Interview by Glenn Sakamoto
Tom Bing is a photographer/filmmaker and a surfer based in Newcastle, England. His work is honest storytelling through powerful stills and moving image. His personal work communicates his passion for the outdoors, the ocean and adventure.
Tell us a little bit about your background in surfing and photography.
As cliché as I know it is, I feel like my Grandfather was a big influence on my interests now; not so much as a young kid but as I started to grow up it dawned on me that a lot of the stuff he was into really appealed to me. He loved the sea; was always fishing and sailing and my family used to dabble in a bit of surfing in the 60's and 70's in Cornwall, England. He was also hugely into photography and passed on his old cameras to my brother and I. I still have the old Minolta 110 film underwater camera we used to play with as kids.
I've surfed for about ten years now and have been shooting photos since high school; I went to Art School and have been taking photos seriously for about eight years; the last couple of years have been the real push to go professional. The surf stuff is a really nice outlet for me creatively. I know it'll never make me rich and I don't expect it to or even really want it to but I strive to see my work in print and out there in the world. It's nice to put some effort into something I am passionate about like surf photography.
How would you sum up the surf community in the UK?
It's very different here in the UK from anywhere else I've ever been. We're a hardy bunch over here. I guess it's probably a bit like a reflection of the UK itself, kinda small, kinda cold, not always great but it has a charm and magic to it. There aren't many places you can surf in the shadow of castles, let alone with just a few mates. The waits between swells here on the East Coast can be pretty painful but the stoke when there is a chart is unrivalled.
There aren't too many 'dudes' over here, its not a very 'surfy' kind of scene; it's more plumbers and builders freezing their ass off by a field somewhere in the countryside rather than smiles and shakas while pulling fresh boards out of trucks in parking lots.
Where we live in the North East, the water gets down to 38/39F and the air temperature gets down to about 28/29F. That doesn't put people off though and like everywhere else its getting increasingly busy. People are tetchy about spots, I am too. I try not to piss anybody off with my photos, I try to be respectful, wait until it's flat to post shots, don't give away too much and keep it fairly low key; the spots we have are worth protecting. When it's on, its on and it's a great feeling knowing where to be when.
What keeps you shooting and not surfing when the waves are good?
I try to vary it and surf as much as possible too. The great thing about winter in the UK is that the light is either terrible all day, or great all day. The sun stays super low and we can get gentle offshore winds dawn until dusk; we don't get the glassy mornings and windy days like warmer climates - although we do get days of howling onshores sometimes. I try to separate in my head the days I'm going to shoot and the day's I'm going to surf. I really don't like the GoPro culture of half doing both- not fully committing to surfing or shooting; just kind of doing both without really doing them.
I won't shoot unless everything is falling into place; the light, swell, wind and the people I want to shoot. It's still a learning curve so some days I'll get results I'm happy with and other days will be more of a disappointment; I think its those disappointing days that draw me back in.
You recently returned off a trip, tell us a little about that.
My wife Sally McGee and I just rode 26,000km on Honda XR150's with surfboards attached to them. We started the journey in Chile and rode up to California through twelve countries/ The trip took us twelve months in total. We rented out our flat, sold a lot of our stuff, put the rest in the garage, quit our jobs and did it.
It was an amazing adventure; we saw so many cool places, met great people, surfed amazing waves and experienced great cultures. Now we've been home for a couple of months, the lifestyle we were lucky enough to experience seems like a world away. I think in many ways it changed us both as people, for the better. Check out www.thewestroad.net for the full story on that one.
What kind of equipment do you use to capture your images?
I recently made the switch from Nikon DSLR's to the Sony mirrorless system. It was kind of a gamble switching to the relatively new technology but so far it's paying off. The kit is smaller, more intuitive and just as high quality, if not higher than DSLR's. In the water I use a tiny little A6300 with a Meikon Chinese housing, it's a cheap set up that works well and is small and easy to use. Out of the water I use an A7Rii with an A-mount lens and adaptor. I haven't seen another surf photographer use this combination yet but I think it's only a matter of time.
What kind of waves do you like to shoot?
In my heart I've always been really into longboarding and surfing fish and more alternative shapes. In reality though I surf shortboards 90% of the time and when I look through my gallery of images, there are a lot of shortboards and tubes. I think I like style over substance when it comes to watching surfing; I'm not into watching guys butcher waves with too many aggressive turns, I don't like the whole 'tear it up' ethos of surfing, same with skateboarding too. I like to see surfers respond to what the wave offers them with style. I guess I like to shoot waves that offer variety and challenge surfers; that way it keeps me challenged as a photographer. I loved spending time at The Wedge, that place was amazing to watch and shoot, I loved the aesthetic in Mexico and I really liked a couple of places in Peru. Scotland has some of the most photogenic waves in my eyes, I guess I am drawn to the colours and the landscape up there.
What are your hopes for the future?
Now we are home I have moved into a little studio with Ryan Quickfall and Ashley Willerton; two of the most talented guys in my home town of Newcastle Upon Tyne. I spent usually three or four days a week in the studio working on ideas, printing, promoting and selling prints, editing work, approaching new clients, writing etc. I have a few exhibitions of my abstract seascape work coming up and prints have been flying out; I work with a great printer to get amazing Giclée prints onto photo-rag which seem to be going down really well. I hope to push these, shoot new work and continue working with commercial clients in the fashion, outdoors/adventure and motorcycle industries. Winter is in full swing now and we have had a few really good swells so far; I've surfed a lot and shot a lot this winter already and with an eye firmly on the forecast, hope to catch the rest of the swells this winter, maybe take a few trips to Scotland or the South West.