When looking at lifestyle & nature photographer Karl Lundholm’s portfolio, one wouldn’t imagine that he’s originally from Sweden. His sun drenched images of surfers in their natural habitats and cinematic underwater photographs conjure up a serious desire to dive into the nearest body of water. Karl let’s us in on a few tips on how he gets those killer shots, where some of his favorite places to get wet are and why he’s so passionate about underwater photography.

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What does the ocean mean to you and why do you feel so connected to it?
Ever since I was a child, I grew up close to the ocean and found it fascinating as it’s so different compared to being on land. When you pop your head under the surface, you’ll know what I mean. Being completely weightless when submerged while surrounded by beautiful colors and no sound is an indescribable feeling.

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How long have you been shooting for?
I studied basic photography in secondary school in 2002. However, my interest for photography really took off in 2008 when I traveled to Southeast Asia and got really into diving. I also spent some time living abroad in Komodo National Park, Raja Ampat Islands, Bali & the Gili Islands which was amazing. Living in so many beautiful places surrounded by amazing bodies of water gives you so much creativity and inspiration. There was something new and interesting everywhere I looked, whether it be surfers or a beautiful sunset. I just loved capturing all those moments.

Where are some of your favorite bodies of water you’ve shot in and why?
1. Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia: When you’ve been here you’ll know why it’s called the Gold Coast. The sunsets here are pure gold and being in the ocean during that time is magic. This is where I first started shooting in the water so it’s special to me.

2. Cloud 9 at Siargao Island in the Philippines: This is one of the best surf spots in the Philippines with warm crystal clear water and a lot of talented surfers to shoot.

3. Uluwatu at the southern tip of Bali, Indonesia: This is the place to get really good waves with surfers from all over the world. Shooting here at sunset is amazing as the light is magical during that time.

4. Gothenburg, Sweden: Even though it’s pretty cold, it’s home and I love it.

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What is your connection with the surf culture?
I’ve always been interested in action sports, however, in Sweden we are primarily limited to snowboarding and skating with very limited surfing. Out of all the different sports, I feel like surfing is the most laid back and relaxed. When combining that with my love for nature and the beauty of the ocean, what’s not to like? It’s always been a dream of mine to live in a warm tropical place with crystal clear water. So 2 years ago, my girlfriend and I decided to move to Australia for a year. There you can really see and feel the surf culture.  

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What do you shoot with when you’re in the water?
I use a Nikon D7100 with a Nikon 17-55mm f2.8. To protect it from water, I use a housing called Outex. That’s about it.

What’s the best time of day to go out and shoot water images?
I love shooting during sunrises or sunsets. If you shoot 30 min before and after the sun is up, the light changes so much so you can get many different types of photos.

Describe a typical surf/ocean shoot.
I usually start with finding a good location and look at the weather forecast as you don’t want to swim out if there’s a thunderstorm coming. Next, I prepare my gear and make sure my batteries are fully charged and my memory cards are empty. I then prep the camera by putting in into the water housing. When everything is sealed, it’s time to jump into the water. Anything can happen when you’re out there in the open ocean so it’s best to just go with the flow. When swimming out, I don’t use a board. I have my camera in one hand and swim with the other so it can definitely be challenging. This is why I highly recommend you be a good swimmer. The biggest challenge in shooting this type of photography is the constant change. Trying to capture a surfer at the right moment with the right light is very hard, especially when you have to swim under every incoming wave at the same time.

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Can you talk a bit about how you compose images when shooting in the water?
I shoot mainly vertically when I shoot surfers because I like to get a lot of the ocean and sky in my photos. This format is also really effective when shooting sunsets or sunrises because you get a nice gradient in the sky which allows for more color and impact in the photos. I don’t think I see surfing as a sport when I’m shooting, rather a complement to the beautiful environment that they are in. When I go out in the water I always try to find new and interesting way of looking at the ocean, surfing, and everything around it.

How do you get the amazing colors in your photographs? What’s your post-processing workflow?
First I think a lot of the colors I get in my photos are from me shooting at the right time. When shooting during “golden hour” the colors get really warm and vibrant. I also shoot in RAW format which gives me more information in the photo to play with when I’m editing it. For the actual post-processing, I use Adobe Lightroom. I have worked with Lightroom ever since I began shooting as this is how I get the colors you are talking about. Every photo is unique so I treat each one differently.

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What are 5 tips to get the best water/surf images?
1. Get comfortable in the water before going out: Start swimming in calmer waters and gradually make your way into rougher territory.

2. Play around with different camera settings: I use both long and fast shutter speeds. When I shoot surf or people in the water, I usually shoot with one setting in burst mode. Once I fill up my card, i’m done. When I shoot closeups or ambient watershots, I usually got for a faster aperture for a shorter depth of field.

3. Get a big memory card: You don’t want to be in the water for 5 min before you are out of card space.

4. Fins: I never go out in the water without my fins. They will help you move around in the ocean especially when you have a camera in your hands.

5. Respect the ocean: It’s a beautiful place to explore but can be unpredictable and dangerous.

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Karl Lundholm
I have always enjoyed being close to the water which is why I spent two years living in Australia. Discovering new places gives me new energy and boosts my creativity which is why my interest in photography has evolved to where it is today. Since then I have been working as a Graphic Artist, Digital Asset Manager and Photo Retoucher. See more @gubbfet or his website.