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David Orias' Long Shutter Creates Dreamy and Soulful Waves

Skills, timing, luck and a little patience.

That’s what David Orias puts into perspective when attempting to capture the majestic, elliptical patterns of the ocean’s waves.

Back in March, the cardiologist-turned-photographer’s work was featured on the art and design blog, This Is Colossal, and the rest is history.

His stunning long-exposure photos of the crashing waves, taken west of the Ventura river mouth, could easily be mistaken for oil on canvas. The series, titled Waves, were captured in the early morning light, when the sunlight casts an illuminating glow over the crests and troughs in a truly magical way. These 1/30 of a second exposures, merged with a panning of the camera, resulted in the waves looking relatively sharp.

“A couple of years ago, we had a fire that was burning behind the mountains. It burned for about two months, and on certain mornings the smoke filled the air.

When the sunlight filtered through that smoke, it turned it a fiery golden red. In these shots the breakwater was exposed in ways I never expected,” Orias explains. “I am always waiting for the right weather conditions. Depending on what’s going on in the atmosphere, the water will reflect the color of the sky. It’s hit and miss.”

Growing up in Santa Barbara, California, Orias always had an affinity for the water and taking photos, even though he hardly visited the shoreline until after enrolling in college and didn’t circle back around to picking up a camera until finishing med school.

“In 1988, when I had just finished medical school and was about to begin my long and arduous internship, I had the opportunity to shoot an HBO movie set with my Olympus OM2N single lens reflex camera. I remember running back and forth to those one-hour processing places and getting my prints back. Unfortunately, despite my attempts to be artistic, during my residency and fellowship I hardly picked up a camera,” he added.

It wasn’t until 10 years later, while working in Iowa, that he dove back into the photography scene and exercised a much different area of his brain than his role as an electrophysiologist demanded of him. This was when digital cameras first started coming out on the market. Before flash memory and USB ports existed, Orias purchased a Sony MVC-FD87 floppy disk camera. From there, he was hooked–line and sinker–and has since upgraded to full-frame digital SLRs, including the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 5D Mark III.

Originally, Orias started out shooting birds with his telephoto lenses but he soon discovered that when winter approached there weren’t very many of them to get on film. He then moved on to landscapes of the American southwest–the beautiful Antelope Slot Canyons in Paige, Arizona, and the marvelous geology of Bryce and Zion in Utah. But that only lasted so long.

Inspired by the remarkable images taken by legendary photo editor Larry “Flame” Moore, Orias’ growing passion for surfing photography led the Santa Barbara native to reconnect with his local roots.

“Santa Barbara has some great surfing. After some time, I began shooting many of the professional contests that were going on up and down the coast, including lower Trestles. I even found myself traveling to the North Shore of Hawaii for the Pipeline Masters Contest. The light over there is facing the north, which is opposite of what we have here in California. Any north or south facing beach will give you an exquisite backdrop on the shoreline, especially during the dawn,” an enthusiastic Orias says. “Larry Moore has been such an inspiration. I actually own three of his prints. Come to think of it, he’s the only photographer whose prints I own.”

The only issue he had when doing surfing photography were the countless other guys out there taking the same shots.

“I wasn’t making any kind of living doing it,” he said. “These surfing magazines will never be interested in my stuff because they have their own staff photographers.

Eventually, my passion evolved into chasing the swell. My fascination with the water surprises me. I love the water. The reflection, the motion, river scenes, puddles, waves–the details speak volumes. Water is very relaxing. I would love to visit Teahupoʻo, the site of the annual Billabong Pro Tahiti surf competition. The blue of the water when the light hits it is just so gorgeous. That’s one spot on my bucket list. It would be the most amazing opportunity.”

Lucky enough to live on the west coast, Orias is keen of the geography on this very special area of the coastline. When the sun is rising, there are mountains blocking its rays, allowing the ambient light to illuminate everything directly and giving him a perfect panorama of the ocean.

“Sometimes you’ll hear photographers talk about pre-visualization about their objective. So far, I have pre-visualized two or three shots I’ve always wanted to get. It seriously takes your breath away,” the passionate artist says. “When I’m shooting I may take 400 shots and I’m happy if 10 of those turn out great and lucky if one of them is something I feel I could possibly sell. I’ve realized that a lot of times everything won’t be in the right place at the right time, but when things actually come together it makes me that much more grateful.”

If he had to give any advice to an aspiring photographer, it would be to educate themselves on understanding the light and lighting conditions. He also wants everyone to remember that just as quickly as your successes can take off, you can just as easily fall back down into anonymity again.

“How many people visit the Grand Canyon every year?” Orias asks. “Everyone comes up and walks to the edge at high noon and shoots. But that photo of the Grand Canyon looks like a million others. It’s understanding and waiting for the right weather conditions and lighting. Also, you’ve got to have some patience. That type of thought process takes anyone’s photography to the next level. Be humble and just enjoy the ride.”

While most of his sales come directly through him, Orias just began selling his work at a local gallery, Art & Soul of Santa Barbara, where prints can be purchased.

If you happen to have a little saltwater in your veins, you’ll fall in love with these images.


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