Photos of Waves as You’ve Never Seen Them Before

By Shannon Sims


Catching a wave has never looked better.

Often we’ll see something beautiful but not bother pulling out our phones to click a pic because, come on, there’s no way we can capture that. Waves are one example. But these days, a new crop of photographers is challenging that assumption. Aided in no small part by breakthrough technology in both waterproofing and speed, these artists are bringing to the world images we have all seen in our mind’s eye but perhaps never imagined could be so fully captured in a photo.

It comes as no surprise that many of the people behind this trend of photography know how to catch a wave in another sense as well. As a surfer, photographer Pierre Carreau of the French West Indies says that he “learned to feel waves and understand their alchemy.” Most high-profile among these new surfer-cum-photographers is Clark Little, a Hawaiian who has turned an enchantment with waves into a career. Today, he jets around the world to give talks about wave photography and to sell his new book. Bearing perhaps the most telling badge of success for the modern photographer, he has nearly 1.5 million Instagram followers. 

Before digital photography, we had to come back on the shore every 36 pictures to change films.

Pierre Carreau, photographer

But Little and Carreau are not alone — the genre of wave photography is alive and well, and each photographer brings with him or her a unique viewpoint. While Little’s images blast with tropical color, Carreau’s are more monochromatic ocean friezes, making the sea appear to be shiny blown glass. Australian Ray Collins goes moody, lending the feeling that it’s not a frothy, dark wave but a cold, looming, snow-dusted mountain. Fellow Aussie Mark Tipple dives even deeper, capturing the churning, cloudy underbelly of waves to sumptuous effect.

Blue Ice by Clark Little

Blue Ice by Clark Little.

Source Clark Little

The evolution of photographic equipment helps the new gen in no small part. “Before digital photography, we had to come back on the shore every 36 pictures to change films,” says Carreau. And while Carreau says he needs the best lenses available to get his shots, Collins points out that waterproof housings for iPhones allow photogs to shoot, edit and upload while navigating the waves.

Still, the art form is more physically taxing than just a day at the beach. To get his shots, Little stalks the shoreline, wading knee-deep with both hands supporting a rounded-lens camera, waiting with a surfer’s patience until the very last moment, when he dives headlong beneath the waves, twisting the camera up while trying to not swallow too much water. His money shot? An arching wave with a sunset horizon peeking through the curve. And Carreau points out that shooting in the water is risky: Framing can be difficult, as can keeping water drops away from the lens. “There are a lot of missed pictures,” he notes. But that’s a chance a lot of people are willing to take when trying to capture the uncapturable.