Updated: Aug 26, 2021
Welcome to the "Inspirations" series, interviews with photographers producing amazing work.
Meet Mike Lacey, owner of "Waves Gallery" in Cornwall. Mike produces stunning images of the ocean and waves from Cornwall and around the world. I first discovered Mike's work from visiting his impressive Porthleven gallery, and a number of his pieces adorn my wall at home.
You can find Mike online in the following places:
Q} How did your interest in photography begin, and could you tell us what you love about photographing the ocean waves?
When I used to skateboard I was really keen on getting photos of skating like you would see in the magazines, and once I got into surfing it was exactly the same. What I love about the waves is that they are always changing and there's a physical side to it to aswell as a gnarly dangerous side too. With waves breaking so fast, to capture those magical moments that are there for a second and gone the next is such a pleasure.
Q} Could you tell us a little about your gallery in Porthleven, and how photography become your full time job?
It was a big gamble opening the gallery in Porthleven as I hadn't really sold any of my wave images as art before. It's been a fun, but big learning curve getting it to where it is now - with us printing and making our own canvases as well as making wood frames all in house. We are really lucky and grateful to have such a good team at Waves Gallery now. Jamie's now the manager of Porthleven, and Nicki & Jody are managing our St Ives gallery and bringing it to life. It's a dream job for me and I'm so excited to get up and go to work and see what we can achieve each day.
Q} What is your favourite beach in Cornwall to capture waves?
It's is so hard to pinpoint one beach as Cornwall has so many beautiful locations. And with the conditions always changing, you can never shoot at the same place for more than a few days. Porthcurno is always a special place even when there are no waves.
Q} Could you tell us a little about your equipment set-up and how you capture your amazing wave photos?
Depending on the shot I'm going for I use a Nikon d800 or Nikon d3s with a 16mm fisheye or 50mm lens inside a housing. There's no special tricks to getting these shots, you just need to read the waves really well and be comfortable in the size of the waves you are in. Swims fins are a must unless it's a really close shorebreak which you can just run into.
Q} The winter storms of 2014 must have been a scary time to live by the sea, but this must have provided the chance to capture some memorable images?
Yeah that was insane, 40 ft swell, force 10 winds and a huge tide made for an epic storm. Q} How does shooting waves in Hawaii compare to the Cornwall beaches?
Hawaii was an amazing experience and the waves there are incredible but I'm still stoked to live and do this in Cornwall as the coast line here is so unspoiled and you really have to work hard to be in the right place at the right time over here which makes it even more special.
Q}Have you had any near misses with equipment, or been caught out by a particularly large wave?
I've had my camera get slammed into my head when diving under a chunky wave in Cornwall, and In Hawaii I got smacked about a lot, haha. It's an interesting learning curve and the sea will always have the last laugh. Swimming out at pipe this evening was the scariest time of my life, haha. It was a pretty hefty swell and I got held down for ages on two waves while swimming out there. I scored a few nice pics before calling it a night and have never been so happy to touch the sand after a session.
Q} When is the best time to get out and shoot waves?
Normally mornings or evening are best, and from October - March I think we get the best swells in Cornwall. This year has been such a great one for me and we have had so many great sessions through the winter. When you have great waves like this you don't need to go away. Although the summer has small waves there's beautiful colours and tropical looking beaches to photograph.
Q} Describe a typical working day for you.
It's quite varied at times as I'm in and out of the gallery's through the week but generally I'll wake up early, see what the conditions are like and if there's gonna be a window to get some photos, check emails and do some admin before heading out for photos or to the gallery. If I'm in the gallery there is a never ending list of work to be done and we are always wanting to improve the layout or try some new print format as well as keep up with print orders and get any new shots out we can. At the minute I'm in the gallery working on the Cornish waves book we will have out for August.
Q} Do you do much to your images in post processing?
Not really, I just tweak levels and contrast and that's it. I've added a few vintage tones to image like the 70s look one which worked really well but generally if the light and wave is good then there isn't much to do.
Q} Can anyone get out into the sea and try their hand at wave photography, or do you need a strong background in surfing and swimming?
It can be dangerous and I wouldn't want to encourage people doing it unless they feel really comfortable in the waves and understand rips, etc. Surfing, bodyboarding and swimming will be a massive benefit so work on these first. You need swim fins and you need to know if your fins came off you are capable of swimming back. Not all my images are in big waves, so if you are not that confident but still want to go in, try some really small days on a lifeguarded beach and see what you can get. GoPro's are a cheap way to see if it's something you like doing.
I'd like to thank Mike for taking time out of his schedule to answer my questions, and for providing an insight into to stories behind his amazing images.
More inspirations interviews to come soon!