You may have been lucky enough to see some of Dave Sandford’s images appear on your news feeds and social media pages of late. If so, there's no doubt you would have stopped and stared in awe at his amazing images. What you might not have known, is that these images were captured within a lake! We reached out to Dave to gain some insight into this body of work and his process for capturing these images.
-Words by Dave Sandford I have been a professional photographer for 18 years. Shooting professional sports has been my forte, but ever since I can remember I’ve been most passionate about anything to do with water. Oceans and lakes beckon me. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved to be on, in or around water. I’m fascinated by the raw power and force of it, captivated by the graceful movement of a wave and mesmerized by light dancing across it. I’ve been fortunate to shoot from some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, but it wasn’t until this year that I was able to add another dynamic to my shooting with the addition of my AquaTech Delphin 1D Water Housing. Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the surf of Wollongong, NSW, Australia. I befriended and was mentored by Warren Keelan, one of the premier ocean photographers in the world. Warren showed me some techniques and invaluable tips both for my shooting and AquaTech camera gear, however in the end, my development came down to myself and a bit of trial and error. There is nothing so exhilarating as staring down a massive wave looking for the perfect frame, knowing you’re possibly going to pay the price by getting slammed or rolled when it breaks. I got back time after time with a smile on my face confident that while I may have suffered scrapes and bruises, my Canon 1Dx and Canon lenses were safe and dry in my AquaTech Water Housing. After seven weeks and 50,000 frames later, I had found my new passion.
By fall, back in my native London, Ontario, I was missing the adrenaline rush of surf photography and found myself looking for something to fill that void. Where I turned to were the lakes that are virtually in my backyard. I chose to focus on Lake Erie at a time of year (mid October-December) when the Great Lakes can act more like oceans than lakes. With warm sunny beach days behind us, it is some of Autumn’s dark, cold and windy days that transform the Great Lakes into wickedly wild and churning bodies of water. Temperatures often drop below the freezing point at night with daytime highs anywhere between 1 and 10 degrees Celsius, however I found myself drawn to the rugged beauty of the treacherous waves.
This annual weather event is called ‘The gales of November’ and the winds are often referred to as ‘The Witch of November’ for their wickedness and often disastrous results. It happens when the Autumn winds howl across the Great Lakes pulling cold air from the North and meeting warm air from the South. This results in gale force winds, at times reaching category 1 hurricane status. Sustained wind speeds of around 50km/h, gusting to 70-100+ km/h, bring average wave heights in the 8’-10’ range, with the unpredictable and erratic wave heights reaching upwards of 25’. And of course there’s the cold water temperatures at this time of year. Water temperatures over the course of November were about 11 degrees Celsius at months start and down to about 8 degrees at months end. The water is face numbing when you are in it, and it’s a constant battle with the shorter choppier waves.
Perspective plays a big part in the planning of how you want to portray your subject, it’s no different in this case. Without people or objects it can be difficult to show how large the waves really are. Being at water level brings the horizon much lower in your image, thus giving the viewer a better perspective and idea of the size and scale of an empty wave.
I wanted to showcase a side of the Great Lakes that most people don’t normally see. The location I have been shooting (Port Stanley), is notorious for it’s powerful undertow and the wave pattern becomes extremely erratic there. The day’s conditions determined what gear I would use to document the spectacular waves of Erie. I came to the lake each day prepared with both my wetsuit, gloves and 7mm boots, as well as my winter jacket, long johns, winter toque, gloves, boots and snowboarding pants. I’m often asked if I was in the water or on shore….both! I had to determine by the speed and direction of the wind if conditions were safe enough for me to go in the water with my Water Housing, or alternatively setting up on the shore with my 400mm lens covered by my AquaTech All Weather Shield. Depending on where I shoot from shore I still have to battle the elements. Either way, I’m getting soaked with waves breaking on the rocks or pier, or I am literally being sand blasted as the wind constantly blows sand grains across the beach. Be it in the water, or on land it’s not ideal working conditions or your normal day at the beach.
These cold days at the lake have been a rewarding challenge to shoot. The images I have captured are generating talk and interest from people all over the world who have never seen waves in the freakish form these lake waves take. I’ve also found it thrilling to bring these massive waves of Lake Erie to people who had no idea that a lake could generate waves so big and powerful. We are nearing the end of the season for the gales of November and I have been thrilled to document and share it in a way I never could have before without my AquaTech gear.