With little more than one cup of coffee at 5 am to fuel him, Clark Little dives into the Pacific Ocean day after day in search of the perfect wave- not to surf, but to capture on film. For Clark, wave photography is more than just a profession; it’s his life.
His distinctive trademark photos of curling waves that wrap glassy limbs around the glowing sunrises and sunsets which shine over this corner of paradise twice a day have won him the admiration of fans all over the world, and the envy of anyone who dreams of living the good life on the north shore of Hawaii.
But it wasn’t always so. Just eight years ago, when Clark was working at the Wahiawa Botanical Gardens, his wife brought home a picture of a shore break to hang on the wall of their home. Clark, then a seasoned surfer, knew that he could take the same caliber of photo, if not an even better one. He bought a Nikon D200 and waterproof casing, and hit the waves to capture his unique view of the world from inside the barrel of a wave.
And so a photography star was born.
Now, eight years later, Clark has carved a name for himself as one of the world’s most distinctive photographers.
“It’s all about loving the water, loving the waves, and having a passion for photography,” he says. Check out his work here
Searching for something different in Clark’s world means waiting for mother nature to produce a sunset that is just the right shade of red, orange and yellow matched with the pull of the crystal clear water reaching up to the sky before it coils and rolls, crashing back down onto the white sandy beaches that decorate the island.
But it’s not as easy as floating on the surface and watching the sky transform. Shooting in the midst of a 15ft wave is not for the faint-hearted. Powerful rips and strong currents make Clark’s photography a dangerous exploit, with some waves chewing him up and spitting him out in 10 seconds, and others holding him underwater for up to 15 seconds.
The rewards, however, are worth the effort. “If you’re afraid, you’re not going to get that heavy shot,” he explains. Fins, a long sleeve rash guard, and unfaltering bravery in the face of huge waves are mandatory ingredients for anyone chasing the prefect photo from within the spin cycle of nature’s washing machine.
Chasing the prefect wave also requires patience and persistence. To capitalize on the ’10 minute golden hour’ that offers up the best conditions for shooting a sunrise or sunset, it is imperative that Clark has his kit in order and selects the optimum camera/lens combination for the shot he envisions. Listen to Clark as he talks to us about his work here
It goes without saying that waterproof housing is a must, but for other shots he packs the following:
Shot: A Big Shore Break
The Nikon D4 offers the speed Clark needs to keep up with the water cascading around him, and the 10-11 frames per second (versus, for instance, the Nikon D4s) allows him to capture as much action as possible before sneaking out of the back of the wave after it breaks.
The 10.5mm fisheye lens is his preferred lens for capturing breath-taking shore side images as it offers him the widest angle possible to snap a huge barrel, including the lip crashing, the sand sucking up the floor beneath him, and the backdrop of the mountains.
Shot: Tumbling Ocean Swell
To capture ocean swell and the exotic wildlife that Hawaii has to offer, the Nikon D800 is compact enough in size and light enough in weight to allow Clark to get super close to the turtles, dolphins, and sharks (yes, sharks!) that he shares his home with.
Back in the editing suite in his garage, the 38.3 megapixels that the Nikon D800 offers means that he can still crop his work and end up with very high image quality.
To shoot at night, Clark uses the Nikon SB-910 speedlight to illuminate the barrel of a wave from the inside, sending shockwaves of light through the glistening clear water like the luminous current in a jellyfish. “It’s spooky,” he says, which is often the feeling reflected in the photos.
Above all else in Clark’s work, there is a real sense of dedication and passion in his portfolio. Not content with simply being a professional photographer, Clark injects his life, his home, his enthusiasm, and his overriding sense of gratitude and respect for nature into every one of his images. The combination of that perfect swelling wave coupled with a rich backdrop of buttery yellows and lively reds under an endless sky overlooking paradise makes Clark’s images almost seep out of the screen.
“If I woke up and this was my dream, I’d be like, wow that was cool, I wish it was real…but it is!” he remarks. Chasing his dream and making his work and his passion part of his life are what has made Clark’s photography something truly different, and truly special.
Looking for more from Clark? Get the full scope of Clark’s work, kit and pick up tips while you’re at it here