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Bella Bunce: Surf Photography and Finding Her Perfect Career

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

Bella Bunce is a Falmouth University graduate and a surf and lifestyle freelance photographer - working primarily with some exciting surfwear and surf craft companies in the Devon & Cornwall area. Read on to discover how Bella's childhood guided her towards photography, how she explored the professional world prior to freelancing, and what she has in her camera bag to capture her smoooth surf shots!

Hey Bella, just to kick things off so everyone can get a little bit of a background on yourself, can you tell us how you got into photography and what your path to becoming a professional photographer looks like?

My love for photography started when I was a kid, always asking my mum for disposable cameras to take photos of my surroundings. Which most of the time was something rubbish, like me jumping on a trampoline with my siblings using up a whole roll and my mum paying for 30 mostly blank or abstract photos. I then got a compact digital camera as a young teen and started photographing everything. None of the photos were any good, but I’ve always had a bad memory so taking photos helps me store memories, like a digital archive. This then sparked a fire in me for being a creative person. I was quite a complex kid and struggled with academic subjects, so art helped keep me grounded and view the world in a different way.

Fast forward to university age, I initially wanted to do marine biology, because I was so fascinated by nature, however, I could never get the grades. This led to me choosing a different path; Photography. For me there was only one place I wanted to live and study, which was in Cornwall, as I always had the fondest childhood memories of spending days exploring beaches and hidden gems in Cornwall. I’ve always been drawn to the sea, so I needed to study there. Falmouth University was the one for me, it was kinda Falmouth Uni or no uni for me.

When at University, I would shoot a variety of things, always helping peers and members of the community with free photos. So I could learn what I liked doing best. What became clear is that everything gravitated towards the sea, whether it be sportswear photography, charity photography for conservation groups, conceptual work or even work for local businesses. Eventually most of the photos I took were for something to do with the sea/nature. This made choosing my career path a little easier, I set out a goal to work for Surfers Against Sewage, an environmentalist charity based in Cornwall, or I wanted to work for a sportswear brand like Finisterre (making sustainable surf gear.)

Upon graduating uni, I started an internship at Surfers Against Sewage, as an admin assistant. While I loved working there, I found my creativity left me. I stopped taking photos and barely made art anymore. I realised that sometimes working for your heroes does not work out and I wasn't cut out for the charity industry yet. So once my internship finished, I jumped on a plane and ran away to Sri Lanka for a little bit, to volunteer in a hostel as a photographer. I had £200 in my account, loads of debt and a borrowed surf camera from some friends back home. I spent 3 months living in a bikini, taking beautiful photos around the island and living off cheap rice meals. But something didn’t feel right, it didn't feel like ‘home’. Then a job opportunity arose to become a producer for an agency back in Falmouth, so I interviewed over skype, got the job and flew home 2 weeks later.

With no money to my name and nowhere to live, I moved back to Falmouth to start a job as a producer at MAYN, something I had never done before. I wanted to give producing a go, because I started to think that being a photographer wasn't for me and I wanted to try dip my toes in many pools before deciding. I spent a year overseeing photography projects, talking with clients, pitching ideas, handling invoices, and helping young photographers at Falmouth uni to get real-life work experience. It was a great way to learn about the industry and how to handle yourself. For a little bit, I did this job, and I did freelance producing on the side, working for clients such as TCL electronics and then lots of local businesses in Cornwall. However, once that finished, I realised I couldn't spend any more time doing a 9-5 and working at a desk every day, so I headed to the beach. Spent the summer shooting surf lessons, earning £150 a day sometimes, all while working part-time as a shop assistant in a Finisterre clothes shop. Doing this sparked the fire in me again to start shooting, which made me take the jump and become a freelance photographer in the autumn of 2020. I saved up all summer, to buy the equipment I needed to be an in-water surf photographer (and that shizz is pricey.) then started pitching to clients to shoot their brands.

