James Bolt: Surf Photographer

Beyond The Frame

Welcome to another episode of Surf Bank's Beyond The Frame where we dive into the captivating world of surf and ocean photography, going beyond mesmerising captures exploring the backstory of many talented photographers. In this episode we will be hearing from passionate surf photographer James Bolt, originating from Australia he now shoots in Japan capturing stunning shots across East Asia's coastlines. Beyond the frame aims to inspire and inform future surf photographers and ocean lovers being your backstage pass to detailed insights from the minds behind stunning surf shots.

James Bolt Gallery

What Did Your Childhood Look Like?

I grew up in rural, Australia with my parents and two brothers. We didn’t live close to the beach, we were always two or more hours away, so my childhood was mostly spent riding bikes and playing football. In the summer we would go to the river or local waterhole that had rock jumps and rope swings which provided plenty of fun memories. Whenever we went on family trips to the beach I would spend hours in the surf, I was always fascinated by it.

What Came First, Surfing or Photography?

Photography was first. I used to photograph mountain biking with a little point and shoot. When I moved to Bondi I upgraded my camera to a Nikon D7100 to take pictures of my wife’s clothing business and to get some shots around the beach. It was about 6 month later that I had the idea to get a water housing. That’s when the obsession with surf photography started for me.

How Did You Get Into Surf Photography?

When I moved to Bondi I worked over the road from the beach. It’s where I started to get into bodyboarding, if I didn’t have the board with me I would sneak in a quick swim/bodysurf in the morning before work. There were so many times I wished I had a camera out in the water with me. GoPros were an option, but I was more interested in capturing stills, so I invested in a water housing with a basic setup. I didn’t have a telephoto lens at the time so I would have to get wet if I wanted to get close to the surf action, which was good because it pushed me to go out in all conditions.

Photo By James Bolt

Where Do You Normally Shoot?

Now I live in Miyazaki in the southwest of Japan. There’s a little local break close to my house that I go to, but there are plenty of options for everyone depending on the swell and experience levels. Some of the reef breaks like Currens point in Uchiumi can get huge when the typhoons roll through attracting the big wave surfers.

Where Do You Shoot? Water or Land?

I love to shoot from the water, if it’s pumping and I have the time I’ll be swimming out. A lot of my favorite shots are taken from the water and there is something special about being out in the elements, it really captures the vibe on the day. Shooting from land does have its benefits though, I can capture some awesome moments while sipping my coffee and I usually end up with more keepers.

What Makes The Perfect Image?

I don’t think it exists. I think at times the imperfections in photos can add to the shot, plus everyone is different. You might not feel the same way I feel about a certain shot, it’s all about personal preference. I think just getting out and photographing the way you want is always best. At the moment I’m really enjoying editing my photos with a minimalistic feel. I like to have less distractions in the photo so the viewers eyes get drawn to the subject.

Photo By James Bolt

How Did You Become So Involved In The Surf Scene?

I was surprised at how big the surf scene is in Japan when I first moved here and how good the waves can get. I think being a surf photographer helped me meet more people and as a foreigner you kind of stick out. Over time you start to get to know the locals. Every month all the surfers in the area get together to help clean the beach. I think that’s a really cool idea.

Do You Have A Favourite Photographer That Has Inspired You?

There are so many great surf photographers out there to take inspiration from. I really like Ben Thouard and Ray Collins work, they capture the raw power and beauty of the ocean so well.

What's Your Biggest Challenge To Overcome When Shooting?

Shooting from the water has its challenges. Trying to get into a good position when the currents are strong can be tricky and quite the workout!

Photo By James Bolt

James's Equipment List

Camera & Lenses

James sticks with his Nikon D500 and D850 using a liquid eye water housing when shooting in the water. Here is a selection of lenses he uses: Nikon 50mm f/1.8g Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 DI VC USD Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

James's Favourite Shot Taken

If I had to pick a shot it would be this one. It took some experimenting with camera settings, finding the right surf conditions and finding the best time of day to get this one. I only have the basic setup on my housing so couldn’t adjust the camera settings in the water. I just had to see what settings worked through trial and error and preload the camera. The day I took this everything just came together. It was glassy conditions and the water was clear with not too much sand getting kicked up, but still good sized waves out. It was afternoon so the light was in a good position. I knew the surfer was paddling just behind me when the set came though, we both just scraped under this one. I dove deep and spun around as fast as I could to get him in frame. I had no idea if I got the shot or not until I got home. The color version looked great, but I find the black and white just adds another layer of depth to the image.

Favourite Shot By James Bolt

Personal Message

Have fun, relax and appreciate what you have in life.

James's Future Plans

Just to keep getting out there and improving my skills as a photographer and hopefully promote Japan as a great surfing destination through my images. I also have a few up and coming projects lined up, plus my 2 year old daughter always keeps me busy.


You can keep up to date with James's new projects and recent captures on his Instagram whilst contacting him through direct message or email -

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Photo By James Bolt

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