If you have been lucky enough to see some of Dave Sandford’s images appear on your news feeds and social media pages you would of defiantly stopped and stared in awe of these crazy images. What you might not of know is that these images have been captured within a lake. We reached out to Dave to share some insight into this body of work and how he captured 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 sheer raw power and force of it, captivated by the graceful movement of a wave and mesmerised 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 camera housing, ports, lens tubes and accessories. 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. While Warren showed me some techniques and invaluable tips both for my shooting and Aquatech camera gear, in the end, it was just me and trial and error. There is nothing so exhilarating as staring down a massive wave looking for the perfect frame but 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 it’s Aquatech camera housing. Seven weeks and 50000 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 were the lakes that are virtually in my backyard. I chose to focus on Lake Erie at a time of year (mid October through 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 and daytime highs anywhere between 1 and 10 degrees celsius but I found myself drawn to the rugged beauty of the treacherous waves.
This annual event is called ‘The gales of November’. 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 and generates waves across the lakes reaching heights of up to 35 feet at times. These winds are often referred to as ‘The Witch of November’ for their wickedness and often disastrous results.
The images here were shot on the North shore of Lake Erie, about 500’ off shore from a small lakeside community called Port Stanley, Ontario. Sustained wind speeds of 45-50km/ph, gusting 70-100+ km/ph, often bringing 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. I’m often asked if I was in the water or on shore….both! My Delphin 1D housing offered the protection of my gear while my wet suit offered enough protection to get me into the water but a mix of testosterone and adrenaline kept me there. 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 in the waves it can be difficult to show how large they in fact are. Being at water level brings the horizon level 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 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 Canon 1Dx, 70-200mm lens in my Delphin 1D housing with P-215 lens tube and pistol grip or alternatively setting up on the shore with my Canon 1Dx, 400mm lens and 1.4x converter (giving me 520mm focal length) all covered by my Aquatech All Weather Shield and Monopod wrap. 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 at 50-60kmph and really whips it up with wind gusts sometimes reaching upwards of 100kmph. 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. Water temperatures over the course of November were about 11 degrees celsius at months start and down to about 8 degrees at months end. Sitting on shore there is always a windchill factor at this time of year as well. Be it in the water or on land it’s not ideal working conditions or your normal day at the beach. The water is face numbing when your are in it, and it’s a constant battle with the shorter choppier waves. Then on land some days my eyes are so red, dry and scratchy from being blasted in the face with sand all day, sand in your eyes is not a good feeling at all. It can also reek havoc on gear, but this was an element I needed not worry about with the All Weather Shield protecting my camera gear.
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. You can find more images and information on Dave’s social networks and website: instagram: @sandfordpix / Twitter: @Dave_Sandford / Facebook: Sandford Photography