Shooter : Meet Long Island NY Photographer Chrissy Swain

August 28, 2020 • Local Photographers, Photos, Shooter

Presented by Wave Riding Vehicles @

In my nearly 50 year long life as a surfing photojournalist ( aka “surf photographer” ), with 16 of them spent as photo editor for ESM, I know a one trick pony’s work when I see it. And viva the whole bloody lot of them because they have been as equally instrumental in the success of Eastern Surf Magazine – and now at – as any multiple skilled, Swiss Army Knife type shooter who can do it all. However, that kind of multi- dimensional “surf photographer”, who does it with consistency and excellence of execution from the land, air, sea, studio and beyond in both endemic and non-endemic pursuits, well, they tend to be rare breed indeed. The average surf shooter in these days of digitography is stoked enough just to set-up on a beach with a short to medium telephoto, bang away until they fill the card and totally crush the surf action which is where their sole interest lies. And fair enough. Nobody knows better than us that it truly it takes a photographers village to build a surf mag like ESM that had a glorious, 27 year run – and now the digital version of it you are probably now swiping reading this on your held device – because of each and every one of their contributions matters greatly. We’ll gladly take every action shot they want to submit with huge thanks so please keep ’em coming! On the other side of that static but important equation are the uber versatile shooters like Chrissy Swain. And, after having a fairly deep dive into the New Yorker by way of East Setauket body of work, it is keenly evident she is a very sharp blade on that aforementioned internationally iconic, fire engine red penknife equipped to do more than one job. In fact, she wields quite a few photographic blades by excelling not just at at surf action from the land or swimming in freezing or tropical waters with a waterhousing in hand but she also has highly sophisticated skills in portraiture, lifestyles, fine art imagery, weddings, family gatherings, corporate work, mag or web editorial and is quite comfortable in the fashionista world where she’s been hired to shoot for Neiman freakin’ Marcus among others. Chrissy’s Swiss Army Knife versatility is exactly what our “Shooter Series” is all about and we are stoked to say the least to present this amazing portfolio of her work with help from our good friends at Wave Riding Vehicles. – Mez –

The Shootist, Chrissy Swain.

Age: 39

Hometown: East Setauket, NY

Instagram: @chrissyswainphotography


Classic east end cove shot of the playing field and an empty beauty that came through on a winter morning.

Where do you shoot he most ?  Montauk, Rhode Island for surf and all over Long Island professionally

My twin sister, Erin Swain @surfingsomm and my best surf bud and Outer Banks ripper Mary Schmader planning their next adventure.

Favorite Place to shoot ? Lighthouses from the water.

Every surfers favorite view of the Montauk Point lighthouse. I printed this in 24 by 36 inch format with a white matte, black frame and it’s hanging in my room.

Water or land photos ?  Water… no contest!!!

This is a Montauk surfer and agriculturist Phil Yaz, demonstrating a classic hand-drag bottom turn this winter. This was hands down the heaviest and coldest day of the winter and personally the most challenging conditions I have ever swam with a camera in: March 8, 2020.

Favorite Surfer to shoot ? Mary Schmader, she has excellent style on a longboard or short board and is one of my closest friends.

You guys ran this image of Mary Schmader getting barreled in the Outer Banks, this page and the front page of that issue are also matted and framed in my house.

What’s in your kit bag ? Canon 7D w 50 mm lens, Aqua-tech Imaging Solutions Water housing, Canon 5 d mark vii, Canon Mark 1 D, Canon 70-200 mm, Canon 24-70mm, Sigma 50-400mm.

This is my friend Liz Hauzer, and this shot was printed half page in Woman’s Surf Style Magazine a while ago, we were both SO stoked! Liz went onto to become the first female judge on the WSL Championship tour and she rips herself. We spent a lot of time surfing together while we both lived in Puerto Rico. I love how it looks like the killer whale on the bottom of her board is actually breeching as seen here from the out the back perspective of this watershot angle.

When did you start photography ? I stared in the eighth grade with a film photography class through public school, we developed and processed in a dark room our own images… it was great, thanks Mr. Diana for fueling younger generations than yourself.

From Mr. Diana’s inspirational 8’th grade photography class to getting to getting to shoot one my hero’s, Annie Leibovitz last year. Annie was doing a signing promoting her book Portraits 2005-2016 at an event in the Neiman Marcus store in Hudson Yards in Autumn of 2019. It was truly amazing to hear her speak and have the opportunity to photograph one of my image making idols.

Why Surf Photography ? I have been fortunate enough to link up with East Coast Surfers that have been training and honing their surfing and getting ready for international surf comps all over the East Coast.  I have travelled to Hawaii, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Outer Banks, New York, Rhode Island to surf and I enjoy documenting swelIs and surf culture and have been at it for over two decades.  I  was able to line up private sessions and spend time with young talent and form lasting relationships that are very special.  Supporting young athletes and capturing the drive and glimpses of their journey has be very rewarding.  I am now back in New York and have my eye on the up and coming generation of rippers.

