), Ryan Chachi (chachfiles), Leroy Bellet, all are constantly dropping some of the craziest surf action and inspire me to keep pushing myself in waves of consequence. My best friend and roommate Russell Holliday. Who has the ability to always remind me to push myself compositionally and conceptually. However lately I’ve been finding myself pulling inspiration from disciplines outside of surf photography and trying to figure out how to apply that to all subjects I shoot. Fashion, portraiture, landscapes everything.
What motivates you to keep pushing boundaries in the world of photography?I’ve always picked up a camera for me. For a long time, once I started going down this path of being a “photographer”, that purpose felt like it wasn’t as strong. It was no longer for myself; but a client, an assignment, a “job”. It’s wild when I think back on my journey with photography and where it’s taken me today. . the places and the experiences Ive had because of photography. In many ways I think it’s finally come full circle, I used to come back from trips and feel like I needed to step away from a camera for a minute, decompress. Now I can’t stop, and it’s only getting worse. I shoot it all. It's a combination of wanting to document my life but also become a means through which I navigate the world.
Have you got any future trips planned?
Right now I’m going to be around the Central Coast and try and enjoy surfing close to home. But I’ve got my eyes on a few places south of the border. I have a commercial assignment in Colorado, and then I’m trying to line up another cold-water trip shortly. Always lots of things on the horizon. We will see!
What will you be putting the $250 AUD towards? (Apologies about the shitty AUD-USD exchange rate haha.)
Honestly probably film development, I can’t help but shoot some alongside every project, and it adds up quick. I don’t even want to know how many rolls I shot last year, but I know in the 10 days I was in Alaska I shot 6 rolls and that definitely felt like it was on the lighter side for most missions!