Australian photographer Ryan Pernofski acts as a foundation of both the sand and the seas
Inspired by his passion for surfing, Ryan Pernofski explores the open ocean with an iPhone X and captures nature in its purest form while curating a portfolio of dreamy aquatic surroundings.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into photography?
I grew up in a really small town a couple of hours south of Sydney with a population of about 500 people. There was basically nothing to do except for playing Nintendo and going surfing. I got into photography when I first heard about those disposable film cameras, and I remember they sold the ones with the waterproof casing at the supermarket. As far as I recall, that’s when I started taking photos. I just slowly began dabbling in it as I was surfing with my friends. I would make fun little videos of them, download footage off of the Internet, make little edits, and stuff like that. My mom bought me my first camera when I was 15.
The majority of your photography seems to focus on beautiful seascapes. What was the inspiration behind that?
I think I got into it because I was seeing these amazing waves while I was surfing and I was just thinking, “man, someone needs to photograph this.” At the time, there weren’t heaps of photographers and it wasn’t as big as it is today. I just thought that no one had photographed what I was seeing. Anyways, fast forward quite a number of years, and I had lost my camera and was left with no gear at all, instead I was given an iPhone. I got back into photography when Instagram first came out around 2011 and just started shooting with my iPhone. I remember I had a Lifeproof case that I borrowed from my mom and got back into the water for the first time in 2012.
Considerig the extreme conditions of the ocean, what kind of challenges do you face when you are shooting?
There’s heaps. Obviously there is no zoom lens or anything, so I have to be right in there to get a good shot, otherwise I have to crop in which lowers the quality. I’m right in there, so I’m constantly getting smashed by the waves. I just need to stay above water and try not to drown. It’s a lot of exercise but I love it.
I noticed that you’ve recently released a few photo journals with “Seasons”, a book with photos for each season, being one of them—how did you come up with this concept?
I’ve been taking photos for about three to five three years now and I kind of felt like I hit a creative slump. I wasn’t shooting that regularly. My photography relies on certain conditions—they need to be pretty much perfect: the right light, the right swell, the right wind, the right tide, the right haircut. Everything just has to line up perfectly. Waiting for the perfect moment meant that I was shooting only once every two weeks and not getting any better—my photos started to look the same and nothing was changing. That's when I had the idea of taking a photo every day for an entire year and I wanted them all to be in one location. I thought it would be cool to capture 365 days a year in one spot, but then I also thought that it might be hard for people to look at. It was just about to be summer so I thought, “why don’t I start by taking a photo every day for an entire summer and see how it goes?” If it goes well, I’ll continue for a whole year.
I split the material up into four books: summer, autumn, winter, and spring. They’re magazine-style so they’re a bit more fun: every photo shows the exact day and time that it was taken, and I did all of the design for it as well. The first one has already been released and I’m working with my publisher to release the next three.
Salt and Light was another book that you released, which was created after three years of shooting in and around the ocean, and includes a few personal stories. Can you tell us about one that was particularly memorable?
Once I nearly drowned. I went to a new spot that I had never shot from before and basically roped in another guy to come out with me. We both had never been out there before and had to jump off this jagged cliff face. It was one of those big, stormy, crazy days and we had no idea what we were doing but we were down there for about an hour or so around sunset. It got dark quickly and it was pretty tiring because we were swimming against the waves. Anyways, we tried to come in as it was getting dark and we had no idea where to go in so we got stuck trying to come in where we jumped off and it was nearly impossible. The waves were drained down and were hitting up against us. We were completely out of energy because we had been battling for 40 minutes trying to stay afloat. I was passing out and trying to get my friend, but he was in panic mode and wasn’t listening to me. I was pretty much about to drown, so we just swam up to headland where we found a little bay and finally made it in. I thought my friend was going to die but he ended up making it up the cliff. It was pretty scary...
One thing I really like is how you incorporate music into your videos, or rather “moving images.” How do you go about pairing image and sound, and how do you think it informs the process?
I spend all day listening to music, literally, at least 8 to 10 hours a day. Whenever I find something good, I put it into a playlist and that helps me curate my work. The beauty of music is that it helps enhance the emotion of the moment. It’s funny because if you watch some of my videos in real time without music, it’s very unsexy.
It all happens so quickly: I get absolutely smoked by a wave and then it’s over and I'm left with these crazy noises. Because I’m shooting 240 frames a second, I can slow it down, add this emotive music to it and change the vibe, shows the mood of a certain moment rather than what it actually is. It’s very ethereal.
What do you have planned next? Any future projects that we should know about?
I’m trying to get this iPhone X video finished. I have all of this footage that I shot with the iPhone X from when I first got it, about six months ago. I’m working with a guy named Michael Alvarado on the audio. I’m also trying to release my next Seasons book, and a few separate projects.