John Lucarelli

Several mornings a week, John Lucarelli gets up before dawn, checks the surf report and packs up his wet suit, fins and camera gear. He drives to beaches and coves along Newport Beach and Laguna Beach in search of his ideal sunrise conditions—a glassy ocean, unique light and a building swell. Then the self-taught photographer from Corona del Mar waits where the waves crash over his head to shoot hundreds of photos with his waterproof camera. Often, he returns before dusk to try to capture the sunset as well.

“Many days I get nothing. It’s all about taking the time to go again and again until I capture the image I’m after,” said Lucarelli, who calls his work “wave art.” “I’m not after one perfect image. It’s more about those moments when everything lines up.”

Lucarelli’s images often are so full of brilliant, almost-psychedelic colors, that many admirers believe he manipulates them.

“One of the most common questions I get is, ‘How do you get that?’ or ‘What do you do to them?’” said Lucarelli. “I try to get out there and capture as close to natural as possible. The colors come from my techniques and time of day I shoot, as opposed to Photoshop and post-production.”

To capture the intense light and reflections on the waves, Lucarelli says he shoots mainly during sunrise and sunset, when the light can be the most vibrant and luminescent.

“Many days I get nothing. It’s all about taking the time to go again.”
—John Lucarelli

John Lucarelli
John Lucarelli

“The red and purple colors are caused by the low angle of the sun on the horizon,” he explained. “That is when the light is more vivid and creates those saturated colors.”

Lucarelli uses a classic DSLR camera with a variety of lenses, which he protects in a waterproof housing. Sometimes he shoots with a wide-angle lens to capture a broad beach scene, but more often he uses his telephoto and zoom lens to focus on the details of the wave, water surfaces and reflections of light. His DSLR, a Canon 7D,
also allows him to use high shutter 
speeds to capture up to eight images per second of a breaking wave. Other times, he’ll use a slow shutter speed to enhance the movement of the curl or the surface of a swell.

LucarelliPhoto-1868_John Lucarelli“Sometimes my images are very surreal and abstract, resembling more of a painting than a photograph,” he said. “I feel the movement really adds another dimension to the image.”

Lucarelli, who grew up surfing in south Orange County, began taking photos after his father, who was an amateur photographer, gave him and his brother cameras for Christmas in 2006. A surf trip to Bali two years later sealed his passion for capturing images to share with others.

“I hadn’t traveled much, and other cultures around the world sparked my interest in taking photos,” he said. “Once I started to get more serious about photography, I noticed the intricacies of being a surfer and the waves, color and moments that I used to take for granted.”

Two years ago, Lucarelli started to focus more on his photography and started marketing his work, by participating in local art shows. His photos have been featured in Surfing Magazine, Transworld Surf and other publications.

“Much of surf photography is geared towards the maneuvers of surfers and the action,” he said. “But I like to focus on the art surrounding it and utilize waves as my subject.”

Lucarelli often waits for windless days to shoot his photos so he can capture the reflections on the face of waves.
“When a wave’s breaking, it starts to reflect the horizon and surrounding backdrop, whether it’s palm trees, clouds or a cliff,” he said. “It depends where you are. But all those things jump out at me.”

He also has withstood up to 15-foot-high waves crashing on him to capture these types of shots.

“I have taken my fair share of beatings from the waves,” he said. “It’s like a washing machine tossing you around, or pushing you down to the bottom. But when I am out there, I only get one opportunity to capture each wave. It is an amazing feeling when all your hard work pays off to capture a spectacular moment.”

Lucarelli’s work is available for sale as prints on his website—

LucarelliPhoto-John Lucarelli

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