Magazine Article


Discovering Gold in San Diego
Catching a New Wave with Old School Technology

Keith Perkins

Living in San Diego along the coast and being a surfer, I suddenly realized I had virtually no good photos of myself surfing. Same was true of my associates and their kids. We were too busy taking photos around town and at the beach.

Then one day back in December 2001, a gentleman approached me, as I was perched behind my tripod peering through my viewfinder. He asked if I would take photos of him and his two teenage sons surfing and offered me $300. I quickly agreed. Out they paddled and I snapped away. The photos came out great and Freedom Surf was born.

Right there and then, I realized I could charge people for a 90-minute surf photo session. The niche had been sitting there untouched for years. It seems most people in the past hired a staff photographer from the surf magazines at a very high fee.

I figured Iíd begin by focusing on the average non-pro surfer. Within this niche, I discovered a sub-niche of young future surf pros who need photos for their sponsors, board shapers, and magazine ads. Also, their parents want action photos of their future surf pros. These two targetsónon-pro surfers and future starsóare the focus of my Freedom Surf business.

I keep my prices low, the quality and service very high, to continually capture this market. I receive emails and phone calls from customers in their 60s and from 10 year olds who want great shots of themselves ripping it up.

I asked myself how to I get the Freedom Surf name out there. First, I had a website designed for Freedom Surf, Then I called the largest newspaper in San Diego and asked them to do an article on my business. They agreed, and came out to interview me and snap photos of me working.

When I called the local tabloid that targets the San Diego coastline region they also agreed to do an article, as did the regional newspaper. Then an Internet surf magazine ran an article with some of my best shots. Slowly I was getting my name out there.

When I was shooting photos from high atop a bluff, I met a surf magazine employee and asked him if he could mention my business in the industry notes section of their magazine. Sure enough, Freedom Surf was in the next issue.

I had those magnets that adhere to your car doors created and placed them on my vehicle. They bring in a lot of business inquiries and keep my name highly visible. Call it aggressive marketing or common sense, it works. Word of mouth also has helped my business.

So here it is, five years later, and my business is very well established in San Diego, within the surf community and far beyond. The key for me is to keep my reputation untarnished. Providing excellent customer service is mandatory. Great photos at a great price and a friendly positive attitude keeps Freedom Surf going strong.

Interestingly, my customers have no problem hiring me when I tell them I shoot film. Iím simply in love with the medium. Film has its own feel and can be so dramatic. For years, thatís all Iíve ever shotófrom super grainy 400/800 ISO black & white to a super fine grain 50 ISO. Such versatility. For surf photos and all color photos, I only use Fuji film. Rich, bright, full color. I scan and manipulate my images if necessary. Itís very helpful for emailing to my clients quickly after their photo session.

The equipment I use is very old school and very reliable. I use a 1980 Fujica ST705 SLR film camera with a Len-Tar 600mm manual focus telephoto.Why? Because it produces beautiful shots and is rugged enough for the outdoors.

I enjoy rewinding the roll, putting it back in the container, and driving to the lab full of anticipation, wondering how the shots will come out.

Look at the late Joe Rosenthalís famous shot of Iwo Jima. Or those incredible shots from Life, National Geographic, etc. To me, film rules.