When someone has a true passion for something you can see it in their eyes when they talk about it. It shows in their facial expressions and it jumps off their tongue.
This is the exact case for our good friend and Western Australia photographer Andrew Semark, who has turned his passion into a profession that keeps his family happy and his plate full.
From picking up a camera at the early age of 15 to shooting water photography at one of the heaviest waves on the planet, Semark has become a culture shifter in the world of surf and ocean photography. Constantly capturing unseen perspectives you'd be hard-pressed not to stop your scroll when thumbing through his portfolio.
Sunset above the Southwest Australian coast
Dive into Andrew's story, his most treasured images and how he became one of the most talented and well respected water photographers on the planet.
So how has being from Western Australia shaped who you are today?
It’s pretty much shaped everything I do because growing up down here surfing this coastline and being able to explore it helped me learn how to shoot a photo and helped me evolve what I do. We have the best coastline and sickest waves so it just shaped everything I do from when I was a grom.
What do you like most about living in Western Australia?
The vibe and the ability to still find solitude. You can easily get away and find a bit of space where nobody is around – empty beaches with nobody around and empty surf. There’s so much to explore along the coastline that I don’t even reckon in my time going up and down the coast I’ve seen it all yet – there’s still so much out there.
Not a bad way to conclude a day of sharing empty tubes with friends
For people who have never been to Southwest Australia, explain what it’s like – the culture, people, beaches, waves, etc.
It’s heaven. You’ve got some of the clearest water on the planet, good waves and also heavy waves. The coastline is full of small communities so everyone is super friendly and it’s easy to get to know a lot of people. It goes from rugged coastline through to crazy forest. Down towards Augusta and Hamelin it’s so rugged – you could disappear down there. And then up towards Yallingup you have these cliffs that just drop into the ocean, you can go surfing, diving – it’s the ultimate playground for any fishermen, surfer or artist because the coastline is so different.
So how did you originally get into photography?
I always enjoyed shooting photos since I was younger. I did a trip to New Zealand and I used my families’ old Olympus OEM1 film camera. We travelled around New Zealand for about 4 weeks and I was just taking heaps of random photos. I came back home and got it all developed and just remember it being such a reward. You get to relive those memories. I was 15 or 16 at that point and that’s where it all started for me.
Do you remember your first camera?
It was that Olympus OEM1 I used in New Zealand, from my parents. My mum and dad still have it actually. Shooting with film taught me how to expose a photo properly and the art of photography. I think with film you put a lot more thought and effort into the art of photography which I enjoyed.
Did you have any early inspirations in photography – people you looked up to?
Being from down here Christian Fletcher was someone to look at. He shot a bunch of landscape. I remember walking into his gallery in Dunsborough and just thinking wow this is insanity, some of the stuff he could create from around here. That piqued my interest in landscape photography and evolved into shooting surf. So he definitely had a big influence. Meeting guys like Russell Ord who is a prominent photographer – seeing what he’s done with his work was inspiring. I do always try to do my own thing and find my own feet and creative way. Sometimes it can be easy to be shaped by other artists and photographers around you but I always tried to find my own style.
When did you start with water photography?
I bought my first housing 8 or 9 years ago. I was in Perth at the time. We were shooting Trigg Beach, Scarborough and just getting in the water and having fun. Coming back home (Southwest) after studying in Perth, I had to learn pretty quick because you can get smoked down here. So yea it’s been about 8 years since I been swimming around in the water. It’s evolved from shooting surf around home to going further south and shooting the bigger stuff. For the bigger stuff your ability in the water is more important than your ability behind the lens because if you stuff up you’re gonna wear a set on the head.
Ringside seats an arms length distance from danger
Where are you happiest shooting photos?
Definitely being in the water. I struggle with shooting land stuff because you feel like your not apart of the action. It’s good when you have your camera in the water because you feel like you're in the heart of the action. You feed off the surfers energy and the ocean. My favourite spot to shoot in the water is probably Cyclops. You go down there and you could not see people for days and days. It’s this crazy slab of reef that just produces the most insane colours and waves. Not one wave is the same. You could sit there and shoot it for hours and hours and not one wave is the same as the next. It’s a spot I spent a lot of my time at that has shaped my photography.
So what kind of equipment/cameras are you shooting with today – walk me through your quiver?
I’m running Canon setups at the moment. The 5D Mark V and a range of lenses from 50-85 mm. In the water I like using probably the 85mm the most because it lets me get nice and tight.
Favourite cameras to shoot with?
Not really, but a favourite lens for sure which is the 85mm. It’s so prime for the water and such a great lens for shooting ocean and surf.
