Shayne Nienaber - Surf Photographer

Meet Shayne Nienaber, talented Gold Coast based surf photographer with a particular passion for shooting from the water. Originally from Durban, South Africa, a place Shayne feels very lucky to have called home, he made the move to Australia in search of a better life for his family. Setting down roots on a wave rich stretch of coastline, heavily steeped in Australias surf culture, chance lead him to swinging his perspective to behind the lens and the opportunities for developing his photography career were there for the taking. A warmhearted, charismatic family man, Shayne prides himself on his diligent work ethic, and ability to stay true to his own style in an ever growing sea of surf photographers. He has the ability to either blend into the ocean backdrop or provide an encouraging presence in the water, all the while treading water for hours on end until he gets his shots.  Crystal-clear, turquoise tubes, or golden backlit sunrise sessions, he is there to capture it all, with precision and creative flair. Dive in ...

So let's start at the beginning, what inspired you to take up photography, particularly surf photography?

After injuring myself on my very first boat trip, I had to sit out the last day of the trip, so my mate handed me his camera and said “Take this mate, this will keep you occupied”. It sure did. Seeing my friends smile and tell me that what I had captured was amazing, changed my life that day. Two days later, after the trip, I bought my first camera set up and have never looked back.

How did you convert photography as a passion, to a career in photography?

I set up my business website, began networking with friends in the surf industry and used social media to promote my work.

Who inspires you in the surf photography world?

Ted Grambeau, Russell Ord, Peter “Joli” Wilson, Ray Collins, Fred Pompermayer, Sean Davey, Diogo d’Orey, Sarah Lee, Ben Thouard, Shannon GlassonMargarita Salyak and Trent Slatter.

You have photographed some pretty incredible places and waves. Tell us about a few of your favourites?

J-Bay-South Africa, Cloudbreak-Fiji, Pacifico-Philippines, Bells-Australia, Kirra-Australia, Rednuts- Indonesia, Beacons-Maldive’s and a local spot which I can’t name haha!

In the same way we all remember a magic wave or session, is there an image that you’ve captured that sticks in your memory?

Yes. The very first barrel photo of my brother at one of my favourite waves. My brother had so many photos of himself by some amazing photographers and for me to get my first one of him sticks in my memory as that magic moment.

Water or land photography … do you have a preference?

Water for sure. The perspective it gives is second to none.

Tell us about the challenges of shooting epic waves from the water.

Two wave hold downs, staying in position, rips, surfers who drop-in that you don’t see coming and of course sharks.

What’s the best thing about what you do, and what is the most challenging?

The best thing is meeting amazing people from all walks of life every day. The most challenging are the elements: waves, weather, wind etc.

How do you hold your own in an industry with an ever increasing number of aspiring surf photographers?

I make a point of trying not to follow the crowd, I stay true to my particular style of photography and try not to copy anyone else. I keep up to date with the latest equipment (cameras, drones etc) when it becomes available and utilising social media for exposure.

Tell us about your photography set up for land and water? What is your favourite piece of equipment?

For water: I absolutely love my Nikon D500 Camera, Nikon 10.5mm Fisheye lens, Nikon 50mm lens and my AquaTech Water Housing.

On Land: I have two favourites, Nikon D850 Camera used with my Nikon 400mm (sometimes with a Nikon 2 x converter) and a Nikon 200-500mm lens.

What advice would you give photographers looking to take their creative field to the next level, towards a professional career?

Always be respectful and friendly. Don’t be afraid to try new things, so you don’t become that photographer shooting the same thing day in day out. Make mistakes. You learn so much from them. 

The personal stuff:

What are you known for?

Reliability, easy going, first person at the coffee drive through and love Reggae music.

What are you most proud of?

My beautiful wife, my son and daughter.

Who or what is your greatest inspiration?

Rosa Parks a civil rights activist who stood up for her rights.

If you could spend a day with someone who inspires you, who would it be and what would you do?

This is a hard one. Ok, a day with Russell Ord, shooting in the water at his favourite surf spot.

If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be?

Actor Cuba Gooding Junior

Defining moment?

I’m still waiting for it…

Guilty pleasure?

I love shopping with my wife. Haha!

What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?

Avoid negative people.

Of all the places you have travelled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?

The Philippines for sure. We decided to hire some bikes one day and went for a ride. Two hours into our ride we came across this very poor fishing village. The locals, I think had never seen westerners before. I started taking some photos of the villagers and showed a curios onlooker the photo on my camera. He was filled with so much excitement and ran off to get his family to come and have a look. They were in awe of my camera and soon everyone wanted a photo. Three hours later we had shared an amazing lunch with people that were so poor but had everything to give from their hearts. That act of kindness I will never forget.

What brings you the most happiness in the world?

It’s making someone else happy.

What are you most grateful for?

To have lived in two amazing countries, South Africa and Australia.

Surf Talk:

When and how did your passion for surfing start?

My parents always loved the beach so every weekend and holidays we would spend all day swimming and enjoying the ocean. When I was about 12, a friend of mine got a surfboard for his birthday and gave me a go on it. I stood up first go and was hooked. You could not wipe the smile off my face in the car on the drive back home.

What does surfing mean to you, and how has it changed your life?

I love the physical aspect and the freedom it offers. Jumping into a car with a couple mates to go searching for waves is such an unreal feeling. Surfing has not changed my life, it is my life and made my life.

Favourite wave? 

Supertubes, Jefferies Bay, South Africa

Most memorable session? 

Two years ago in the Mentawai Islands on my birthday, my brother Clayton and I paddled out for an afternoon session and scored perfect waves with no one else in the water. We surfed until the sun went down.

Favourite surfer?

Kelly Slater

Favourite board? 

5’10 Clayton Surfboards Spintek (my brother is my shaper).

Finish the sentence:

I love... 

…my beautiful wife, my son, my daughter and our dog Mylo.

I miss…


I wish…

…the sun never went down.

I want…

…the world to stop polluting our oceans.

Where can we find you online?

Instagram: @shaynenienaber
Facebook: @ShayneNienaberPhotography
Twitter: @shaynenienaber




Posted by: Emma Gibbons, on September 3, 2018
Categories: Interviews