I’m very fortunate that I have lots of friends already in the surf industry, so finding my dream photography job was easier than I thought it would be. I was asked to join the team at Alder Sportswear, as their photographer and social media manager on a 6-month trial. This entails organising lifestyle and surf shoots with models and surfers, shooting on the beach and in the water. My first 6 months were during the winter, which took a lot of motivation to keep shooting, especially when you had to get up at 6am, de-ice your car, then sit in the very cold ocean for 2 hours. After my 6 months trial was up, Alder asked me if I wanted to do another 6, so here I am, still shooting for a brand I’ve known since I was younger and getting paid to be in the sea. I still work part-time at Finisterre shop, part-time for Alder, and then the rest of the time finding new commercial clients to shoot for, (such as restaurants, shops, small businesses).

For anyone that has seen your Instagram page or website, there is a lovely sea and surf theme that makes us want to head straight to Cornwall (or maybe somewhere warmer!) – what has led you to base the majority of your photography around these subjects?

Being in and around water grounds me. It’s helped me stay level and calm throughout most of my adult life. In fact, I wrote some of these answers whilst in the bath, as water makes me feel freer and more creative. The rest of the answers I’m writing from my garden, amongst all the wildflowers.

Nature and the ocean has an effect on people that can change their life, and that is what the ocean did for me. I have struggled with anxiety and depression since I was a teenager, when I was a child the doctors even thought I had autism. So as an adult finding an outlet that allowed me to be present and switch my overthinking brain off, was essential to my wellbeing.

I took up the sport of surfing a little from a younger age and then when I moved to Cornwall, it became a huge part of my life. Being amongst waves makes everything else in my life and mind fade away until I get back on dry land. So, once I had found this thing that gave me purpose and stability, I wanted to celebrate it through art. I never knew I’d actually be able to make that into a career path too.

We know you have worked with some great brands and products as a freelance photographer, have you had a favourite so far and what do you enjoy most about freelancing?

For me, I find myself gravitating more towards small or local businesses, as I’m always purpose-driven rather than profit. Therefore, my favourite brand so far is Alder Wetsuits, as they are a family-run business, based in Devon, whose whole ethos is to help more people enjoy the benefits of the ocean.

What I love about being freelance is the control you have, and not having to work for people you don’t like. I don’t work well with people who don’t treat and respect their employees the right way. A company should be all about working as a team and building each other up. But unfortunately, some bosses don’t work that way, and I am too opinionated to let people treat me like crap. So freelancing works well for me, because if I don’t connect with a client or believe in what they are doing, I simply won't accept the job anymore. Money isn’t a big enough drive for me.

I simply want to earn enough money to pay my bills, photograph nice business and spend all my free time in the sea. Freelancing has allowed me so much freedom to live my life my way. I hope that one day I can be 100% freelance

When you’re heading out for a shoot, what’s in your camera bag? And are there any upgrades you’re looking to make soon?

So, I’ve never been able to afford the best equipment, it’s always second-hand and in need of some tlc. This means my camera bag is never that impressive, or high tec.

I actually keep my surf camera equipment in a Deliveroo food bag. Inside I have a towel, a bag of moisture Silica gel packs, an Allen key tool in the shape of a snowflake, screws, my SONY A6300 in a cardboard box, microfibre cloths, batteries, and the camera water housing. Then I have a separate bag with a hooded wetsuit, wetsuit socks, gloves, ear plugs and my flippers.

When I shoot lifestyle on land, I have a canon 5D Mark iii that I’ve had for 4 years and is slowly dying. Wrapped up in a beanie or a sock, inside a camera bag with a broken strap.

There are many upgrades I’d love, but I haven't dared look into them until I’ve saved a lot more money ah!

Photography in itself is hard enough and we can only imagine the challenges conducting a shoot in the ocean brings – especially in the UK’s icy waters! What are the most difficult aspects, and do you have any tips for people that want to try it out themselves?

The cold, the currents, and the conditions are the biggest hurdles. In the winter your fingers get so cold you can’t press the trigger button sometimes, and all year round you can never predict if the ocean forecast will be perfect. So half your shoots can be a flop, because you spend half the time trying to get out of a strong current, to line yourself up with surfers well, then if the waves aren’t clean your photos can all turn out very average.

