Ryan Tatar grew up in Michigan but surfing drew him to California, where he took up photography and began chronicling the sport's unique culture.

The ultimate lo-fi photographer, he shoots only on film, the perfect medium to capture the state's dreamy light and woozy wave-riding vibe.

Ryan Tatar ahead of an exhibition of his work in California. Credit: Ryan Tatar

Ryan Tatar ahead of an exhibition of his work in California

I got into photography after college when I started travelling more. I wanted to document the things I was seeing and share with friends and family. Shortly after I moved to California and started focusing my lens on surf culture. Surfing is something I grew up wanting to do despite growing up in Detroit, Michigan.

I’ve shot mostly surf culture on film. Although lately I’ve been a desert rat and spending some time in the backcountry of the Alps and Sierras.

"They just capture that feeling. Hard to describe unless you surf."

My heroes? Thomas Campbell always inspired me with his stills and surf films. I love older work shot on film from Ron Stoner, John Witzig, and Jeff Divine. Ron Stoner has a few shots that just SPEAK to me. They just capture that feeling. Hard to describe unless you surf.

Why do I always shoot film and not digital? I occasionally revisit looking at digital since the quality has gotten better over the last few years and folks such as VSCO have developed really good editing tools that were based on countless hours of trying to mimc the colour palette and grain of certain films. All in all, I don’t spend too much time thinking about it.

I still like that film is a very real chemical process burning a vision into a piece of photo sensitive paper versus an approximation of 1’s and 0’s. It still has a unique real feel to it. It is also freeing to take your time and shoot a few carefully composed thoughtful photos and then become present again in the moment instead of a rapid fire session glued to a viewfinder and LCD screen followed by hours on a computer editing every detail. I think digital would be the call for certain types of photography like architectural, product shoots, and some commercial shoots. For what I am looking to capture though, it is not the best medium.

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A small day at Rincon… one of the best waves in California. Shot on a Leica M6, Kodak Portra 35mm Film, Leica 21mm Super-Elmar

Small day at Rincon. Rincon is one of the best waves in California. When it’s small, I like to check it and log the Cove. Except it’s so photogenic it’s hard not to just shoot film. This is a pulled back shot on a super wide 21mm lens. Photographer Will Adler and writer Colleen Conroy are enjoying some white wine and cheese before paddling out at last light.

"I still like that film is a very real chemical process burning a vision into a piece of photo sensitive paper…"

"A weekend day trying to escape the crowds of Santa Cruz…" Shot on Nikon FM2, cross processed 35mm film

“A weekend day trying to escape the crowds of Santa Cruz…” Shot on Nikon FM2, cross processed 35mm film

North of Santa Cruz. A weekend day trying to escape the crowds of Santa Cruz and looking for waves along the coast between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. This photo was intentionally light leaked by popping the camera back and allowing light to hit the film for a split second… followed by cross processing the film in C41 chemicals instead of E6 giving the colour shifts and oversaturation.

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"Just sums up the lifestyle of a surfer… and duct tape can fix (almost) anything." Shot on Leica M6, Kodak Portra 35mm Film, Leica Summicron 50mm

Donnie's Feet. I love this shot of my friend Donnie Hedden's feet. He's a talented photographer, who works for Patagonia now.  Just sums up the lifestyle of a surfer… and reminds us duct tape can fix (almost) anything.

Desert Agave/Red Rock" I love the desert of the American West." Credit: Ryan Tatar

Desert Agave/Red Rock” I love the desert of the American West.” Shot on a Leica M6, Kodak Portra 35mm Film, Leica Summicron 50mm

Desert Agave/Red Rock. I love the desert of the American West. So many folks love to visit tropical places and the beaches of California… but the desert of the west is pure magic especially in the spring and fall.

Right around golden hour, the colours of the desert really come out and pop… so many shades of gold, sienna, and green…Sometimes I like to look for interesting plants or natural features during hikes to shoot instead of the postcard shot.

Point Reyes Lighthouse shot with an old dive camera. Credit: Ryan Tatar

Point Reyes Lighthouse shot with an old dive camera. Shot on a Nikonos II camera and cross processed with 35mm film

Point Reyes Lighthouse. Shot with an old dive camera on the weekend I got engaged. We drove from warm sunny Sonoma county to the coast to view this isolated lighthouse. Shot on an old 1960s dive camera I usually shoot my surf photos on.

To see more of Ryan's work head to ryantatar.com … but most of my updates are on instagram @ryantatar and tumblr @shakasandsinglefins

To see the rest of Mpora's Life in Pictures series head here

To read the rest of Mpora's August 'Unplugged' Issue head here

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