Inspired: Tim Nunn Behind the Lens

Updated: May 23, 2020

For years Tim Nunn's talents behind the lens and his thirst for adventure, have seen his awe inspiring images grace surfing publications around the world. Now more than ever Tim's photography is prevalent and has a different set of wheels turning with The Plastic Project. We caught up with Tim to find out how it all started and what drives his creative process.

Perfectly frozen and not just in time. Photo by Tim Nunn

How did you get into photography?

I'd been travelling the world with Sharpy (Roger Sharp) for about three years or so, he was a photographer right from the very start, but I was mostly filming. Then I was about to give up and go and do something else, then Sharpy became editor of Surf Europe and I ended up sharing an office with the Surfers Path Magazine, and shared a house with Alex the editor. At the time there weren't enough surf photographers in the UK believe it or not, and rather than go and become a Geography teacher I bought a cheap water rig and started shooting with these two local brothers Joss and Reubyn Ash, and it all went from there.

Where do you draw inspiration for your surf photography?

I've been lucky to travel and work with some incredible guys, Sharpy right from the start has been a massive help and inspiration, technically he's on another level. I got to see every submission that came through The Surfers Path lightbox for three years as well, which was massive. So other photographers are a huge influence, friends like Brian Nevins, Ben Selway and then guys like Ted Grambeau and Jon Frank have always been guys I look up to. Then beyond that the world, the environment and people who take their own path.

It's all about composure and that goes for the photographer too with this solid chunk of Atlantic Ocean bering down on you. Photo Tim Nunn / Surfer Conor Maguire

Away from the ocean what other photographers or images have helped inspire your own photography?

I love war photography, there is a brutal realism that these guys are capturing, and the shots are just right in the moment. That is how I want to shoot, I don't like seeing set up acting shots in editorial, ads are one thing, but we should be portraying how things really are as close as possible.

You're well known for getting amazing water shots of empty barrelling waves or with surfers riding them. Some of the angles you capture must be quite dangerous. Describe the dangers and the worst experience you have had shooting these types of waves?

Boring as it may sound it's all about preparation. You simply figure out how to get in and out of the water, where you want to sit depending on the sort of shot you want to get, and then plan for it. You get to know rips, the way the waves break, escape routes, especially on reefs. You know where gullies are in the reef to swim under etc. The toughest places are always beach breaks, especially big ones, where it's rippy and shifty, but you get comfortable in even the heaviest of situations. Then it's just about fitness, you have to be able to take a beating now and again, and you got to love it as well, and it is damn good fun. As for the worst beating, I was out at pipe and a bigger set came through and as I was getting ready to dive a bodysurfer dived in front of me, kicked me in the face and it winded me and I got the whole set not he head, was a right laugh.

You've got to pay to play. Tim puts himself in harms way to capture this birds eye view of surfer Alan Stokes in Scotland. Photo Tim Nunn

Where do you see photography and the equipment used progressing to over the next few years?

Photography has become the most important form of communication on the planet, not that it wasn't before. But social media absolutely relies on it to exist. Which makes it so exciting, people see more images than ever, but it has caused a seismic shift in how/if you can make money as a photographer in the end, which has both pushed and stifled creativity which is a shame.

Equipment wise it's exciting, small and fast and super high quality is the way to go now. I've just ditched Canon for the first time and switched to sony so I can shoot at 20 frames per second, which is totally nuts for action. It closes the gap between film and photography as well, which is dodgy, but none the less exciting.

In turn will this affect how you would approach surf photography in the future?

There is a threat where film/still photography converges and creativity loses out. Filming and shooting stills are very different processes. Essentially making a film of someone surfing you have to capture completed rides, which involves shooting relatively safely so you capture the whole moment. Shooting stills is more about just a split second, so you can risk everything for that one moment. The danger is we as photogs have to do both under financial pressure, thus losing creativity.

Tim's time spent wondering the northern Scottish coastlines has seen him document some of the Uk's most terrifying ocean mutations.

From your experience what advice would you give to someone that would like to make a career as a photographer?

Be different, find your own style, and go for it.

What is your favourite photo you have ever taken and why?

My favourite shot I have taken is of Aussie Russell Bierke at Rielly's a couple of weeks ago, a big paddle in, risen on the absolute edge of what was possible, and on a wave that was totally made. Unfortunately you'll have to wait until October for that, my favourite that is out in the wild at the moment is one I shot from the beach of Micah lester. It's the sort of out of the water shot I love taking, a wave, a surfer pushing his limits all set in an incredible environment.

Surfer Micah Lester tries to fly as high as the snow covered mountain top peaks behind him. Photo Tim Nunn

Where is the most photogenic place you have ever been and why?

Iceland is incredible, but that's a bit cliche really. Norway is insane, but you know Cornwall is pretty incredible for shooting surf as well, all the coves we have make it an awesome place.

If you had to choose one image that tells a thousand words, what image would it be?

I think this shot of a friend from California about to paddle out at Thurso East in February resonates with every surfer on Earth. You get the cold, the power of the surf and you all get a little nervous feeling that it is you about to face that paddle out!

But is it worth the paddle out? One lone soul on Thurso's frozen reef thinks so. Photo Tim Nunn

The Plastic Project is going from strength to strength, can you tell us a little more about it, how it came about and what it means to you?

It is a way of helping to educate every human on the planet, using surfing and adventure, as to the absolute disaster we face from plastic pollution in the ocean. I realised that i had accidentally documented the increase in rubbish washing up on the remotest beaches of the northern hemisphere over the past fifteen years. What is more, when I was out doing talks and slideshows it became obvious that by combining the surf and adventure with environment, people of all ages connected in a way simple stats and science don't always hit home, and it has grown from there. It's still just me pretty much doing it all, but with help we've developed a schools project for primary level, Working closely with high schools and spreading the word using surfing, opens doors in ways others do not.

Surfer Ian Battrick playing a dare devil game of 'how shallow can I go' on a notoriously dangerous slab of rock whilst photographer Tim Nunn tries not to dive head first into it himself.

You can follow Tim's photography adventures on Instagram and find out more about The Plastic Project here.

Also on the blog, read about our latest adventures in Travel Diaries - The Road South with The DryBag

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