Behind the Lens: Spencer Hornby
© Spencer Hornby
An honest interview with an incredible water photographer, whose worst fear is sharks...
Surf photography is a club – a seemingly very exclusive club. There are a few top dogs, and to get let through the door, even just briefly, is a rare occurrence. Spencer Hornby is one of those lucky ones, and the reason why is clear. You might not have heard his name, but if your eyes lock onto one of his images, it’ll stay with you forever. Full of talent and one of the most humble people in the game, get to know Spence and his work…
Where are you from, and where do you currently reside?
I'm from the Central Coast of NSW… a little place called Bateau Bay. We moved around a bit when I was a little kid but found ourselves back here. There are a few nice little reef and beach setups around here.
20th / 11th / 1986. I’m 29.
How did you get into photography, and specifically, surf photography?
Nothing too crazy about how I found it. I actually dropped it as a subject in school. I guess I tried my hand at it and really enjoyed it. Originally I was just shooting my mates around home, and it wasn't until my dad took me down to Bells Beach a few years later that I got to shoot some pros and really start applying myself. After that it's just been a blur.
What would you consider your “specialty” and how did you find it?
I'd consider water photography a strong point to my game. I found it when I got my housing made for my camera and was hooked on it. I use a really good housing manufacturer named Dave Kelly – he's the best and it gave me great confidence, which is basically everything out there. I embraced the trial and errors it gave me (and still does give me). It's been a really fun and satisfying journey, to say the least.
Can you think of one point in time where you realised that this is what you want to do forever?
Not really. I'm still kinda trying to find my place in the world right now and surf is something I know how to do, so I'll just keep shooting it. If it ever stops being fun and satisfying I will have to take a serious look at things. But it's always something I keep close.
Was it hard to make it work at the start?
Only when I decided to go professional. Like everything else, it takes time and persistence. There's still a lot of unreturned emails and dollars – the start was tough. In saying that though, it's not something that should be tough and unenjoyable. It's a really fun journey that should be all about having a good time and testing yourself in order to produce the best images you possibly can. I never really started with the idea of doing it for a job.
Looking back, what do you think the biggest factors were that got you to where you are today?
Mostly travelling and saying yes to stuff more times than I said no. Basically chancing just about everything I've ever done in the hope I land on my feet.
What’s the toughest thing about your job?
For me, It's my fear of sharks. Without a doubt. I am terrified of them and I have really bad nightmares about them all the time.
What’s the best thing about your job?
It inspires travel and I get to meet some incredible people. The satisfaction I get out of a good day in the water is untouchable. Any photographer reading this will agree what a good feeling it is.
When people say you’re “living the dream” what’s your response?
I actually don't think anyone has ever said that to me. But if they did, I'd probably say thanks!
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone who’s looking to get into photography, or surf photography?
Just to have fun with it and always try your best. Do it for your own reasons and don’t compare yourself to others. Be prepared to take risks and chance a few things here and there. Take criticism constructively and take pride in your work!
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt throughout your career?
I was only thinking about this the other day and came to the conclusion that there's always the good and the bad. I mean that in the sense of the experiences that you have. Some days are gunna suck, and then other times you can feel like you have it all. They kinda complement each other. Also, don't be negative!