Omaha doesn’t give photographer Isaiah “Frosty” Niemann access to the oceans where he captures dramatic images of huge waves and the surfers who ride them. So when he’s here, he takes wedding photos or family portraits.
But when clients hire him to photograph and film them surfing on big waves, he travels to popular surfing sites around the world.
Niemann, 27, was born in Seward and grew up in South Carolina — away from the coast.
“I didn’t really grow up in the ocean environment,” he said.
Photography came first.
Niemann bought a digital camera at a Best Buy to document his time in the Marines.
Then came surfing. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California for five years.
“The thing that got me with surfing is the peacefulness of being disconnected from society,” he said. “When you’re out surfing, you’re by yourself. It’s all about you and the ocean. You’re not competing with anything else. You’re just enjoying the ride.”
In his free time, Niemann started working as an intern at a surf shop, learning how to make boards.
His hobbies crossed paths when a friend asked Niemann to take photos of him surfing.
It snowballed from there, with more friends asking for photo shoots. It morphed into a side business.
He was later stationed in Hawaii. By then, he was an avid surfer, going out almost daily. He bought waterproof housings for his camera and took it out swimming to take photos on the water.
In many places, Niemann had to swim to take photos because watercraft aren’t allowed. When he can use watercraft, he goes with a Jet Ski.
Niemann got serious about big surf photography about a year ago in Hawaii after he started swimming a stretch of coast known for big waves called the Pipeline on the north shore of Oahu.
On a whim, he decided to visit a big wave surf break known as Jaws off Maui’s north shore. It’s known for producing some of the biggest waves in the world.
Big wave surfing is done on waves that range from 20 to 80 feet high. Typical surfing is done on waves that range between 2 and 6 feet, Niemann said.
“It’s kind of like grabbing an electric fence,” he said. “You’re holding on for dear life, but trying to enjoy the excitement of it.”
Niemann surfs big waves, too. Because it can be dangerous, he has undergone lifeguard training and big wave rescue certification.
Being on the water is a major adrenaline rush, he said.
“You get to see the power of the ocean firsthand and see that you’re just a small piece. It can be very dangerous and beautiful at the same time,” Niemann said.
Niemann traveled back to Omaha from Hawaii with his then-fiancée, Dana, for their spring wedding. He ended his military service earlier this year, and the couple moved back to Omaha, where Dana’s family lives.
Frosty Photo has become Niemann’s full-time job. Dana Niemann works for the business, too, taking care of all of the logistics and travel arrangements.
The “Frosty” moniker is a childhood nickname. As a kid, he would stockpile Wendy’s Frosty coupon books so he could eat as many of the frozen treats for free as he could.
In January, he’s heading to Ireland for three months to film a 12-part series for a surfer from the United Kingdom.
“I would say the best thing about photography is being able to share my experiences and these magical moments with the ocean with other people,” Niemann said.