WavePoolMag Photographer Series Episode 2, Vic & crew at Snowdonia

As wave pools expand across the globe, we’re finding the art of surf photography keeps its footing within surf culture. No easy task, as wave pool surf photography could easily devolve into crass turnstile point-and-shoot.

We fear the surfing equivalent of a rollercoaster drop-shot, those blurry TV monitor images you see exiting the ride. Consequently, we were a little apprehensive when reaching out to Snowdonia Adventure Parc for our latest WavePoolMag Photographer Series. We had no clue as to how they run their photography set up and envisioned blurry mugs, t-shirts and beer koozies.

Fortunately, we were oh-so pleasantly surprised when Victoria Johnson-Babcock and the crew at Image Cabin sent back beautiful, moody moments gleaned from Snowdonia Adventure Parc’s everyday glory.

Despite their unsalted environment, this Welsh outfit honors the salty art of surf photography. We spoke with Victoria about how it all came about and what sets their work apart.

Share with us the strangest thing you’ve seen while shooting at Adventure Parc Snowdonia.
I think the strangest thing I’ve seen is also probably one of the best. Wakeboarder Nico von Lerchenfeld jumping over Jo Dennison while she was surfing during an O’Neill event was really odd and fun to shoot. Wavepools provide an environment where peculiar things can happen and that’s exciting for someone who documents people for a living.

Tell us about your background as a photographer
I graduated from UCA in Farnham in 2008 with a BA Photography degree. Studying photography at uni was a pretty easy choice for me. As soon as I picked up a camera I knew it was my thing. I was good at it, but to be honest I think that was just because I put in the time because I loved it. I learnt using film, processing everything in a darkroom and was really inspired by photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson – who viewed photography as capturing the decisive moment. Little did I know that this would end up developing into a passion for surf photography, where capturing the split second where everything comes together makes or breaks a shot. For me, the people we meet and work with, the constant pursuit of ‘the shot’ are my favorite things about being a surf photographer. 

I’m really lucky to be surrounded by such a passionate team. As a photographer I don’t like working alone, I like being part of a team and working on collaborative projects. That’s really why I formed Image Cabin, so I could work for the kind of company I want to work for, with a team who have the same values. 

How did this business come about?
In 2014/15 we were living in Bristol and I was working on freelance projects, and it was difficult to find enough work. I starting exploring the idea of how high volumes of professional photography could be created and made accessible without sacrificing quality.

At the end of 2015, Surf Snowdonia put out a call for freelance photographers as they recognized the need to offer some kind of photography service. I went for an interview, with only a little bit of surfing experience but lots of ideas about how logistically a photography service could be offered. I saw it as an opportunity to sink my teeth into a project- where some people maybe would have preferred for a process to be in place, I saw it as a challenge. I was offered one of the three spots and moved up to North Wales. I spent two full-season working alongside James and Stew figuring out what surfers in a wavepool environment want from a photography service. We tried it all, some of it worked and some of it didn’t. We were lucky to have one of the most valuable research and development tools there is- time. 

At the end of the 2017 season, we were struggling to keep up with the demands of a busy wavepool photography service as three freelancers. With James and Stew’s support, I formed Image Cabin. We grew the team, which took the pressure off of the three of us, and importantly gave me more time to develop the service and our business in other areas. James and Stew, along with Dan and Gabby now work as freelance photographers for Image Cabin while also working on other projects. It’s very much a collaborative effort, with everyone bringing new ideas to the table. We’re excited for future projects as the wavepool industry grows.

What are the challenges to shooting at Adventure Parc Snowdonia?
There are a lot of challenges to shooting a busy wavepool and that’s why operating procedures are so important. The obvious, such as the volume of surfers and the weather can be hard. Once someone has purchased a photo you are now in competition with yourself to get a better shot of them, I think this creatively is actually a positive. Luckily, like photographers, surfers are also in the constant pursuit of ‘the shot’. 

Do people buy photos of themselves surfing in the Lagoon, or just pass them around on social media, watermark and all? 
People most definitely buy photos of themselves surfing, and they will do every time they visit as long as the shots are great! We don’t have a huge problem with people sharing watermarked images, occasionally it will happen- but I think as long as your products and prices are on point, there is no reason why people won’t buy. 

I know pros have it in their contracts to keep their wax clean so the shots look good. Any advice to surfers to help them get a better shot?

  1. For an average surfer, I would say it’s all about the stance. Have a good stance.
  2.  Just relax, don’t force maneuvers, flow is better. 
  3. A lot of people freeze up when they know someone is taking photos, so try to just ignore that and do what you do best.
The photography team at Image Cabin includes (from left to right) Stew, James, Vic, Gabby, Dan. All photos by Image Cabin

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