Rhode Island scenic sky and wave shot this past winter, it was so cold but then the sun peaked through and I got to witness some beautiful waves in this undisclosed gem of spot in New England.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your photo businesses, life and surfing? Covid had me avoiding Montauk from Early March for at least 3 months. I ended up surfing only undisclosed south shore Long Island spots, alone… I also didn’t shoot anything cuz there was no other surfers there and it was all un-picturesque beach break. Professionally I was able to participate in the Front Porch project with Yellow House Images, a family owned and operated business has really helped me develop as a professional photographer. The owner, Andrew Theodorakis raised a substantial amount of money for his personal friend and colleague, the NY Post Sports  Photographer of the year, the late and great Anthony Causi and his family. And I recently shot my first wedding since the pandemic began. It was at a socially distanced gathering held outdoors in Montuak using mostly a long focal length lens and wore a mask during the small amount of crucial interiors that included the bride getting ready and intimate family and wedding party moments before the ceremony. Lastly, I have been working more on taking photographs of my own family and finally printing shots and updating frames around the house. Like most photographers, I hate being in front of the lens so I’ve taken a few more pictures this year for my son to look back on and have.

Surfline ran this shot in an online swell stories piece of Wesley Toth, another surfer and friend who is incredibly awesome to shoot with. This was taken at a locals only spot I can’t remember the name of or can’t tell you hahah!

Surf Photog you draw inspiration from ?  I look up to all of the surf photographers that have come before me, but my Two favorites are Art Brewer and Chris Burkard.  I have been a fan of both of these guys for so long and just really appreciate their artistic eye and execution of every shot they produce.

The mountain region of the Hatillo area of Puerto Rico’s North Coast is known for it’s beautiful places and beautiful woman and I fell I captured both in this shot. This waterfall Surfer-skater Kelly Laide was the perfect.

First Published Photo ? In Puerto Rico I got a front page image plus spread on Hector Santa Maria in print for a local newspaper, also that same year WRV used  a shot of Natalie Matthews ( back then aka Natty Perez).

Here is another Montauk Local Tyler Macguire, who is charging the absolute biggest and coldest swell of 2020 on the East Coast March 7. I shot this form the cliff in the comfort of my down parka lol. Mad props to everyone who surfed this day and made it look easy, it wasn’t.

Biggest buyout print or digital and tell us more about it ?   One of my first big sales was from an interior designer that I attended college with and she chose this surfer girl silhouette of my friend Liz Hauzer, who I surfed and shot with all the time back in the day… there was this oil slick in front of her silhouette paddling a short board. 

This was one of my first art sales of a silhouetted Liz Hauzer by interior designer Sarah Little Designs. I went to college with her at The University of Mary Washington, so I was flattered she contacted me to use this image for one of her creative spaces.

Non-surf image you’re really stoked on and why ?  This image of a Barred Owl was in an art show I entered in New Fairfield, CT when I lived there, it ended up on the front page of the local paper to promote the show, in the program and on their flyer,  I was so stoked… and now it graces the wall in my son’s bedroom above his bookshelf. I have always had a thing for Owls because their was a needlepoint my grandmother made hanging in my childhood room, so now it’s kind of a special interest I love to shoot.

Barred Owl. This shot was entered into an art show for the Great Hollow Nature Preserve in New Fairfield, CT when I resided there.Ê It made the front page of the local paper, was used in their promotional flyer and was the cover of the program that year, I was stoked!

How do you feel about the rise of digital, social media and the decline of print surf magazines ?  Well considering I have my original roots in print photography ( dark room, etc. ), I kind of hate that the art is semi-lost… however photography being a very technological art form, if you cannot keep up and adapt it seems you will fall behind.  I personally will never stop loving the art of photography, but in some senses worry about my capacity to keep up with the technology because it moves so quickly.

You guys at ESM ran this shot of North Carolina surfer Quentin Turko back when he was just a grom. I love this shot because he is now all grown up and still charging harder than ever and also Frisco Pier in the background is now gone.

What do you photograph besides surfing ?  I love to shoot birds of prey/ nature and landscape photography for fun, as well as skateboarding. Professionally speaking,  in the corporate photography world I have been fortunate enough to shoot an Annie Leibovitz book signing for Neiman Marcus, as well as having the pleasure of shooting other fashion and art icons such as Brandon Maxwell and Jimi Paintz. These experiences will stay with me forever.

I shot this image during a fall collection runway show for Neiman Marcus store in Hudson Yards in New York City. Living between the bucolic, agriculture country side vibe of LI’s East End and the kinectic hyper drive energy of City That Never Sleeps downtown Manhattan opens up creative doors on a level you can’t attain anywhere else in the world.