But when everything aligns, the weather is nice, the ocean is calm and your subjects are performing well, it all feels worth the bad times.

My advice would be to learn everything you can about reading wave forecasts, everything about your local beach spots, and to find a good community of people to get in the sea with. It’s a lot easier to motivate yourself to get in cold water when you have the buzz of friends and other people getting in too.

We know you shoot both digital and film, but do you have a preference & what kind of photography do you feel each medium is most suited for?

For me I’m not very technical, I really don’t know that much about cameras. But the industry I work in, digital is always going to be easier for commercial work and water photography. You need the security of the good shots, to get paid.

Since graduating, I now only shoot film for personal usage, to take nice photos as memories or as art. But all for my own personal photo album rather than for anything paid. I hope to one day upgrade my film camera and to land a client who wants film photography as part of their campaign, that would be so lovely.

If you would like your film developed by us, head over to see our developing options!

We’ve seen you have done some great work around ocean activism and specifically ocean plastic, which is very inspiring! It’s clearly something very close to your heart, why is this, and how do you feel photography can help and contribute to environmental causes?

We only have one planet and I believe throughout history humans believed this earth had an infinite amount of resources. Now our generation is waking up to the fact this is not true, and if we don’t change our consumerist habits, the future generations of humans and all living things, won't get to live with the beautiful nature we grew up with.

Don’t get me wrong, I in no way live a perfectly sustainable life, Surfing equipment alone is known to be harmful for our planet. But when humans spend more time in nature, like through things such as surfing, they connect with it more and want to protect it. It’s why photography and art have become such a vital part of helping the environment, not only can these mediums capture the changes and issues happening around us, but artists can portray the beauty of this world, inspiring people to change habits. If you are to see a dreamy ocean scape, a picture of a cute baby pig, a moving film about beavers and rewilding or a painting of forests full of wildflowers, it makes you want to see more of it. It makes you realise what exactly people are fighting to protect.

Moving on to some slightly easier questions, we love your photos and even have one hanging up on our wall – but what is your favourite photo you’ve ever taken? And does it have a story behind it?

I think as an artist our favourite pieces of work always change, because some days we love what we make and some days we hate it.

However, currently my favourite photo is to the right. It was taken at a surf spot in Cornwall that I had been building up the courage to shoot at, as it can be quite a dangerous place if the conditions are testing. But it can have the best waves in England to shoot.

So, this photo symbolises for me all that I had pushed myself to achieve in the winter of 2020, the start of my freelance career. This shot is just a taste of what I hope to produce in the future and gets me very excited for all the places I am yet to shoot.

Lastly, do you have any advice for others wanting to find a career in photography, or just starting out along a path similar to yours?

My advice for anyone wanting to follow the path of being a ‘professional’ photographer is to try everything. You won't know what you like and what you thrive at until you give it all a go. You learn so much more by experiencing other aspects of the creative industry, than just being exclusively a photographer.

Thank you for letting us interview you and get to know a little bit more about your work! Just to finish off with, we have three quick questions to ask you…

1) What is your favourite camera to use (past or present)?

I’m a sucka for Canon SLRs, because that’s what I’ve got so used to, so any Canon 5Ds are my go to. I do have a SONY A6300 for in water shooting, but I’m yet to fully learn all about it.

2) What has been your favourite ever shoot?

I actually don’t think I can fully answer this one. Every shoot is so different. I love surf shoots and commercial shoots in different ways. But I guess my favourite surf shoot to date was last September, when the water was still warm, the sunset was perfect and there were only 3 of us in the ocean.

3) Do you have a favourite film stock to shoot?

Sadly I am still quite the novice with my film knowledge. Even though I have shot it on and off for years. But when I was at university, I did shoot a whole project on a Mamiya with 120 Portra, and I loved that! Wish I could afford to always shoot Portra! Maybe one day.

If you're interested in finding out more about Bella and her work, head over to see her work on her very own website!

Or head to our film developing options to get your own film processed!

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1 Comment

Nov 02, 2021

Such an interesting story, and incredible photography.

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