The Essentials of Wave Photography

Photo tips, best gear, camera settings and photo essay on capturing epic wave shots from the water
By Ben Thouard

Wave photography has become a huge passion for me. Waves are fascinating; they are all different and provide an endless subject to photograph. When shooting waves, my goal is to make people feel the energy that can be found in the ocean thru the different shapes of the waves.

There are some unique moments out in the ocean, especially when the best light comes and changes it all! The light plays with the surface of the water, while the wave dressing up creates some unique reflections, shadows and forms that only a photo can translate. It all happens in a split second - a very short moment when the water looses gravity and delivers its raw power.

It’s so amazing to swim out there searching for those moments that it has become a drug to me.



Equipment for Wave Photography

To start shooting waves you need to get a bit of specialized equipment. Of course a camera and a lens are first on the list. I would suggest a 50mm to start, as everybody is shooting waves with a fisheye, and in the end, all those photos look the same. You’ll certainly get more results with a fisheye, but only a few of the photos will really stand out from all the others. I think a 50mm allows you to capture more details, reflections and shapes of the wave.

Next you need a housing designed to shoot waves in the surf - not a dive housing. Surf housings are much lighter than dive housings and use a pistol grip that allows you to hold the housing with one hand and continue shooting the wave above your head while you begin diving under. Surf housings are also built to resist heavy impacts from the lip of the wave.

I've been using Aquatech underwater housings for the last 8 years, and even though there are a few others on the market, they are definitely my favorite out there. They are light, functional, and very safe for your camera. You can order a front port for any lens you’d like to use in the water as well as a flash housing if you’d like to light up some photos. Note that they use speedlight flashes instead of the underwater strobes common for scuba diving.

Lastly, Aquatech housings are not only surf housings - they can also be used in many other situations from the surface to 33 feet deep. I've shot a ton of whales and other marine animals in Tahiti and the surf housing works perfectly.


Here is my set up for wave photography. I use 2 Aquatech housings and just a pair of fins.

A Delphin housing for the Canon EOS 1DX mII here with a 24mm.

A Elite housing for the Canon EOS 5DSR here with a 50mm.

I mostly shoot with fixed lenses as it forces you to think about the frame you want to get and the position to be in. That's my preference, but you can also use almost any zoom lens with a zoom gear.


Check out our favorite Aquatech housings and accessories.



Wave Photography Techniques

So let’s go back to shooting waves. You need to learn (if you don’t know already) how breaks a wave to be able to get into the right position to shoot it. It could be very dangerous if you are in the wrong place and get surprised by a wave.

It is best to shoot waves early morning or late afternoon as the light gets low. You’ll get many more reflections and details on the surface of the water. And if you manage to get the right angle, you’ll get some reflections of the sun on the wave, and that’s when it starts to be interesting.

After that it’s a question of timing, searching for great waves, waiting for the right conditions and countless hours swimming in the waves with your camera.

It's fascinating and always different!







About the Author

I’m Ben Thouard, a watersport photographer based in Tahiti for 8 years. I mostly shoot surfing, however I love spending time in the ocean shooting a bunch of different things. I now dedicate a lot of my time to shooting empty waves because I love it - it’s fascinating. All the waves are different and the light you can capture reflecting on the surface of the ocean is amazing. Check out more of my work here:


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