Wanting to induce jealousy was the instigator of Rambo Estrada’s photography career. Back in his university days, he’d take his camera with him on his surfing trips, just so he could take photos of the waves he scored to bring back to his friends, making them all jealous. From there, photography became a full-on passion. “I’m a little OCD, and almost need to have something to be obsessed about. Photography became that thing, and it was inevitable it would become my full-time job,” Rambo explains.
For five years Rambo owned a bar, which allowed him to get out during the day and shoot some waves — something he’s been doing for over 10 years now. Along the way he picked up wedding photography, which slowly this transitioned into a full-time job, and four years ago he decided to take the plunge, sold the bar, and followed the path photography led him. “When I went full time into photography I originally thought it would be fun to shoot a few weddings a year, but that side of my business has really taken off. These days I’m often struggling to find the time to shoot surfing!”
Although they may seem worlds apart, Rambo’s wedding and surf photography have been very complementary. Thanks to his surf and adventure photography experience, Rambo was used to capturing genuine moments as they happened, which he applied to his wedding photography. He even keeps the same goal in mind when he’s shooting either style: giving the viewer the feeling of what it was like to be there.
This is something that the viewer truly experiences in Rambo’s growing collection of slow-shutter wave photographs. For the last five years, Rambo’s been obsessed with shooting these images, and he’s created a stunning series of them. He has a penchant for shooting barreling waves at sunrise. He explains that this is due to the fact that for slow-shutter images you can’t have a lot of light, and the colours in the morning are usually the most interesting. “You need a perfect combination of swell, wind, and tide to get good waves, so there is a lot of planning involved. I also take the sun’s position into account when planning where to shoot. As the sun rises in different positions throughout the year it can affect how the light hits the curve of the wave.”
“It’s definitely a personal project. [The wave photographs] are not really something that magazines run, and they perform terribly as print sales, but they are my favourite images so I shoot them for my own satisfaction. I do try and push them on the world though!” Rambo explains. For this series in particular, it was the “beauty of the wave shapes and that sexy combination of water and light” that drew Rambo into capturing the shots. However poetic and easy-breezy that statement sounds, getting the actual shots is no mean feat. As he points out, the ocean doesn’t run to a schedule.
Rambo spends a lot of time studying maps, and checking forecasts to find the spots that will allow him to capture the most epic shots. And apparently he follows his gut instincts too, leading to some amazing rewards. “Once, I drove 27 hours to get to the bottom of the South Island as I had a hunch the waves would be amazing that morning. Shooting slow-shutter in the water provides a very low yield. I’m trying to pan smoothly with the wave while holding my position swimming, so 95% off the images I capture are just rubbish. Which makes the satisfaction of nailing a good one so much sweeter.”
To understand just how difficult these slow-shutter waves are to capture, ponder on the fact that Rambo has been shooting these photographs for five years now, and he says he’s nailed less than a dozen images that he’s happy with. “It would be cool to have an exhibition of slow-shutter waves at some stage. Currently I have an exhibition running in my own office with some big prints on the wall — but I’m the only person attending,” Rambo laughs.
To capture his wave shots, Rambo takes his Sony α6500 with a 55mm f/1.8 or 70–200mm f/4 lens out swimming. For smaller waves, he will sometimes swap this out for a Sony α7R III and a 90mm f/2.8 macro lens. “The α7R III is an epic camera for shooting from the ocean, but it’s also worth quite a lot of money, so it’s not ideal to have it around the water a lot, so I lean more toward the α6500,” Rambo explains of his camera selections.
To take his cameras out on the water, Rambo uses camera housings crafted out of solid aluminium block by Australian company Salty. And from the land he likes to shoot with the Sony α7R III for maximum resolution, and either the Sony 70–200mm f/4 G or Sony 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6 GM lens.
To find out more about Rambo’s wedding or surf photography, head to either one of his websites or Instagram accounts below. “I’ve split up my wedding photography and surf/adventure photography, as, let’s face it, most folks are either interested in checking out one or the other.”