Favourite places to shoot around home and then abroad?
My favourite place to shoot around here is Injidup Beach. In the corner you have this crazy sand dune where you can shoot super fun waves, further down the beach the water is so blue and there are rarely people on the beach. That stretch of beach is definitely my favourite local beach. Travel wise, I’ve been to Iceland a couple of times and it blew my mind. It is so different than what I’m used to here. In Iceland you have this crazy rugged island and you can see 100 different things in 5 kms of road. From the Northern Lights to glacial rivers and waterfalls all on this tiny little island, its just mind-boggling. The three times that I’ve been there we’ve just rented a van and drove around the island seeing different things. There’s snow, mountains, waterfalls that make you feel so tiny – a place I’d like to spend some more time.
Injidup Beach, Western Australia
Water/surf photography and photography in general has changed a lot since Instagram/Social Media because so popular – what’s your standpoint on that?
It’s just part of the evolution of photography. It’s constantly changing and evolving so you have to roll with it at some points. You don’t have to let social media shape what you do, you can do your own thing and use social media to showcase what you’re doing rather than letting it change the way you’re approaching things. Sometimes you can get caught up in shaping what you do by what you see but I think for me I know what I want to capture and product so it kind of compliments what I want to do and helps me work towards my goals as a photographer. It pushes you to create something different so your truly capturing people and have them questioning what they see which is truly the goal for me.
It also seems like since the drone has come into play photography has changed a lot – tell me your thoughts on drones and how they thread into modern day photography..
I’ve got a drone and I love it. It’s just a refreshing angle on photography and I don’t think its ever going to stop. It’s cool to be apart of the evolution of this medium.
Equal parts treacherous and beautiful, Semark's eye in the sky captures a unique perspective
Any favourite water sessions you have in your memory?
I had a session two years ago at The Right. It was the biggest I’ve ever seen it. It was a day that I was able to accomplish some personal goals and see some crazy waves ridden. That day stands out for me but there are also so many sessions where nobody is around and I’ve sat on a ski and shot water that still blow my mind. Four or five years ago I shot this slab in the middle of nowhere and it was the best light and waves I’ve ever seen.
What’s it like being at The Right when it’s maxing?
It’s exciting. Being apart of the action in bigger stuff is really something else. It makes you feel alive. You’re not thinking about anything else except that moment. It’s a hard thing to describe but the novelty of it hasn’t worn off, it’s still so enjoyable out there. Seeing something huge roll towards you and trying to find where you are on the reef, what angle you want to get, a lot goes into it.
The Right showing it's colorful teeth
Scariest water session....
I did a trip once and we went to launch the ski at the regular spot but it was closed because of rain. So we launched at a different spot and drove to the slab which took a bit longer. I remember getting out there shooting I was a bit paranoid the whole time and the light was fading so we started driving back on the ski. The fuel light came on while driving back so we almost are out of fuel, in the middle of nowhere and the natural light dropped out really quick behind this mountain range. The ski light was blinking and beeping and just as we got back I could see my car and the ski had just run out of fuel. It was pitch black and we landed on the beach. I don’t like to put myself in those scenarios and am usually very calculated when it comes to those missions but we made it out okay and I learned from it.
What do you love most about the lifestyle you lead?
I think it’s the people you meet. You meet so many cool people and get to hang with some real characters that are all doing their own thing in their own unique way and being a small part of that is a lot of fun. You get to build a really strong bond with certain crew because you get to see a part of their lives people most people don’t get to see. It’s rewarding in that aspect.
What does your perfect day look like from sunup to sundown?
Crisp offshore winds, big swell. Head to a slab,watch the guys tow, the vibe in the water is good and the sun is out all day. A full day on the ocean – it’s a dream scenario.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
I think nowadays it’s pushing yourself further. The biggest challenge I have is stepping up my water images another level. I’m always critiquing the hell out of my photos. I don’t think I will ever stop doing that because it’s part of being a photographer and how you evolve.
About as clear as water can get. Somewhere in Western Australia...
Where do you see yourself in ten years? Any big goals or aspirations?
No big goals or aspirations I just want to be happy and enjoy what I am doing. Smile on my face and smile on my families’ face – that is me sorted.
What’s the future hold – any trips, adventures or new projects on the radar?
End of the year I am doing a month stint in Hawaii. I’ve always wanted to shoot the North Shore so I am going to go over there with the family. We’ll spend Christmas over there and spend four weeks cruising around. We’ll see what it’s all about.
One final word – that sums you up best…
An approachable and almost dreamy looking perspective of a very scary waveFor more inspiring and jaw-dropping ocean imagery, follow