Simon ‘Swilly’ Williams - Surf Photographer
Simon Williams, or “Swilly” as he is affectionately known in the industry, is undoubtedly one of the best surf photographers still practicing their art today. Swilly’s classic imagery has graced the glossy pages and covers of many a surf mag over the years, leaving their readers salivating at the pictured turquoise tubes and rippable walls that they may never get the chance to surf in their lifetimes.
Not only does Swilly have a portfolio jam packed with surfing’s most influential wave riders, but he spends enviable amounts of time camped out at some of the world’s most incredible waves. From Micronesia’s Pohnpei, home to the seductive perfection of P-Pass, to the tropical paradise of Indonesia’s Telos Islands, and exploring the wave rich Maldivian atolls, Swilly is never short of oceanic inspiration. As humble as he is talented, and with 20+ years’ experience shooting his favourite salty muse, Swilly has finally opened up his stunning photography to the public for purchase. For eye watering imagery, above and below the surface, check out Swilly’s gallery to see the results of his craft, captured with passion and artistry. For more about the man behind the lens, with such a wonderfully positive outlook on life, dive in …
Where are you from? And where do you call home now?
I am from the UK. I was born in Cornwall and I have lived on the Gold Coast for the last 30 years.
What inspired you to take up photography, particularly surf photography?
I did a surf trip when I was 16 to Sri Lanka for a magazine. They sent a photographer with us. The shots were ok but not amazing. It got me hooked on surf photography. I just knew I could get better images.
How has your career as a professional surf photographer changed over the last 20+ years? Particularly with the ever increasing number of aspiring surf photographers, and the accessibility of cheaper and more intelligent photography equipment and editing programs?
When I started shooting surf I shot on film. This gave me a good understanding of light and exposure. I really think most of the digital age photographers don’t understand light and really heavily on Photoshop.
As one of surfing’s longest standing photographers, who do you look up to in your field?
Without a doubt, Jon Frank, Ted Grambeau, Art Brewer. I also took a lot of inspiration from the master of the art, Ansell Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Another photographer who influenced me was Karl Fehr, he really made me understand a lot of things.
With your wealth of surf travel experience globally, tell us about a few of your favourite locations?
Indonesia, the Maldives and Micronesia hold a special place in my heart.
You are finally opening up your photography to the passionate public. What made you decide to start selling prints at such a late stage in your career?
I was approached by one of my long term clients who wanted to collaborate with me on a website to sell prints. Up until that point I have been far too busy.
With the recent cataloguing of your imagery over the last 20 years for your website, is there an image or session that stands out for you?
My session at P-Pass with Kelly Slater and Andy Irons and friends was one of the highlights of my shooting career. My trips with Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Dean Morrison have also been very special.
Shooting epic surf from all angles, do you have a preference between photography from land, water or air?
Water is my passion and particularly “under it”. I love shooting underwater images. Also love action shots. Hmmm actually love it all.
Tell us about some of the difficulties you face, shooting waves of consequence from the water? Have you ever found yourself in a dangerous situation?
I’m a strong swimmer and there have been times. The trick is a good helmet and a keen awareness and respect of your surroundings.
With years of experience shooting the worlds ever-evolving best, who are some of your favourite humans to shoot?
Most people would consider you to have one of the best jobs in the world, splitting your time between incredible surf locations like P-Pass, the Telos, Maldives and your home on the Australia’s wave rich Gold Coast. What’s really gets you out of bed in the morning and excited? And what are the biggest challenges you face?
Firstly, I have to make my wife coffee. Then it’s straight to the charts and the weather reports. I just love chasing surf. I’m constantly on the phone annoying all my surfers, planning and preparing my days.
Tell us about your photography set up for land and water? What is your favourite piece of equipment?
I shoot on a 200-400mm IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens with a built in image stabilizer on the land. In the water I like to use my fish eye.
What advice would you give to aspiring surf photographers, looking to develop lasting careers in the surf industry?
Follow your passion don’t listen to the doubters.
Get to know you:
What are you known for?
What are you most proud of?
My ability to keep frothing.
Who or what is your greatest inspiration?
My wife and kids.
If you could spend a day with someone who inspires you, who would it be and what would you do?
David Bowie were he alive. Chat at the pub.
If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be?
Selling my first surf shot.
Long Island Ice Tea.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Don’t listen to negative nellies.
Of all the places you have travelled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
My home town of St Agnes, in Cornwall.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Travelling with my wife and no kids.
What are you most grateful for?
Biggest surf mission?
Shipsterns and remote Indo atolls.
Finish the sentence:
…for good health.
…all the new camera gear that Canon are making (every year).
Where can we find you online?
Posted by: Emma Gibbons, on October 26, 2018
James McMillan - Byron Bay Surf Festival Director
Shannon Hughes - WSL & ISA Commentator
Craig Sims - White Horses & Surfing Life Publisher
Luke Kennedy - Editor of Tracks Magazine
Simon ‘Swilly’ Williams - Surf Photographer
Jarra Campbell - the Bondi Alchemist
Greg Gordon - Owner of CR Surf
Shayne Nienaber - Surf Photographer
Alexa Hohenberg - Owner of Still Stoked
Christine Deveney - TapaReef Owner & Creator
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