If you could pick one place to travel and shoot all expenses paid where would it be and why ?  I would choose The Mentawais for its remoteness and awesome waves, but also have always wanting to go on a surf boat trip in clear water which makes this spot specifically appealing and on the bucket list for sure.

This insane wave was shot during the Hurricane Sandy swell in the Borinquen area Puerto Rico. Everyone was caught inside of this monstrosity of a wave, and it’s still one of my favorite empty wave shots.

What’s a subject particularly special to you and why ?  Being a female surfer I have been invested in shooting real female surfers that I’ve met,  surfed with, and befriended along the way. I always played team sports of soccer and lacrosse growing up, so I am a big proponent of women supporting women and being a team player in general, not to mention the “girl power” that is instilled playing these team sports . I have a ton of fun  and random friendships from being a female surfer, and it’s something I have always had a specific  interest in documenting and respecting/ representing.  The female form, specifically surf girl silhouettes is one of my favorites for large art prints, I love playing with the reflection of water, the vibrant colors and the contrast of the female form with these silhouettes.

This is one of my favorite female surf shots, of Puerto Rican local ripper, Lilac Alvarado at The Mix. Here she demonstrates the beautiful grace, finesse and form that makes photographing female athlete’s like this such a joy and an inspiration.

Places you’ve traveled to and photographed ?  Spain, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Puerto Rico…

Historic Gamecock cottage at the beach in Stony Brook, NY near the house I grew up in. It is still one of my favorite beaches to this day.

Any Final thoughts or observations ?  I just want to thank all the photographers who have came before me,  especially those who have mentored me and given me business… Andrew Theodorakis of Yellow House Images  and Ryan Honan who is on his team: these guys have helped me on the back end of photography and I grew leaps and bounds. Also Gayle Tiller of Gayle Tiller Photography an amazing mentor and portrait photographer/ friend and Julie Dreelin of Beach Productions, both talented water women are based in The Outer Banks of North Carolina and have really been creative friends and mentors along then way.  It’s important to have people that inspire and help you, appreciate their craft and knowledge so you can eventually get better and pay it forward along the way!

Charlie Weimer is a long time LI underground legend who is always a stand-out during any swell of significance like this one at Montauk’s Turtle Cove.

You won’t need a bigger boat to enjoy an fire Long Island sunset like this one.

Please follow the talented and diverse work of Chrissy on Instagram @chrissyswainphotography. Also, check her website at and support your local photogs by buying prints or hiring them for your photographic needs and enjoy the rest of her portfolio below – ESM –

This is Brian Keith Thompson who runs Body Electric, a tattoo and piercing parlor in Los Angeles. He was hired by Neiman Marcus to do a Public Appearance and pierce some clients in store. I went to his website and his story is fascinating he’s actually a former marine and he’s built a super cool shop that supports all sorts of creative artists including himself.

Mary Schmader at Aguadilla’s Bridges, PR with another hang-five while hand-draggging for max tip time. I really love shots that highlight the technical aspects of surfing maneuvers.

Travis Beckman about to disappear around the corner and no doubt deep into a tube.

Mary Schmader carrying her board back to the parking lot in Nags Head, NC and into the golden, refracted early evening light after another fun session on the Outer Banks.

Covid Fly Over by the US Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angles to salute and lift up all the frontline workers of the tristate area of new York, Jersey and Pennsylvania. Documenting this insane time in human history has simply been sur-real.

From grom to greatness. This is Natalie Matthews (Perez) surfing for WRV that I shot roughly a decade ago. She has grown up to become a very inspirational human being who has accomplished writing a Vegan cookbook, winning body building competitions and even creating her own Vegan protein powder.

This my sister, Erin Swain and we were just messing around to build my wedding portfolio and that shot ended up being one of my favorites.

The cliffs of Block Island are a beautiful, continuing topography left behind from the last Ice Age just like that of the East End of Long Island a short boat ride across the Sound from Long Island.

Mary Schmader hanging five on a small fun summer swell on the north side of the Ngas Head fishing pier.

“Well, it’s set way back in the middle of a field Just a funky old shack and I gotta get back”… Surfin’ Love Shack, Nagshead style. The Inertia website ran this shot and I Iove the way this one it looks printed small with a white matte and gray frame.

This is Janelle Jones, local Puerto Rican body boarder and great soul. Here she was modeling bathing suits by another local female surfer and designer Idallia Suarez.

Here is one of my other favorite girls to surf and shoot with, North Carolinian native Liz Hauzer at Middles, PR. She became the first female judge on the WSLs Championship Tour at level 4 events and is an all around ripper and awesome person.

This is Los Angeles based contemporary urban artist Jimmy Paintz who I had the pleasure of meeting and photographing at several different store events, he is a humble nice guy and his art is awesome and inspiring.

Pre-Covid East End of Long Island surf scene shot of Ditch Plains at sunset last fall. I love documenting all aspects of surf cultures including scenic beach shots.

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