The Fight | Photography by Ben Thouard

Diving in with Ben Thouard

presented by Boxed Water

A look into Ben’s journey through the Whalebone Photo Contest Journey

Not our first rodeo when it comes to The Whalebone Photo Contest. But it’s also not French photographer Ben Thouard’s first rodeo either. From entrant to finalist to judge, Ben has been involved in quite a few rounds of this thing. So in preparation for the 2023 Photo Contest, we figured we would swim out to the break and pick his brain on any tips or tricks he has for entrants this year.

Portrait of French photographer Ben Thouard in the ocean
© Ben Thouard | Photo by Zak Noyle

As previously mentioned, Ben was a finalist in the Water Category of the 2022 Photo Contest. Though the categories change slightly each year, Water is one that always seems to make the cut. This year, The Water Category is presented by our friends over at Boxed Water. A company that works to eliminate single-use plastic by offering water in recyclable cartons. Seems to all add up. Whalebone was fortunate enough to peek behind Ben’s lens on all things water and photography. *shutter click*

What led you to get into photography? Was surfing/ocean photography the path you originally started on when you picked up a camera for the first time?

My first real interaction with a camera was when I was around 14 years old and I found an old camera from my father at home. It really attracted me so I decided to buy a few films and started shooting. Being a surfer since a young age, sure enough, I took it to the beach immediately and started shooting ocean, waves and surfers. That passion never left me since, and even grew bigger than I could imagine.

Where in the world is your favorite place to photograph surfers? 

Definitely Teahupo’o, Tahiti. I’ve been living here for 15 years, but I’ve dedicated the last ten years or so to shooting underwater photos of the waves and the surfers and I think Teahupoo is one of the best places on Earth for that. Since I put my head underwater at Teahupo’o I could not believe what I saw, yet I’m still in awe during every shoot. 

French Photographer Ben Thouard taking underwater photos
© Ben Thouard

If you had to describe your style of photography through a song, what would it be? 

“Feels Like Rain” by John Hiatt 

A moment you were shooting that took your breath away? 

When I shot the cover of my book SURFACE—the clarity and the sheet glass that day were beyond reality. 

What led you to enter The 2021 Whalebone Photo Contest? How did you decide which photos of yours you were going to enter?

I heard about the contest too late in 2020 so I knew I wanted to submit some photos in 2021. Of course, I wanted to enter the water category and submit my underwater photos of surfers and turbulence, but I also had a few strong photos of waves (from above the surface). I’m super happy my photo ‘CURVES’ became a finalist. I’ve imagined that photo for many years where I could shoot the portrait of a wave but from a profile angle. And if I may say—it’s not at all easy to get that kind of angle where everything aligns. Not to mention the wave is much bigger than it looks. 

CURVES by Ben Thouard
© Ben Thouard | CURVES

What are the top three things you looked for as a judge when on the 2022 Photo Contest judging panel?

Emotions, innovation, and beauty. 

Something you took away or learned from being a judge in the 2022 Photo Contest? 

I realized how important it is to transmit and capture emotions through your photographs. I mean beauty is nice, performance and technical knowledge are something else, but emotion wins overall. And it became the number one rule in photography—trying to share the emotions I feel when I’m underwater through my photographs. 

ANIMAL by Ben Thouard | image of singular wave in stormy ocean
© Ben Thouard

Advice you have for anyone entering the Photo Contest this year? 

Nowadays so many photos are being shot every day, it’s crazy, beautiful, and very surprising stuff. But sometimes, simple stuff is what remains pure and that will touch the judges more. So even though I’m repeating myself, think about emotions. We need to feel the moment. It’s not easy but that’s my creed as a photographer and when selecting my work or judging others.  

Check out the past winners of The Whalebone Photo Contest for Photographers: 2020, 2021, or 2022

Stay tuned for the 2023 winners in the latest Photo Issue of Whalebone Magazine coming out in April.

To see more of Ben’s work, check out his most recent book Turbulences, featuring a number of photographs taken from Teahupo’o.

Turbulences by Ben Thouard