Apart from being out in the elements shooting waves myself, discovering awesome photographers is probably my favourite pastime. Seeing the way different people view the world through their lens is a constant fascination.
Even more so when the place they are viewing is somewhere you have a connection with
The town of Gisborne, on the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand is where my best mate lives and so I have visited there a number of times.
It also happens to be the current hometown of photographer Shaun Tunnicliffe or Tunny.
Scrolling through his feed and seeing his perspective, immediately transforms me back to this epic NZ coastal town.
East Coast NZ is known for its morning light and Shaun captures that light, and the abundance of talented local surfers, in a way that really makes you wish you were there in every image.
He has also more recently travelled to Hawaii to document NZ professional surfer Ricardo Christie and braved the infamous Pipeline (both the wave and the photographers)
With plans to document a few more comps with Ricardo on the CT this year, hopefully this is the start of the next step for this super friendly, super humble and super talented photographer.
Read on to discover more about Tunny and definitely follow as work via the links at the bottom of the interview.
Oh, and if you are a photographer yourself, pay close attention to the last line of advice – “Print the shots you are really stoked on. Its rad when you transform something from digital to something real you can touch”
Love it! I’m off to the printer!
Currently Gisborne New Zealand
Was photography always the plan or what first made you pick up a camera?
I’ve never had too much of a plan in general haha. I used to film a lot of skateboarding so there’s always been an interest in documenting things. Quite often there would be photographers out with us as well and I'd always be quietly observing what they were up to in regards to framing a shot etc. Luckily NZ has some amazing skate photographers so I was watching some of the best.
I picked up a camera a few years later after I severely broke my elbow. I had also had my fill of Bondi crowds and surfing wasn't as enjoyable anymore. I wanted to find a new way to enjoy the ocean and it felt like a natural progression.
You have an amazing eye for light in your surf photography which is what mostly drew me to it in the first place. What are all the elements you are looking for in a photo for you to be happy with it?
Wow thank you! Stoked! I really just try to convey the things you get to see in the water as a surfer. I’ve always thought it’s really cool the stuff you see out there. A surfer flying past you while you paddle out, the light through the waves, the colours on the water at dawn and dusk, the spray when its howling offshore. Things that have always caught my eye since I started surfing and I’m sure have caught most surfers eyes. Anything that gives me that feeling when I’m looking at my photos after a swim means I'm happy with it.
There is no shortage of surfing talent bred in Gizzy. It must be a joy having guys like Bobby, Ricardo, Johnny Hicks etc to shoot with?
Yeah it’s great! A lot of New Zealand's best surfers live here, world class surfers like Ricardo, Maz, Bobby, Johnny and Choppie plus future ones like Saffi and Finn Vette. The general standard of surfing is pretty high here across the board so there’s always someone to shoot. Add in the amazing local waves and light and it’s a pretty good place to be a surf photographer.
Your recent photo journal ’14 Days at the RVCA house’ is really great work. Can you tell us a bit about how this trip came about?
I shoot a lot at home with Ricardo and he had hit me up and asked if I would keen on coming to hang in Hawaii for a couple weeks while he was there. He was really cool about it, in that there was no pressure to shoot anything in particular, he just thought I’d dig the vibe and enjoy myself over there. Of course I was keen, so he sorted me a corner of the house with the RVCA dudes (thank you Brophy and Rico) and I was on my way. It really was a dream experience for me. I got to stay right on the beach at OTW, the whole RVCA crew was really cool and friendly, Ric killed it in the comp and ultimately qualified and I managed to make it in and out at Pipeline on a proper day without dying haha.
Of those recent Pipeline images, I really like the view where you can see the pecking order of photographers in the line-up. What was the experience like shooting out there. Both due to the dangers of the wave itself and also in terms of other photographers?
Oh yeah the photo of Reef McIntosh. Being out at Pipeline was pretty surreal, its big and scary, well for me anyway. Nothing I’m at all accustomed to coming from NZ. The channel was pretty sweet in a proper Pipe swell but you still got rogue sets that would break in there, plus groms, boogie boarders and random, completely out of their depth surfers trying to catch leftovers. I just tried to stay really conscious of my positioning the whole time, like 100% focus on what was happening around me. I had no real interest on wearing a set on the head, but it is something you have to accept as a possibility before you swim out. I remember watching it from the house and I think Tyler Newton saying something to that effect. Getting out is all timing, as is getting back in. You’ve probably never seen someone kicking their little flippers faster haha.
Because of the early season there didn't really appear to be much of photographer hierarchy. More common sense, manners and comfortability in where you are. If you're crazy enough to go sit in the impact zone or over at Backdoor and deal with the inevitable consequence, then it seemed you could go for it. I’m sure it changes a bit as you come into peak season. In that shot, up the front is photographer Daniel Russo who you imagine would be near top of the pecking order. He swam straight to where you’d probably dream of sitting if you had the confidence/ability. I sort of alternated between floating in the pack, dodging sets, surfers and getting kicked by flippers to hanging back a bit more in the channel documenting the whole scene like in that shot. It’s kind of cool hanging back because you can swing in and out a bit easier with the surfers I found. If someone gets an inside one you can kind of swim in with it etc like in the Italo shot . If you’re in the main photog pack you get a little stuck movement wise. I ultimately wasn't too worried with the amount of heads in my photos, it is what it is out there.
Any more plans to document Ricardo now that he’s back on tour in 2019?
That’s the dream and we are working on a little plan. I’m heading to the Goldy and I’m going to try hit at least four of the comps and do something similar to what we did in Hawaii. New Zealanders love to get behind one of our own and Ricardo has a massive following at home. I think everyone is genuinely interested in what he gets up to on the big stage both in the water and around the comp. We don’t really get to see much when he’s away apart from the half hour he’s in the water for his heats so it’s cool to try show the other aspects. He’s also really environmentally focussed and has just become an ambassador for Sustainable Coastlines so we want to try and raise some awareness from different parts of the world. Fingers crossed we can make it happen!
If you were handed a round the world plane ticket today, where would be the first 3 waves you would go and shoot?
Tahiti - That water and backdrop. That’s the dream spot.
Pipeline - that place is addictive.
Maybe Samoa - looks like a couple of fun waves and its got the cruisy island vibe.
Do you have any current specific goals in surf photography?
Most importantly just to keep enjoying it and challenging myself. Creating photos I’m stoked on.
Thinking about it there is a few photos I would love to get: a good one of Bobby at this local reef, a nice freesurf shot of John John and Steph, Ricardo getting barreled at Teahupoo. Would love to get a shot run in Monster Children as its my favourite mag. A cover of Damaged Goods Zine if they make some more issues.
Any other parting advice for aspiring surf and wave photographers?
Shoot shoot shoot! Whenever you can in whatever conditions. There’s a saying that goes something like ‘the more you practice the luckier you get’. Duncan McFarlane imparted that gem on me one very glary evening at Pipe and it’s very true.
Also print the shots you are really stoked on. Its rad when you transform something from digital to something real you can touch.
Dive into Shaun’s world further here
14 Days at the RVCA House: https://www.shauntunny.com/blog