Marco Petracci is a photographer based out of Montignoso, Tuscany. He’s been taking photographs for 12 years, working as a professional for the last 2, and was a semi-finalist in the Leica Talent 2012 competition. He takes photos because photography is an art, he is an artist.

To see more of his work, pay his website a visit, license his images on 500px Prime, or follow him on Facebook.

The Picture

This photograph was taken one day in December, after I’d spent the day surfing with friends near where I live in Cinquale, on the west coast of Tuscany. At the end of the day, when I’d tired of surfing, I noticed the conditions — the light, the weather, the air, the oncoming sunset — were coming together to make for a special kind of photograph, so I decided to wait around and see what would happen.

Focussing on my friend Federico Tenerini, a professional surfer who lives nearby, I set to work. I grew up on this coast so I knew the conditions well. It was a time of year when the sunset is at its most beautiful, plus in December the sunset lasts for more than an hour, so I knew I had plenty of time to work with.

What made this evening extra special was that the swell was getting bigger as the sun set. I’ve surfed for many years and know the sport well, so I was able to spot this. I’ve also been watching Federico for many years, so I have a good intuitive knowledge of how he surfs.

Federico knew I was photographing him but we hadn’t agreed on any particular moves he should make. He was responding to the waves rather than to the needs of the photographer.

The session lasted approximately 90 minutes, during which time I took about 250 shots. The photograph published here was the penultimate shot.

The only special equipment I had with me was the lens: a Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM . I always carry this lens when there is a chance I might be photographing sport.

The camera was mounted on a tripod on the sand, approximately 30 meters away from the subject. I was shooting directly into the oncoming waves, rather than at an angle. The telephoto lens was set to 310. No special lighting was employed. Aside from the effects (which I’ll mention in a sec) applied in post-processing, the photograph was made with natural light.

The sun was setting behind Federico, and was just about to go under the horizon. Due to the minimal light, and in order to prevent Federico from turning into a silhouette against the background light source, I over-exposed the image by approximately one third. The fact that the subject was wearing a black wetsuit increased the risk of his being rendered as a silhouette. Over-exposing the image proved an effective way of overcoming this risk.

I set the camera at f/8 for depth of field and because this also gives a maximum of clarity with this lens. I used a shutter speed of 1/1250 to freeze the scene. The ISO was set at automatic, which on my Canon 550D (Rebel T2i) is between 100 to 1600.

This image is not a record of an extraordinary or unique surfing moment; rather, it is a photograph in which the colours of the sunset have made an ordinary surf move into something spectacular.

In one sense it recalls the classic Californian imagery of surfers standing with their boards against the setting sun (though here that sunset imagery is reinvested within an action shot). But while these conditions might be a typical, almost daily occurrence on the U.S. west coast, the conditions in Europe do not achieve this kind of perfection so often, which makes the photograph all the more valuable for a European surfer like myself.



I made a number of adjustments to the image in Photoshop:

1. Rather than using filters, I emphasized the hot colors with curves in the Lab mode.

2. In the HDR Toning function, I squeezed the tone to give more three-dimensionality to the image.

3. I lightened the shadows using the shadow & highlight function.

4. I set a low contrast and de-saturated the cold tones.

5. To increase the detail I used the Unsharp Mask function. I set the amount as 500, the radius as 1 pixel, and the threshold as 0. At the same time, I reduced the opacity to 70% in order to achieve a softer effect.


1. Know your subject: In this case the sport, the sportsman, the weather, light and surf conditions that happened in this place at this particular time of year were all deeply familiar to me.

I knew the surfer well enough to follow what he was doing, and I knew the conditions well enough to recognize when a unique opportunity was presenting itself, and, just as important, how long I had to work with it.

2. Have the equipment suitable for the task.

3. When photographing action under these conditions, use a tripod to enable you to shoot for longer and to produce a more stable image.