Jay Rutkowski Wins February 2017 Photo of the Day

April 17, 2017 • News

Nearly six months in, our Photo of the Day feature is doing quite well: tens of thousands of views plus hundreds of potential gems streaming in daily from photographers up and down the East Coast and across the Gulf, Caribbean, and Great Lakes (along with around the world). That’s added a rad #liveaction component to our website and social media channels, and gave us numerous Photo of the Day recap galleries that continue to blow minds. For February 2017, our  winner is New Jersey photographer Jay Rutkowski, whose shot of a massive spitter won a commanding percentage of the online voting. Read Jay’s short interview below and scope out a few more of his beautiful Garden State perspectives. Oh, and photographers — keep those potential #photooftheday shots coming!

Name: Jay “Jay Rut” Rutkowski

Age: 26

Hometown: Somers Point, NJ

Years shooting: 7

Preferred gear: Nikon D4 and Sony A6300

“Hello, my name is Jay Rutkowski. I’m a surf photographer out of Somers Point, NJ. When I’m not shooting surfing, I’m up in the mountains snowboarding, surfing (for a change), or keeping busy outdoors, usually wandering around the back bays shooting time lapses.” Photo: Jay Rutkowski

What is it about this winning shot that really captured your attention and your imagination? Honestly, Mother Nature did the work for me. This particular swell in February, the buoy jumped up in height by double digits overnight. Until this day, I’ve never seen swells this large hit the beach. I’ve also never seen water move the way it did when the swell lines met the sandbar. For how violent these waves looked and sounded, I can’t help but go back to his frame and admire the beauty.

Jay’s winning February Photo of the Day shot, which garnered the lion’s share of online votes. Photo: Jay Rutkowski

What is it about the shot that you think proved to be so popular with viewers and surf fans? I think the drastic difference in whitewater is what first grabs the viewer’s attention. From left to right, there is the violent, freshly fallen sandy backwash, the heavy lip, and a gentle-looking mist exiting the wave. The contrast between the whitewash and the rest of the dark grey color palette also helps this photo stand out. A surf fan is definitely mindsurfing this wave because every surfer wants to get spit out of a barrel with such force as this wave.

If you could have done one thing differently with this photo, what would it have been?  I always tell myself there is room for improvement. When I see a photo that I’ve shot from land, I always wonder how it would’ve looked from the water. That’s always a great debate of mine — to shoot land or water. However, looking at this frame, I wish I had shown more foreground and tried to line up the barrel with the walkway down to the beach. Nonetheless, I’m still stoked how it turned out!

“Here is Andrew Gesler pulling into the green room not too far from home,” Jay says. “If I remember this swell correctly, I think (as per usual) we were expecting something a little better, but it was still good. Swam out with Ges, Ian Bloch, Rob Kelly, and a few others and surfed until the tide got on it.” Photo: Jay Rutkowski

What is it about New Jersey that makes for such beautiful photos? I think it’s the backstory behind the photographs that makes New Jersey produce some spectacular imagery.  Surfing here is a constant battle with the elements: swell direction and period, wind direction and period, tide, and beach direction are just some of the factors we have to diligently check before we make our choice on where to surf. Don’t get me wrong, I love a hurricane swell in boardshorts, as the warm weather and light make for great images. However, there’s something special about a winter storm and a 5-mil wetty. The swell produced by those storms is usually larger and heavier, which creates a great subject.

jay rutkowski

“This is the same swell as the POTD entry. The buoy the night before topped around 20 feet. Needless to say, it was hard to get to bed at a decent hour that night as we were watching the height rise with every new entry. It was raining on and off with nothing but clouds — a really dreary day, honestly. We pull up to the beach and I was blown away, as I’ve never seen waves this large in person in New Jersey. These monsters were just rolling in and then practically folding on themselves as they hit the bar. Some of the heaviest tubes and blowout spitters I’ve ever seen.” Photo: Jay Rutkowski

What 3 photographers have influenced your work the most and why? Too many to name! I think three photographers that have influenced me the most are Seth Stafford, Rich McMullin, and Trevor Moran. All three guys have based their photography out of the same area of New Jersey as me, so they really set the bar high. I hadn’t met Seth until a few years ago, although I knew him from seeing his name in Transworld Surf, one of my favorite surf publications growing up. I’d see his name and dig into Google, looking at more of his work and trying to study it. It’s gnarly to know someone with the same area code as you is a staff photographer for your favorite magazine. His water shot flash photos are what really got me wanting to swim, and his shot of Matt Keenan in front of the ferris wheel in Ocean City is what really blew my mind. I surfed with him the other day at a spot down south and he was charging on the bodyboard. The guy rips! Dropping in on some of the biggest and heaviest waves I’ve seen at this spot. Rich McMullin and Trevor were both heavily involved with all the local boys. Around the time my younger brother was surfing for Heritage Surf Shop, Rich and Trevor were doing some work with Heritage as well. I’d always see their photos in ESM and was stoked to get to know them personally. Both have helped me out a tremendous amount — while trying to get in the photo game, I’m sure I definitely pestered them with Facebook messages and emails. Looking back, I was probably annoying, but they answered my questions and sent me in the right direction — for that I’m grateful. Definitely owe the boys some pints! Rich’s water shots and nice lineups with vivid colors drew me deeper into surf photography, while Trevor Moran’s willingness to grind like the rest of the boys seems to be unmatched. His flash photography made me think a little more about what I was doing, giving me insight when I was looking for some. He’s got a good game plan, as he’s nailing cover shots of Julian Wilson, hanging with Mick Fanning, and following the tour.

“I’m really into shooting photos of stars, mountains, landscapes, and flash photography as well,” Jay says. “Whenever it snows, I try to link up with people willing to freeze for a bit and get as much material as possible. Chris Kelly and I decided to try something with a backlit scene from a flash and snow. Here, Chris gets ready to take the hit from Mother Nature, only to enjoy the waves left behind.” Photo: Jay Rutkowski

As a photographer, how do you navigate the challenges and demands of social media and web vs. your work as an artist? In the age of instant information, it’s tough to balance social media/internet and art. I am very critical of my work (which may sometimes do more harm than good). I want the best images to be seen. If there’s any blatant reason why I think a photo has zero chance of getting published, but still has something intriguing about it, I’ll post it to social media. I use social media as a tool to stay relevant and keep my name in the conversation. Out of sight, out of mind is not something I want associated with my name. If my “A+” photos don’t get used, after a certain time I may throw them up on my Instagram. It is difficult though because social media and the internet are literally killing our industry. You have to adapt. People want to see the photos and video instantaneously and not wait a month or more to see it published in a magazine. Why wait when you can get the same information at the click of a button and a swipe of the thumb? That being said, I hope print makes a comeback and stay alive. There’s nothing like seeing your photo on big sheet of paper in a magazine. Until then, I’m doing my best to balance out how I get my photos to the people.

How about in New Jersey, which boasts more surf photographers per capita than any other state on the East Coast these days? New Jersey is definitely tough for a photographer. Sometimes I fall prey to the game, while other times I’m the predator. It seems now there are more photographers on the beach than surfers in the water. This means you have to have the best shot composed of the best elements and have it submitted first. This also means that you need to have fresh ideas. New Jersey is a bunch of beachbreaks, and at some point you have to do something to separate yourself from the pack and stepup your game.

Words of wisdom for new/young photographers?

  1. If you’re swimming, hit the gym. Essentially, you’re now an athlete.
  2. Try to be respectful of everyone and don’t poach. It’s tough, especially in New Jersey. But all is fair in love and war, right? Just ask John Lyly.
  3. Stay off the dunes!

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