Clark Little’s distinctive photography of waves breaking on the stunning beaches of Hawaii have established him as one of the foremost innovative photographers out there today.
Each of Clark’s intensive shooting sessions require more than just his intuitive eye for a striking image: whether it’s finding the best time of day, preparing for the demanding physical conditions or assembling the best kit, every iconic image is the result of a highly intricate process. Here is an excellent example of Clark’s ability to capture this perfect blend of time, location and a specific subject in one image.
Here, we get behind the scenes with Clark and discover the unique approaches he’s developed to make his images truly different.
Optimising settings and features
Clark’s ideal time for a shoot is in the early morning, when the Hawaiian light makes the surf and sand explode with colour.
Clark’s accessories are a key part of what makes him such a unique photographer, allowing him to experiment with a vast range of lights, colours and depth with every shot. Each session starts with a ritual that prioritises rigging up a flash (an SB910) with his Nikon D800, making sure the ports are made for 60mm fisheye lenses. Clark also licks the waterproof housing of each camera before he starts; an important preparation as saliva stops water droplets from the sea sticking to the lens.
The last thing he does before making those strides into the surf is to make sure all of his settings are correct and suitable for the conditions of the day. A key component of this is ensuring RAS is enabled to store images in black-and-white, gray-scale and colour to any pixel depth, rather than simply defaulting to JPEG. This allows Clark to experiment with a huge depth of colour, long before he sits down in his studio to edit the day’s work.
Although Clark has fine-tuned his approach with the benefit of years of experience, he makes a point of retaining the same go-to settings that he started with and sticking with them. When it comes to shooting dynamic wildlife like dolphins or whales, he starts experimenting a little more with the shutter speed and ISO levels to try to develop the scope further, and accessories, including a 10-inch waterproof dome surround and more, it’s all about staying ahead of himself and pushing the boundaries of his creativity.
When it comes to capturing the perfect wave, Clark gauges its speed as it builds up in order to capture as many frames as possible as it breaks; both he and the camera need to be primed and ready for the optimum moment that’s over in an instant. “You can see it and visualise it, but you are not sure if you got it on the camera, so, once you put the chip inside, download it, zoom in 100% and check it all, making sure there’s no water spots…. the feeling is insane [when it comes together],” he says. Take a look at this example of an image that was taken at the optimum moment in a physically gruelling setting, from Clark’s Instagram account.
Finding the perfect shot
Each shoot isn’t simply about having his equipment and settings aligned perfectly; it also comes down to an intuitive understanding of the gruelling, but beautiful environment he works in. “You’ve got to be in shape, you’ve got to be able to hold your breath, you need to know how to move your head out of the way in a split second without having your head taken off,” he says.
Working around this requires serious preparation, a process that Clark is constantly refreshing. The very nature of his subject is dynamic, but he’s always searching for the next change to make him different: looking for where the sun is going to drop, the changes in the water clarity, the backdrop of white sandy beaches – always looking for something new and fresh.
Interested in seeing more of Clark’s unique approaches to getting the perfect shot? Find out more about his work, kit and tips here.