7 April, 2011 7 April, 2011

with Ryan Miller

Ryan’s office might not have aircon, but the view is incredible.

His images have graced the covers and pages of magazines around the world. He makes a living by taking photos of his famous best friend and selling them to the highest bidder. It all sounds a little dodgy, but it’s not what you’re thinking.

Ryan Miller is one of the world’s foremost surf photographers and one of his best friends just happens to be Jordy Smith. Put the two together and you’ve got a surefire way to earning good money. Our Yankee friend has been hanging out in Cape Town the past few weeks, where he’s been shooting Jordy, sampling the local wine, eating amazing food, and getting grilled by us.

Zigzag: Let’s get down to the most important question first. We know you take great surf photos, but do you yourself surf? 
Ryan: Shit, I’m 32 now and I have been surfing since I was at least six and I still can’t figure it out. I wouldn’t even put myself in the category of “moderately-skilled”. Being a goofyfoot, Elands Bay was pretty damn good for me though. We went there like two years ago and it is such a bad wave to shoot that Jordy just told me to go surf. He was calling me into bombs and I was having the time of my life. I still remember those waves.

Besides (ahem) getting called into waves by the best surfers in the world , do surf photographers make a good living or is it more a case of struggling artist doing what they love? 
A lot of guys are just scraping by or living with their parents to make it work. There are a couple of us though who are actually able to pay our mortgages and the whole lot just off surf photography. I feel pretty damn fortunate to be one of the latter.

Documentary photography is what Ryan was in to before becoming a surf photographer.


You spend a lot of time in South Africa, shooting Jordy everywhere along the coast. What do you think about the waves here?
Waves, wine, cuisine, accommodation, prices! Shit, what don’t you guys have? I’m loving the waves in SA, there is so much variety and all of it is relatively close together.

Yep, just don’t forget to tell everyone back home about all the sharks… You must have a favourite image of all time, tell us about it.
Some of the earlier work I did as a documentary photographer before I went into surf Benny Bourgeois. It was the cover of SURFING magazine last summer. Most of my photos are athlete driven meaning that it is the surfer doing most of the work. In the photos like Benny’s it is the photographer doing most of the work. I really like that one as it was a lot about me being in the right position.

One of Ryan’s favourite images of all time.


You get more shots of Jordy than any other surfer. Are you paid from s upper-secret slush fund to shoot him, or do you just know a good thing when you see it and follow him around because shots of Jordy are in demand?
I have been working closely with Jordy for about three and a half years now and only recently has O’Neill started hiring me for certain shoots. Just like any good relationship, Jordy and I clicked pretty well. I love how he is tireless and such a hard worker in the water. I don’t get paid enough to travel with people I don’t get along with, so to find someone that surfs well and is also a friend is great for me.


Shooting with Jordy must be like fishing with dynamite – brutal but efficient. You’ve just won the March leg of the Oakley One Wave Wonder with your sequence of the man doing a rodeo flip. Is that the craziest move you’ve ever witnessed him pull?
Jordy pulls crazy shit all the time. Sometimes I get numb to that stuff. That rodeo flip was rad but doesn’t compare to the two waves he pulled out the bag at J-bay last year in like four minutes against Bede when Jordy was comboed. That was beyond nuts!


What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you while on location somewhere shooting?
Wok is by far the craziest thing that has ever happened to me on a surf trip. What a legend that guy is. I love traveling with him!

Yep, Woka-jun-jun is special… But no dramas otherwise, like being arrested on suspicion of being a spy or something?
Man I’ve had some bad runs with customs worldwide and just airports in general. Such a nightmare sometimes, but I have always managed to weasel my way out of any tough situation I’ve been in. Never had my gear taken away but I’ve come pretty close.

Teaming up with Paul Daniel (swimming with the flash) to bank this shot of Jordy.


The life of a travelling photographer can be a lonely one. Are you married or have you got someone special back home?
Yeah I have a wife and grom back home. It’s pretty tough sometimes on the long legs away from home. I take it all in my stride though. When I am home and with them 24/7 while all my friends are at their 9-5 jobs it really makes me grateful and not bitter about the times I am away. Also my family have gotten to visit some amazing places with me so that makes it so worth it being away for long periods of time.

So how did you get into the sado-masochistic surf photography anyway?
My wife and I used to travel to all these crazy spots like Haiti, India, Nepal, Turkey, Morocco, Vietnam, Thailand, etc. Then one year she started surfing and those places went in the can real quick. We only went to surf destinations after that. I had surfed my whole life and had been a photographer for a while so decided to give surf photos a shot. I kind of owe all of my spark getting started to my wife taking up surfing.

Sounds like Jordy owes Mrs Miller a few beers. What would you say is your pet hate when shooting?
Holy crap. In Bali this year while I was shooting with Jordy some dude totally came up to me and started talking to me, way too much, and then proceeded to get in the way of every one of my photos. He even blew a few of Jordy’s waves. That was probably as bad as it gets.

Being a surf mag, we often get submissions that include a selection of  (ahem) dubious bikini images, the all time favourite for some photogs being the angle where a woman bends down to lie on her towel. We don’t see any of those from you though. Do you keep ’em for yourself, or are you just too focused on the surfing?
That shit is the worst. I love the female form and think it might just be the best thing on this planet, but I owe them enough respect to not shoot that nonsense.

Ahhh, good man. Did Jordy give you a ride in his Lamborghini while you were in Hawaii?
I didn’t go near that thing. Jordy looked scared to death when they told him the gears were on the steering wheel. That was all time. We couldn’t get away from that car fast enough.

Ryan – all business.

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