WavePoolMag Photographer Series Episode 3, Dany Taylor of Surf Lakes

Making salted surf look magnificent, ethereal, moody and mythical is rather easy given that it’s, well, the ocean. Giving something human-made a nature-made aura is one of the biggest challenges in photography.

Editor’s Note: WavePoolMag is reposting this profile on photographer Dany Taylor who passed away on December 11, 2023 after battling cancer. His work was unique because he was able to make the man-made look oh-so natural. Rest in Peace Dany.

No dolphins, salt spray, Technicolor reefs or random imperfections. Wave pools are just stick-to-the-blueprint trappings of measured water and machine output. But to make them appear natural? That takes a certain skill.

Intro Dany Taylor, a Queensland native responsible for taking Surf Lakes’ sci-fi dystopian plunger and environs and capturing a golden natural beauty. Taylor has snapped away most of the iconic Surf Lakes images we see online. During a recent episode of testing he departed from the standard pulled-back action shot and captured the early morning glow and glass of the waves at Surf Lakes.

As part of the WavePoolMag Photographer series, (Check episode 1 here. | Check episode 2 here) we spoke with Dany about how he does it and why he thinks he’s still just scratching the surface of this particular wave pool’s artistic potential.

Dany getting the shot of Surf Lakes bodyboard ambassador Ben Player. Photo by Odell Harris

Tell us about your background as a photographer

My parents had me hooked on photography as a kid. The outdoors and growing up in the Australian bush opened my eyes and taught me a lot about nature. Then a really good mate introduced me to shooting in the water back in the day. Besides being fun, we both wanted that barrel shot badly – I still owe Lars a camera after drowning his 35mm at Straddie (Stradbroke Island.)

Not long after returning home after a few laps around the world, my photography career happened totally by accident, and it snowballed from there. Surfers Paradise is home for my gallery and I really enjoy the process of shooting, printing and framing my work. There’s a lot of satisfaction in making the finished product, I’m very conscious of the quality.

Shooting in a wave pool makes being in the right place at the right time easier

We rifle through wave pool images all day, but yours stand out. There’s certain artistic merit to a lot of what we see from the Surf Lakes pond. What are you doing differently to separate your work from the rest?

Haha thank you, but I have no doubt that when you first walk into the 5 Waves “zone” you will see that I’m just scratching the surface. Every photographer’s dream conditions are right in front of you. 

It’s also got a lot to do with the waves Surf Lakes are producing. The waves are very natural and free of any structures or barriers once they break. It’s you and the wave, just like it’s supposed to be in the ocean. 

The light is always there, backlit, front-lit, always offshore and barrels – so many flawless barrels. At least three barrels let you bounce the sunset or sunrise colors off the face of the wave. Volcanic plugs set the surroundings and backdrop to the pool, it looks like a well-designed movie set.. only real.

Dany Taylor also has mad drone skills

What are some of the challenges of shooting at Surf Lakes?

Switching between water gear and dry land cameras or lenses have the usual issues. During the winter there’s been a bit of morning frost but I’ve been very well looked after. My biggest challenge has been to show just how much is happening at once, drones have been a big help. 

How about capturing the spirit and stoke of the place?

If you can imagine your favorite break when it’s pumping – you know, it’s all-time overhead and it’s just you and seven mates. They are all getting slotted. You are getting big cover-ups, lefts, rights, no drop-ins and you aren’t even getting your hair wet paddling back out! Big smiles all-round and everyone is stoked. So much fun and no-one saying “you should have seen it yesterday.” Instead, they’re saying “let’s do it again tomorrow!” Now multiply that by 5 breaks around 1km circle of beachfront. Catching all that is my challenge. It is a tough life but someone has to do it! 

Dany staying out of Occy’s way but managing to still get the shot. Photo by Warrick Stiebel

Without violating your Non-Disclosure Agreement, share with us the strangest thing you’ve seen while shooting at Surf Lakes.

Did you mean all 125 pages of that agreement? Nah just kidding. There are usually Kangaroos, Emus, Eagles and Cattle welcoming us on the drive into the pool each morning, but that’s pretty normal. We have even seen loads of military aircraft buzzing overhead during a recent Australia, USA and Singapore war games exercise just north of the site. 

The strangest thing has to be the wave generator, that big Mad Max thing in the middle. Its engineering term is The CWD, and at 25-meters across, it’s the same width as the pool I learned to swim in. Watching it rise and fall is exhilarating. Experiencing the waves it creates, is even better. 

It all looks very raw and “industrial” at the moment so when the world gets to enjoy these waves they probably won’t have the chance to see it the way it really works. The raw power, generated in so many waves gets me every time and is a true credit to the extremely clever people behind the whole concept. It is sheer genius – producing 5 waves, 10 rides, and a bit of magic each and every time.

Surf Lakes’ own version of ‘Black Gold’

When it opens do you have any desire to be the resident photographer?

How good would that be? Yes, I’d love to set up shop when it opens. It’s been many years watching this project roll on, so I guess that would be the next step on this crazy ride.

Since the boss first dropped the idea, it’s been an epic experience. The little waves that I shot in the prototype, promised perfect waves, and real power. They kept that promise. When the waves are breaking it’s still hard for me to comprehend just how much is happening at once. Watching people’s faces on their first visit is priceless. 

Not many people who surf would say no to a photo of themselves shacked in a barrel, right?  Would you? I can also see quite a lot happening in the visual side of things – stills and videos for learners, pros (and in between), water photography classes, camera rentals, cheap posters and digital images for social media. Besides being a rugged testing ground for new equipment.

Have the crew at Surf Lakes let you have a wave yet?

The guys have definitely offered, but I’m yet to take it up. That moment of anticipation is still with me. There’s still way too much to shoot, there’s a perfect peak around every corner.

Check out more of Dany’s photography here