He’s known the world over for his stunning surf and nature photography and we Gold Coasters are lucky enough to claim him as our own.
We sat down for a chat with Sean about his recent run in with an Iceland snow storm and why he thinks our beaches are some of the most beautiful he’s ever seen (and he’s seen them all).
How long have you been a Gold Coast local?
I was born in Cairns and moved here when I was six and I’m 42 now, so 36 years, definitely a local.
You’ve travelled all over the world, what’s so unique about the Coast to you?
I’ve always loved the beaches, love to surf, love the southern end of the Coast, Burleigh and the community feeling here. It’s a little town within a city. You can still get away, go 30 minutes south and still have beaches to yourself and out into the rainforest. There’s a bit of everything here, it’s not too quiet, not too busy.
Is there a place here that never fails to produce a beautiful shot for you?
Burleigh cove is one place I always go, usually at sunrise. When I come home, I love getting down there because it just makes me feel back at home. I do a lot of stuff in the water at home, with the right conditions, getting out at Kirra and Snapper; you can always get beautiful clear water, It’s some of the clearest water in the world out there. You go to the Maldives and Tahiti but if you go to Kirra on those nice clear days, it’s as good as it gets anywhere. Those places never seem to fail to produce.
How often do you spend at home vs. away?
I never used to go away as much but I’ve been getting heaps of work for social media stuff, so the last two or three years I’ve spent maybe half the time away, which is a bit harder with the family. They usually fly in and meet me for school holidays and what not.
How did your photography career come about?
I worked on the Gold Coast for 11 years as an electrician for Energex and I used to take photos then and sell my work at the local markets. I did that while I worked full-time and opened my first little gallery in the arcade in Burleigh while I worked. I had a little one in Surfers Paradise too. Eventually the galleries and markets took off enough that I stepped out of my full-time job and stepped into photography. I made an easy progression and was able to continue making a living out of it.
Where do you find inspiration?
That’s the one thing I struggle with nowadays. Back when I first started, there was no Instagram or Facebook, I used the web a little bit and I didn’t buy a lot of magazines, so I didn’t really see much. You just went out with fresh eyes and saw things, now you’ve got the world’s best photographer sitting in your hand putting photos up every 30 minutes. Trying to filter that out and not copy stuff but keep original is something that still tricks me in my mind. I still love nothing more than when I’m finding new locations, even though it won’t be a location that no one’s ever seen before, to me it’s new. That’s when I seem to turn on my creativeness and photograph things the way I want to see them. When I was in Iceland, I would come across scenes that I’d seen from famous photographers and wish I hadn’t seen the photos but normally I move through it and find things I haven’t seen before.
Do you have a personal favourite shot of the thousands you’ve taken?
I change all the time. The popular ones aren’t always my favourites; I love the abstract ones more and the artistic style of shot. There’s one of the Golden Girl at Noosa surfing on a wave I’ve always liked.
How do you feel when you know you’ve absolutely nailed the shot?
With digital now it’s easy because you look at the back of the camera and have a bit of an idea but it still does trick you. Sometimes you think you’re nailing it and you get back and you’re disappointed and sometimes it’s the opposite way. When things really turn on and everything comes together, like if you’re chasing surf and ocean photos you’ve got to have the storm brew so a huge swell comes, the waters got to be clear, the winds got to be the right way, you’ve got to be in the right spot, when all that happens at once you get a bit of a feeling and that’s when I’m usually excited to race back and quickly look at them. If I don’t come back and look at them straight away, it’s usually a sign it wasn’t that special.
Your most memorable trips or somewhere you always love to visit?
I’ve been doing lots of Western Australia lately, which I’ve been loving. Iceland was pretty up there, I did Iceland, Greenland and Norway in the one trip. That was pretty wild with huge storms and icebergs. I was on my own driving through the snowstorms and almost getting blown off the road trying to take photos. It was epic though.
Any close encounters with Mother Nature in your time?
At one stage in Iceland I was standing on top of a cliff and the wind was blowing that hard it was sliding me along the ice so I had to scramble back to the car and leave. Obviously there’s quite often animals in the water, big shapes swim past and things like that. Big surf is always a bit tricky when the waves come and break right on your head and knock you around.
What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?
It’s a tricky one. If you’re doing it because you love it, it’s easy. It’s hard to just decide you want to be a photographer and that’s all you want to be. I started by being an electrician and kept this on the side so I had income coming in that I could put towards better gear. Don’t just do it for the likes and the follows, do it because you love it and the rest will come. There are a lot of people who try to do it for fame but if you love it, it will work naturally. Taking photos-wise, my biggest tip is to be in the right place at the right time, you’ve always got to be out looking. You start to get in tune with it but you’ve always got to be out. You’re not going to get a great sunrise at Burleigh if you’re sleeping in six days of the week. If you get a few bad ones, you know a good one is coming and when everything comes together that’s when you get that feeling that keeps you going and searching for the next one.
Anything exciting in the works for the rest of the year?
I’ve got the Maldives, which is a surf comp I’ve shot for the last seven years, in two weeks. I’ve got a trip to Switzerland, hiking through mountains up the top and then I’ve got a trip to Canada where I’ll be shooting the polar bears. Then I’ve got a festival at Moreton Island with Canon that I’m doing at the end of the year. Hopefully a lot of locals will come there and do a lesson.
Best piece of life advice?
There’s a few I always try to run by. One is always expect the behaviour you tolerate, if you tolerate people not treating you well, expect to be treated like that. Keep an open mind and get out there and stay positive and things seem to flow.
Being a Gold Coast local we have to ask your favourites…
Café: I like Canteen and Nook at Burleigh for a coffee
Restaurant: I love Etsu
Weekend hang: Probably the beaches from Burleigh to Coolangatta