We sat down with the gorgeous Ellie Gonzales, the face behind the lens of @elliebobbie, and talked about all things surf photography, the challenges of it and how to make a living out of doing what you love. Having travelled the world, Ellie is now based on the beautiful Northern Beaches of Sydney.
With hard work, dedication and determination everything is possible.Ellie
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Did you grow up near the ocean? How did you end up in Australia?
I was born in Paraguay, which is a small landlocked country in the heart of South America, so no beaches. I spent most of my childhood there. After my parents got divorced, I moved to Spain where my mum is originally from. When I was 13 I moved back to Paraguay to live with my dad. I was going back and forth for a couple of years. After finishing school in Paraguay, I went to Argentina for a few months to study fashion design. But I realised that it wasn’t for me and I felt kind of stuck. When I turned 19, I decided to move to Spain permanently to live with my mum.
But I didn’t stay long there either. I had this feeling that I wanted to move on again and so I decided to move to London for a year to improve my English. There, I met my ex-partner who is Australian and we lived together in Europe for a couple years. When he wanted to change careers, he suggested to move to Australia. Back then I had no idea about what it was like here. All I knew was koalas, kangaroos and the Sydney Opera House. I never thought I’d come here. It wasn’t even on my bucket list. But I fell in love with it and here I am now. 🙂
How did you get into photography?
When I first moved to London I was taking photos more often and realised how much I enjoy it. But the passion really started while backpacking through South America just before moving to Australia. I documented the trip for my family and friends so they could see what I was up to. I started with an entry level Canon DSLR, which died during the trip, unfortunately.
When was the moment that you knew that you could make a living out of photography?
Since the passion started, I knew I wanted to make a living out of photography. I just didn’t know when or how. For a long time, I had another job or two and even three 😀 while saving for my equipment. I would do some photography jobs here and there on the side of my other jobs. At the end of 2018, I moved to Bali to work for one of the resorts creating their content and managing their social media accounts. I never even thought I’d get the job to begin with but I think that was what gave me the boost of confidence I needed to realise that I could indeed make a living out of photography.
When you started shooting in the water were you scared at all? About the currents, waves and all the scary stuff underneath?
I was very excited actually! I just wanted to get out there and shoot. Having said that though I have a lot of respect for the ocean so normally I would only shoot in conditions where I know I can make the most of it. For example, I wouldn’t go in the water if the waves are huge, or if the surf is all over the place messy. This is something I am working towards to improve but for now, if I feel nervous I’d rather fly the drone or shoot from land.
As much as I love to take on new challenges it’s very important to know our limits, especially when we talk about the ocean.
One of the scariest memories I remember was when I first bought my underwater housing. It was while shooting a sunset at North Avalon. The lineup was pretty empty because it was getting dark but I was so stoked about my new housing that I wanted to go out anyway. I was working in hospitality at the time and it was intense and long hours, I had already gone for a sunrise shoot that morning and was so tired from that, plus working all day. So yes, I probably shouldn’t have gone in to begin with. But I did oops. There was a strong rip current and I got caught in it. All of a sudden I was very far out. I knew what was happening and remained calm but I had to ask one of the last surfers to pull me back in because I was too tired to swim and at that point a lot of other things crossed my mind. It’s crucial to know and understand the conditions. Even on the days when you think nothing can happen, you should always be aware of your surroundings.
Did you have anyone that showed you how to shoot in water?
When first starting out, I reached out to a few more experienced water photographers with questions. They were always so nice! One person I’ve always looked up to and who has been super helpful from the beginning is Mark Morgan (@mxmsurfphoto). He is a very talented surf photographer and one of the most genuine people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. I also did a workshop with Cait Miers (@caitmiersphotography) in Sri Lanka last year and learnt heaps from her! She is so lovely and I love how she is all about empowering women to follow their dreams.
Also just going out and experimenting with different angles and review the photos later at home helped me a lot. Trial and error. I also watched a lot of videos and tutorials online and still do. There’s always space for improvement and water photography is a never ending learning process.
Do you have a favourite photoshoot? One that stuck out to you?
That’s a hard one. Every shoot is different so it’s not easy to compare. The shoots that I enjoy the most are the ones where I can combine lifestyle and ocean. But one that stuck out to me was probably in Bali.
I went there for 3 weeks in may 2018 (prior to moving there) and I was watching Bingin the whole time. I had been shooting there on the smaller days but really wanted to try on a slightly bigger day. One afternoon, I saw a photographer come out of the water so I approached him to get some advice. It was Gaston, a really nice photographer from Venezuela who later on became a good friend (@gastonlee). He offered to take me out, so one of the last days I decided to just get out there and shoot with my husband. Gaston and other photographers were in the water too. It was about 6 of us shooting and I was the only girl. The light was beautiful, the waves were perfect and the water so warm. It was so much fun!
What are the biggest challenges for you when it comes to make a living out of your passion?
It took me a long time to have the courage to decide to do photography full-time. There are so many up and downs that come with it, a lot of comparison and self-doubt. I still have those moments every now and then, but I like to think that they are just part of the process and it’s what helps me want to become better
How many photoshoots do you do per week?
Funny you ask. I always thought that being a freelancer meant that you are busy shooting every single day of the week. While that may be the case for some people, it certainly isn’t for me. There’s a lot of time spent doing brand research, preparing proposals, sending emails, updating website, marketing, etc. That means one week I may be super busy and then I might go 3 weeks without shooting much at all.
Aside from that, I work at a fashion studio on a freelance basis, a very different environment to what I’m used to but I’m learning heaps and love it! I am developing my retouching and videography skills too. And last but not least, I also assist/2nd shoot for other photographers from time to time. So we photographers usually wear many hats. 😀
Let’s talk about travel now. What’s been your favourite surf trip so far?
So many! Galapagos, Sri Lanka, Peru and of course Indonesia. One of my favourite surf trips was to G-Land last year. My husband loved it so much that we went three times and I even got to do some photo/video work for a surf camp there. So grateful for that and would love to continue to do this in the future.
What’s going to be the first destination you are visiting as soon as borders are open?
Definitely Bali. I still have some stuff at a friends place so I need to pick that up and would love to see my friends over there 🙂
Any insider tips for the Northern Beaches? Your favourite spots to hang out, cafes etc.?
Jellyfish, Ruby Lane, Manly Wine, Barrelone, Hemingway’s are my go to coffee places. For cocktails, nothing beats In Situ in Manly. Their Apple Crumble Martini is out of this world. Manly and Freshwater are the beaches closest to me so that’s where I surf the most. But I also love Palm Beach and Collaroy.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee. For sure.
Longboard or shortboard?
Longboard all the way.
Sunset or sunrise?
Depends where. Here in the Australian East Coast definitely sunrise. Everywhere else sunset.
Your favourite book?
The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma.
Your biggest inspiration in life?
This is going to sound really cliché but my parents are my biggest inspirations are my parents. My mum has been through a lot in life and taught me what unconditional love of a mother for her children means. No matter what, she’s always supportive and has my back.
My dad was very poor as a child but had a dream of becoming a Doctor one day. He started his medicine studies at age 26 while working on the side to maintain his wife and first child. He worked many different jobs throughout his teenage years and adulthood. Gardening was one of them, which is not a very well paid job in Paraguay. He worked as a gardener at a hospital where years later he became the Medical Director of. So he taught me that with hard work, dedication and determination anything is possible.
You can buy Ellie’s prints or book a photoshoot with her HERE.