As Above, So Below

From the Big Issue, Danny Fuller and Zak Noyle bring us a new perspective on Teahupoo

A Tahitian reef and a Kauaian surfer, both in perfect focus. Photo: Noyle/SPL

For the Water World photo feature in this year’s Big Issue, Zak Noyle and Danny Fuller teamed up to bring us a seldom-seen look at Teahupoo. Using a special water housing, Noyle captured the action both above and below the surface. Below, Danny and Zak describe their methods, and why Teahupoo is one of the most perfect waves on earth for aquatic imagery. For more from their trip, check out our special edition Big Issue, available on newsstands now.

What was the premise of your Tahiti trip for the Big Issue?

Danny: Zak Noyle and I went to Tahiti and wanted to capture the Water World feature using a different perspective, and we went down there thinking the waves were would be like 6- to 8-foot. Unfortunately, the biggest days had onshore winds, but we had a few smaller, cleaner days shooting with the over/under port with the objective of trying to have a dual perspective, as opposed to just having the surfer in the composition. It actually made it a lot more fun as opposed to trying to get your typical Tahiti water shots.

Zak: The lens port on the water housing I used is gigantic. I want to say it's about 11 or 12 inches wide as opposed to a regular lens port, which is about 5 or 6. It gives you this bubble effect, which makes it easier to capture what's happening both above and below the surface. This isn't something new that I invented in surf photography, I think I just kind of executed it differently. I used this huge water housing that’s not easy to swim with. It's very buoyant, and very difficult to dive with. You don't want to swim with it in huge waves, but the conditions on this trip to Tahiti were perfect. I don't even think the water in Hawaii is quite clear enough to shoot like that because it just has to be crystal clear to get that view of above and below the surface. Everything looked right for it, so we tried something different and I think it turned out beautifully. You normally have to pick one perspective or the other with most housings, but SPL did a great job creating something that allows us to capture both.

Blue skies, green mountains, and crystal-clear water: all of the elements coming together in Tahiti. Photo: Noyle/SPL

What was it like trying to achieve this affect, and what was the dynamic like in the water?

Danny: Tahiti is such a photogenic place when it's working, it's just a no-brainer for a photographer and a surfer. It might be one of the easiest places to capture beautiful, visually stimulating images. Zak is one of my good friends and a great surf photographer, and it's all about exchanging ideas and having an open mind. I remember seeing this photo that Pat Stacy shot of Andy at Teahupoo doing this cutback and it wasn't really even barreling, but it was absolutely stunning--all the elements were there and not a cloud in the sky. I was like, "Maybe we should try doing these shots toward the channel and I'll do some cutbacks around you." I ended up just doing one of them, but it ended up being one of the photographs picked for the feature.

Zak: It's a lot of fun shooting with Danny. We've worked together a lot and we're good friends. It was actually funny because he and I did the shoot for Chanel, and when we were in Tahiti I got a text from my friend saying that a billboard just went up in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard of the stuff we shot. Danny and I were just sitting in Tahiti having lunch, so removed from all that, so it was kind of a funny moment. Danny is a cool guy, and he sees things differently. I would hate to use the word "artsy," but he wants to try new things, and he can envision my ideas as well. Sometimes a surfer can't always do that and I have to walk them through it. But Danny can envision those things and work with me on these new angles or ideas, and that makes everything a lot easier.

Danny Fuller, soaking in Tahiti's beauty. Photo: Noyle/SPL

You both have spent a lot of time in Tahiti over the years. What draws you back each time?

Danny: To go to a place like Tahiti, and even though the waves weren't the best they've ever been, to leave that place and say you had a terrible time means that there's definitely something wrong with you.

Zak: I love Hawaii, and Tahiti has a lot of similarities. I think that's why everyone from Hawaii loves it there. I'm really drawn to it, and it feels comfortable because it feels like home--almost like old Hawaii. The people are so friendly down there, the water is perfect and it's just such undeveloped beauty. Shooting at Teahupoo is one of my strengths, so I want to keep going back there. You can get amazing stuff and swim in these perfect barrels. You also have these green mountains, blue skies, and the crystal-clear water that make it such an amazing place to go shoot. The wave kind of breaks in the same way every time, and a big round barrel like that is perfect for fish-eye photography. It gives you the best of both worlds in that sense, between the wave and the scenery.