I just so happened to stumble upon his work when an old Facebook friend of mine liked one of his images. Curious as I am, I just had to take a peek and was pleasantly surprised when I found him to be an interesting character with photos that make you envy the subjects.

Photograph of a surfer in the barrel of the wave while another surfer stands and watches

To him, it’s all about the light

Robbie Irlam grew up in Cape Town and has always been fascinated by photography, “it probably had much to do with my uncle who was an absolute shutterbug!” The very first camera he got as a young boy was a Kodak Instamatic on his 10th birthday and he was hooked ever since. From an early age he was spellbound by light and all the variety of shades it offered, so it’s only natural that his favourite quote is, “It’s all in the light”. Over the years light has been his inspiration and assisted him in his latter years when he took up paint brushes, pallets, oils and became involved in the compelling world of art.

Photograph of a surfer ripping it

Surf photography combined his love of surfing and photography

At age 12, he became involved in the sport of surfing and has always been hooked on surf magazines and the extreme images therein. About four years ago, Robbie relocated to Jeffreys Bay, which hosts one of the world’s best point surf breaks. Being unable to surf anymore due to physical constraints, the next best thing was to get involved in surf photography.

Photograph of a surfer in the barrel of a wave

Supertubes is my office

On any given day, you can find him either on the beach or “his office” down at Supertubes. (Due to its 300m-wave break, Supertubes is a surfing hotspot in J-bay) He jokingly goes on to say that he would very much love to shoot from within the waves but it’s unfortunately not possible due to the persistent currents, his age and level of fitness. “Furthermore, the Mick Fanning shark incident which happened during the 2015 World League of Surfing (WSL) Jbay Open, was enough of a deterrent! I’d much prefer the safety of terra firma thanks.”

Photograph of a surfer ripping it up at Supertubes Jeffrey

Know your subject

Surviving on a state pension, he is unable to afford any top of the range, high tech equipment. So, he uses his trusty old Sony Alpha 100 and makes use of a Minolta 75-300mm zoom lens. Shooting at only 2.9 frames per second. It might be on the slow side but having surfed himself he is able to predict the ‘high action’ radical manoeuvers. This just proves that if you know your subject you are certain to get good images!

Photograph of a surfer in the sunset
Photograph of a surfer getting some nice air

Lightroom kicks some serious ass

As far as post production is concerned, he can’t wait to get home in the evenings and check out the results of the hours spent shooting. He only recently discovered the magic of Lightroom combined with Nik. (Thanks to a tech-savvy son who helped him) This software allows him to play around with exposure, clarity and the saturation with the images.

a surfer in the barrel of a wave

Being published and selling images

To date, he has had several of his images featured in the top South African surf magazine, Zigzag. (I’m guilty of having my walls plastered with images from that very magazine as a young teen) He’s also been published in a magazine known as Boardtalk, which concentrates mostly on the Eastern Cape surf scene. “I guess my greatest achievement thus far was the sale of my dolphin images I shot early one morning down at Supertubes.” To this day, nothing excites him more than when he sees a school of dolphins come tearing through the surf in the line up. He goes on to say that it happens in a flash; before you know it, they’re gone.

Photograph of a surfer in the barrel of a wave

Front row seat, photographing the best in surfing

Since Supertubes doesn’t ‘happen’ during the summer months, Robbie eagerly awaits the winter swells and offshore winds to arrive and says that July is his absolute favourite month of the year, “the week or two before the start of the International Jbay Open, when the worlds best surfers arrive and ‘free surf’ prior to the event.” Understandably so, he gets a front row seat to photograph the best like John John Florence, Kelly Slater (if you don’t know who he is, consult your local Google) and our very own Jordy Smith before the masses of international photographers arrive.

Photograph of a surfer ripping it

Robbie describes himself as an old pipe-smoking fart, wearing dungarees, taking shots down at Supertubes. With regards to dreams and achievements for the future and inspired by renowned Australian surf photographer Ted Grambeau, he would like nothing more than to travel the world, shooting surf scenes, sharing the ‘stoke’!

Photograph of one surfer gesturing for the other surfer to join
A father and son walking out to go surf early one morning
Photograph of a bunch of surfer girls