Sometimes, it can feel really daunting to try to create original images like no one has ever seen before. With social media oversaturated with photography, it often seems like we have captured it all. So, when I came across surf photographer Ben Thouard’s tropical landscape images captured through the back of a breaking wave, I was a little jealous, but more so inspired and hopeful.
As the Tahiti-based Frenchman recently published his first book, "Surface," I touched base with him to learn more about the stunning collection of extraordinary images he has spent the past decade creating.
Enthralled by the sea from an early age, Thouard always knew that the ocean would play a huge role in his life. Growing up with the Mediterranean in his backyard, his appreciation for the sea ultimately led him to Hawaii, where he began photographing surfers with a homemade underwater housing. Admiring the work of surf photographer Brian Bielmann, Thouard set out to try to capture the essence of a world in which he felt totally at ease.
As an underwater photographer myself, I have long been captivated by wave imagery. However, finding the right conditions can be a challenge. Sandy bottoms can create poor visibility, reefs and rocky bottoms can present treacherous risks, and general conditions are often changeable and unpredictable. Ten years ago, while on assignment, Thouard stumbled upon ideal conditions around the island of Tahiti in the South Pacific. Surrounded by a barrier reef, Tahiti’s waves break on a reef rather than a sandy bottom, making it a prime location for the impeccable water clarity that we see in Thouard’s imagery.
As Tahiti is a French territory, Thouard found the island offered an easy transition to settle and call home. He spent years perfecting his craft there, but like many photographers, had reached a point where he felt he wanted to take his photography to the next level; however, at first, he was unsure how to do so.
A few years back, he captured a series of images that would change everything. Through an opening in a breaking wave, Thouard photographed a magnificent mountainous backdrop framed by the curvature of the wave. Peering down at the LCD screen on his camera, Thouard knew he had found that something special he had been searching for.
Equipped with a Canon 1DX Mark II and a 5D Mark IV in Aquatech housings, Thouard set out to create more of what he refers to as “through the wave” images. Apparently, these particular shots are only achievable when the conditions have been perfect for several days in a row, requiring quite a bit of patience and time to execute properly.
In our conversation, Thouard expressed an affinity for his 24mm f/1.4 lens, due to its ability to accentuate the details and textures of the water. Of course, he also uses other lenses such as a 70-200mm, 16-35mm, and a 50mm. To work beneath the waves, he partners closely with underwater housing manufacturer Aquatech to test equipment and help develop dome ports and housings.
Keeping this new body of work completely to himself, Thouard worked tirelessly to put together and self-publish "surface," which is now available in English and French. The design is quite minimalistic with no text or distractions of any kind; even page numbers are missing. Details are provided at the end of the book so the viewer can really appreciate each individual image without obstruction or distraction.
The 184-page coffee table book boasts more than 120 images and is available for purchase in both a regular and limited edition via his website.
Images used with permission | © Ben Thouard