Surf Photography Series: Clare James

12th August 2020

The sea is both unpredictable and ever changing- and that's what makes it so magical. Surfers often describe this unique sport as an unrivalled experience and something that brings you closer to nature and the elements. The feeling of salt water on your skin, the nature of waves- it's a fickle environment to try and capture. And that's exactly why it creates such incredibly sensory images. Surf photography combines both the beauty of the ocean, and the skill and elegance of surfing. We spoke to three surf photographers who capture amazing moments on some of the UK's most beautiful beaches. 

Clare James is a photographer and videographer based in Cornwall and works with natural light and raises awareness for marine and environmental issues. 

Can you talk about your background and how you got into photography?

Ocean infatuation for me started at a young age. It was the running family joke that however cold and wintery it was, if we went near the ocean (or any waterbody for that matter) I would somehow end up in the water often fully clothed. 

However it wasn’t until going to University, I studied Geography at Exeter University (Falmouth Campus,) that I got into surfing and diving at the same time. Studying a scientific degree I realised that there was lots of genius ideas e.t.c which never made it to the public eye. Whilst working in Mexico as a dive guide I started documenting the underwater world with a Canon G12 and next thing I knew I was hooked. Six months later I had fallen in love with underwater photography so much that I ended up taking up photography on land with the aim of raising awareness about marine and environmental issues through my work and placing them in the public eye. Alongside the commercial work I do today I still make time for these projects currently working with a company called Odyssey Innovation, who make kayaks from Marine Recycled Plastic and disused fishing nets. 

Images © Clare James

What is your creative process like, what camera do you use?

Creatively I am inspired and have my best ideas when I am outside in nature particularly when in the ocean. After going for a surf I come out of the water feeling satisfied and buzzing with ideas. I shoot with a Canon 5D mark 3 and have an array of lenses- wide angle for landscape, telephoto for wildlife and sports. I also have an SPL housing for shooting surfing and other watersports such as wild swimming. Videowise I also use the canon and have recently invested in a Gimble to expand the range of shots I can take.

Images © Clare James

Where are the most interesting places you've traveled to?

My two most interesting jobs were working out in Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula for 6 months as a dive guide and coral gardening on a Marine Reserve. This is where I fell in love with photography. 

After which I was lucky enough to land a job out in South Africa. I didn’t think twice, I jumped on a plane three weeks after the interview and started teaching Photography, working as Course Director for a company called Africa Media, responsible for organising and instructing month long courses for interns where we covered underwater, wildlife, documentary and sports photography. This led me to explore some amazing locations in the Garden Route. I was also responsible for the Dive side of the business and taught a lot of people to dive which was great fun. One of my highlights of the first year in Africa was working as a dive guide on the Aliwal Shoal taking people free-diving with beautiful Black Tip sharks which I enjoyed photographing immensely.

I renewed my Visa for another year and started working on a conservation project in which I spent time making a film in order to raise awareness of the important job that The Anti-Poachers do protecting Rhinos. Eventually I returned to the UK but not a day goes by without thoughts of Africa entering my mind.

Images © Clare James

How do you work with clients?

My client philosophy is very simple, I love meeting people and telling the story of their businesses. If you have an idea about a product, event that you require capturing please feel free to call me or email me. Always keen for a coffee or social distanced meeting in order to chat about the idea and how we can bring it to life!

Images © Clare James

What are your tips for aspiring photographers? 

Hard work and perseverance pays off, if you love what you do you will be thinking and breathing it so it won’t feel like hard work. In order to be successful take every opportunity and run with it, I have found networking is one of the main parts of the job. Chose an area of photography that inspires you and focus on that, don’t be too picky. I find myself doing a variety of work in order to keep the business ticking over, particularly with the current global circumstances. 

Images © Clare James

How can people can find out more about your work? 

Please take a look at my website for examples of my photography and film work, clients I work with and projects I am working on. I  recently added a shop section where I sell some of my surf and wildlife prints. Also keep an eye on my instagram @clarejamesphotography for up to date news on my work.


Clare James is a photographer and videographer based in Cornwall and works with natural light and raises awareness for marine and environmental issues.