Windsurfing: an intense sport captured through the lens of photographer of John Carter | Photo: John Carter

He is probably the most experienced windsurfing photographer in the world. John Carter is the official lensman of the PWA World Tour and has been shooting windsurfers for four decades.

When you look at his work, it seems like every single shot was staged. But they never are. They're always intense, expressive, in the moment, and informative.

John Carter is passionate about his job, even if it means carrying equipment weighing up to 130 pounds between Europe and Hawaii.

In an exclusive interview with, the British photographer talks about the first pictures he took of windsurfers, the differences between shooting windsurfing and surfing, and the future of water sports photography.

Where are you from?

I was born in a small town called Wroxall on the Isle of Wight. It is a small diamond-shaped island off the south coast of England.

I have always lived on the Isle of Wight. For me, it is a perfect place to call home; nice and quiet and surrounded by water.

It has some excellent windsurfing and great waves for surfing, mostly in the winter. I am not really a city person, so island life, away from the fast lane, suits my style!

When did you start taking pictures?

I started taking pictures while traveling back in the late 1980s. I went on a few trips to Australia and then Hawaii with one of my friends, Nigel Howell, who was the UK's number one windsurfer back then, and started taking pictures for him.

I ended up staying three whole winters in Maui from 1989 to 1992, so I know the island pretty well. Over the years, I have been to Maui over 30 times so far!

Marco Lang: sailing in Argentina through the eyes of John Carter | Photo: John Carter

Are you a windsurfer? How would you describe your level of riding?

I can windsurf, but my level is pretty low, unfortunately. I have a set of freeride gear at home, which I use in the summer.

But for the most part, while I am on a trip, I am either taking pictures or editing, which can often mean 12 hours or more a day, so there is rarely time to sail.

My main time in the water is actually taking photos, which in many ways is just as much fun - well, for me, it is!

When did you join the PWA World Tour?

I started with the PWA full-time around 2000. I had worked on occasional events before that in the 1990s but then 100 percent from 2000 onwards.

I have only missed a few events in that time, one when I got married in 2006 and a few when they had events overlapping.

How would you describe your evolution as a professional windsurfing photographer?

Times have changed since I started. Back in the day, everything was manual focus/exposure, and with film costs, you were much more choosy about the shots you were taking since every time you pressed the shutter, it cost money.

With the advent of digital technology, you can experiment a lot more and see your results instantly, which is great for trying new ideas but also means that other photographers can copy styles with a little bit of trial and error.

Wave windsurfing: always unpredictable and difficult to photograph | Photo: John Carter

Why is it different to shoot windsurfing, compared with surfing and other water sports?

Windsurfing is an exciting sport to shoot, often made difficult by the force that makes it a sport… the wind! Locations such a Gran Canaria are a nightmare on your equipment because of all the water and grime in the air where the wind is blowing onshore.

It means that from certain vantage points, you have to clean your lens every few minutes, plus it can be tricky even holding the camera still - especially a big lens - in 50 knots of wind.

Windsurfing is as much about anticipation as anything. Over the years, you start to know which guys are going to go big and when so that helps.

Otherwise, the challenge is always how to make a picture look interesting, especially at new locations. That can be tough.

Anyone can take a shot of the action, but to take a wow photo, it can require a little more imagination and making sure you are in the right place at the right time.

What is the hardest maneuver to photograph in windsurfing?

As I said, it is not necessarily the maneuverer; it is more about making the shot interesting. Obviously, water photography takes a few years to build up the skills of how to set up the camera, make sure you are in the right place, and also make sure your lens is not covered with water drops.

You also need to be fairly fit to swim in spots like Hookipa, dive under the waves, and stay in the thick of the action.

John Carter (left): the PWA World Tour photographer loves traveling | Photo: John Carter

Which specific lens and cameras do you need to use to shoot windsurfers?

I use Canon 1DX bodies and the full range of lenses from fisheye to the 500mm F4 Telephoto.

I just bought the Canon 100-400mm Mark II zoom lens, which I must say is a remarkable piece of kit for somebody who wishes to start out taking windsurfing photos.

Aside from that, you need a wide angle for scenic shots, as well as your water housing setup.

In the water, I used a Liquid Eye housing, along with my 1DX and mostly a 24-105mm zoom. When I travel to an event, I often have 60 kilograms or more of luggage.

Do you never feel tired of photographing windsurfing?

After 30 years of shooting the same locations, the challenge becomes much more difficult to keep shots interesting.

It is easy to shoot the same old pictures, but I constantly try to improve. After a while, we all run out of ideas.

I still enjoy the challenge of doing my best with my photography every day I work. The formula is simple: the more effort you put in, the better your shots will be.

If you start getting lazy, then your work will suffer. But when you have been shooting for a month in the Canary Islands and working late editing, then sometimes you just need to make it through the day.

Eight days in a row working 14 hours a day can make you pretty tired.

Windsurfing: shooting with drones is dramatically less expensive that hiring helicopter | Photo: John Carter

When should drones be used to shoot windsurfing action?

Drones are an excellent tool to shoot windsurfing and any related scenic. I love the straight-down shots from above, and it's an angle previously only available via an expensive helicopter.

For video, they can be a savior at Slalom events when the racing is out on the horizon. Obviously, there needs to be a level of safety involved with drones, and the red tape seems to be getting thicker at many locations in Europe.

Without the correct license and qualifications, it is often forbidden to fly, especially in areas where there are large public crowds.

I have a drone but have not put it to best use yet. But I definitely see it as a tool that will be vital in windsurfing photography in the future.

What is the future of photography from a competitive windsurfing perspective?

Who knows what is going to happen with the advancement of technology? It seems, on many occasions, that still shots can be taken from video frame grabs, so maybe in the future, when the cameras are even more sophisticated, many shots may come from video.

I still think the basic bread and butter photography will be around for many years to come. But surviving as a professional is definitely becoming more and more difficult, with so many people willing to work for free or give their pictures for nothing.

Boujmaa Guilloul: shooting windsurfers is an art | Photo: John Carter

What keeps you stoked to continue your work as a professional windsurfing photographer?

Well, I always enjoyed travel, and I love photography, so the combination of the two is perfect for me following windsurfing.

It is always an honor to be shooting the most talented riders in the world, although sometimes I wish we were at more hardcore wave destinations or we had a little bit more variation on tour.

Who are your favorite male and female windsurfers, and why?

I enjoy working with most of the riders, but especially the ones who realize that the best pictures don't just come out of thin air, and sometimes you need to set up cool portraits or sail in a slightly worse location in order to score a better photo with a better background or vantage point.

So the name of the game is working with riders who are conscious of what you are trying to achieve and not just ones that ride for five minutes and assume you have nailed a fantastic photo.

In the UK, Timo Mullen is very keen to sail and explore and always thinks about the shots. Many riders who also film or photograph also understand the bigger picture.

As for the girls, Sarah-Quita always has plenty of energy and is a lot of fun to work with, as well as being the best all-around female on the planet.

The Moreno twins are also amazing talents and fun to work with, and they realize the importance of the media.

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