Whalebone Photo Contest 2022: Judge’s Interview with Ben Thouard

Ben Thouard Surfer on wave silver surfer

Under The Surface

Ben Thouard couldn’t win in 2022 because Ben was a judge. But Ben has in fact been a previous finalist of the Whalebone Photo Contest, and so we thought it very fitting that he take a seat at the panel this year to pass along his perspective and attention to detail for the review process. A true ocean dweller, Ben has spent years capturing the ocean physically and in essence and has made his way toward being one of the more renowned ocean photographers out there today.

Whalebone: What’s something inherently special about photographing surfers in their habitat? 

Ben Thouard: How the surfer evolves while in the ocean is amazing. This sport is really unique—photographing it, immersed in the element, while swimming is what makes it so special to me. Everything has to work together to be able to capture it right. It’s like a challenge that you can’t control—it’s endless inspiration.

WB Was there a particular reason that photography ended up being your medium of choice over painting?

BT: I think in painting I was missing the amazing details and reflections that can be found in the ocean. I was attracted by the textures from the ocean that I could not create with my paintings. Painting to me is more an interpretation—a creation of your own, whereas photography is more a true representation of nature and its amazing aspects. That’s why photography became my medium of choice.

However, after taking photos for over 15 years now, I feel like my inspiration, my taste and style has come back closer to that of painting—using photography to reveal my vision of the ocean but also trying to reveal the things that are beyond the naked eye, where painting might be more appropriate normally. 

WB: Your earliest moment of love towards the ocean?

BT: Holidays spent on my father’s sailboat for all of my childhood. I think that’s definitely what created this passion, love and fascination for the ocean.

WB: If you didn’t shoot water, waves and surfers—what would you photograph?

BT: Probably storms and the sky. I think it is as fascinating as the ocean.

WB: Having previously been a winner for the Whalebone photo contest—does that have an influence on what you’ll take into your judging style?

BT: I don’t think so—I think I’ve been chosen to be a judge for my work, taste and what I created in the past so I’ll try to keep it real and true to myself. A contest and the judging phase is always an interesting and complex process. I’ll try to remain as open as possible and sensible to what comes to me. I want to feel emotions—I don’t really care about technical skills (or at least this should not be the main aspect of the photo).

WB: Your most memorable sea life encounter?

BT: Swimming with humpback whales in Tahiti!

WB: The inspiration behind your book Turbulences?

BT: The ocean itself. It’s really the result of spending countless hours in the ocean, sometimes not even shooting or at least very few photos, but just being there, observing, meditating, and being submerged in the elements—it’s my vision of the ocean.

WB: The photo of yours other people tend to like the most?

BT: My photo Animal.

Ben Thouard photograph of a lone wave breaking against the background of stormy skies.

WB: A photo that represents the power of the ocean?

BT: My photo titled The Fight

Ben Thouard photograph of a surer pulled underwater and caught in a crashing wave. His leash is being pulled into a cloud of rushing water.
The Fight

WB: The first photo you took that moved you emotionally?

BT: My photo of Landon McNamara underwater at Teahupo’o, Silver Surfer.

Ben Thouard photo of a surfer on shot from below and behind the wave
Silver Surfer

WB: A shot you would show someone who had never seen the ocean before?

BT: My photo called My World.

Ben Thouard photography called My World of an underwater scene. Light shines down into dark blue depths.
My World