Benjamin Thouard

A surfer almost engulfed by a wave, in a dramatic shot taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II by Canon Ambassador Benjamin Thouard.

Two-time Australian Pro Junior Champion Adrian Buchan escapes a closing wave at Teahupo'o, a village on the southwestern coast of the island of Tahiti. Benjamin Thouard's photo was the overall winner at Red Bull Illume in 2019. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/1250 sec, f/7.1 and ISO 400. © Benjamin Thouard

Driven by a desire as wild and powerful as the ocean itself, surf photographer Benjamin Thouard is always chasing waves, trying to get the perfect shot. "I love ocean photography so much because I'm in my element, moving with the water; it feels like meditation to me," he says.

Born and raised in Toulon on France's Mediterranean coast, Ben's love affair with the ocean started when he was very young. "My dad had a sailboat, so I would always spend my weekends and holidays on board it," he recalls. "When I was about eight years old, my older brothers took me surfing and that's how my passion for waves started." His passion for photography came later, when Ben was in his teens and discovered his father's old film camera. "I was instantly hooked," he smiles. "I bought a few film rolls and started photographing my friends surfing in coastal environments."

In 2004, Ben moved to Paris to enrol in photography school, but found that being in a landlocked city so far away from the ocean didn't appeal to him. "I enjoyed photography school a lot, but being in Paris was the issue for me; not being near the ocean made no sense. I kept asking myself, 'What am I even doing here?'" he says. "So I quit school and flew to Hawaii in 2006, and that's where I started as a professional photographer. I couldn't afford underwater housing for my camera, so I built it myself."

Although Ben started out shooting watersports, he soon realised he wanted to capture the perfect wave, so he moved to Tahiti in French Polynesia, where he has lived for the past 15 years. "I was enamoured with surfing magazines as a child, and I remember my parents had a famous French photobook which also included scientific explanations behind the formation of waves," he explains. "I would go through the photobook every day, so that passion for chasing and photographing waves came naturally."

A headshot of Canon Ambassador Benjamin Thouard.
Location: Tahiti, French Polynesia

Specialist areas of photography: Ocean, surf, underwater

Favourite kit: Canon EOS R5
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM
A surfer in the middle of a crashing wave, shot with a long exposure to blur the movement of the water, taken on a Canon EOS-1D X by Canon Ambassador Benjamin Thouard.

Tahitian surfer Matahi Drollet photographed at full speed in the west bowl of Teahupo'o. "When you're shooting continuously, you end up with thousands of photos, but I don't import all of them to my computer," Ben explains. "I insert the memory card, pull up the photos and then select only the ones I want, and that's what I've been doing for four years. That way, you know what you've shot and understand how a particular lens got a particular shot. I don't heavily edit my photos either – the ocean is raw, so when you see a photo of it, that should also be raw and pure." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM) at 135mm, 1/10 sec, f/32 and ISO 100. © Benjamin Thouard

An underwater shot of a surfer holding his surfboard underwater as a wave goes over, taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II by Canon Ambassador Benjamin Thouard.

"When the surfer is paddling back out but a wave is coming in, he has to do what we call a 'duck dive' to make it under the wave with his board," says Ben. "That moment feels amazing; almost like levitating in the underwater world." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/8 and ISO 400. © Benjamin Thouard

Ben has made a name for himself as a renowned ocean photographer, having won several accolades including the prestigious 2022 Ocean Photographer of the Year award. He was also the 2019 Red Bull Illume Overall winner, Adventure Photographer of the Year in the 2021 Ocean Photography Awards, and the 2017 Canon Editor's Choice winner in the Sports and Nature categories.

A large wave and storm clouds move across the sea, in a shot taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II by Canon Ambassador Benjamin Thouard.

"As the storm was approaching, I took advantage of the very last minute before the chaos to capture this wave hitting a shallow reef in Tahiti," says Ben. "I called this image Animal, as it felt like an animal surging out of the water." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 130mm, 1/2000 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 100. © Benjamin Thouard

A close-up of a large wave, curving around and almost filling the shot, taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II by Canon Ambassador Benjamin Thouard.

"My goal here was to capture the shape of the wave like a profile photo," says Ben. "I've tried to capture this image for many years, and I finally achieved it using a 200mm lens with a 1.4x extender, allowing me to concentrate on the vertical part of the wave. The wave was actually much bigger, but it was so tight I couldn't zoom out, so I just shot really tight on the vertical. I'm in love with the simplicity, but also the power of this photo." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens and a Canon Extender EF 1.4x III at 280mm, 1/2500 sec, f/7.1 and ISO 400. © Benjamin Thouard

Being at one with the ocean would change anyone's life, and Ben now listens more to his emotions. "Standing on my father's boat as a kid, I had visions that we're all emotionally strong that I kept in my head," he smiles. "I realise now, many years later, that I'm trying to capture that feeling in my photos. It's challenging to try to evoke that same feeling, that raw emotion, in the viewer, but when you have an exhibition full of people admiring your photos, it's a wonderful feeling."

How did you build your own underwater housing?

"I had a Canon EOS-1V at the time. I used fibreglass to make the box that would house the camera. Flexiglass is very strong and can withstand the massive pressure underwater and while swimming, so I used that for the glass through which the camera could see. It was very exciting – I took the camera in the housing to the shore and put it in shallow water, but I was careful because I didn't want to drown my camera!"

What's the most dangerous situation you've found yourself in?

"It was when I captured the shot I call Animal (pictured above). I was swimming but when I went back to my jet ski to change lenses, I could see a storm approaching. In a minute, everything changed – it got really stormy, windy and scary. I fell off my jet ski and my gear went everywhere. I had to find my way back home after that, I was so disoriented. It was very dangerous, but I was super happy with the shot!"

How do you prepare yourself before going out to the ocean?

"I wake up in the morning, have my coffee and check the weather forecast. This has become my routine. That's the most basic thing to do before you go out. I also check the waves so that I can prepare my gear accordingly. If I'm shooting underwater, it's important that it hasn't rained on the days leading up to the shoot as that can lower the visibility. The wind is very important too. When there's no wind, you can see through the waves. The water is unpredictable, but that's the fun part."

One thing I know

Benjamin Thouard

"To be a good ocean photographer, you have to love the ocean and you need to know, understand and respect the elements. It's like if you want to climb a high mountain, you don't do it if you aren't prepared. I've been swimming my whole life, and sometimes I do have scary moments, so you have to be aware at all times. Learn to read the ocean and of course, be in good physical shape. Always be conscious of what you're doing, and be careful. You're in the ocean on your own, and you have to come back on your own, so do it for yourself, not for anybody else."

Instagram: @benthouard



Benjamin Thouard's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Canon Ambassador Benjamin Thouard's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS R5

Capture sensational 45MP photos at up to 20fps, or flick a switch for cinematic 12-bit 8K RAW video using the entire width of the camera's sensor. "The EOS R5 has become my everyday camera as I really love the resolution of the files as well as its lightweight body," says Ben. "I've been able to capture beautiful 4K 120fps footage of waves, and it's been a game changer for working in the water."

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

When conditions are tough, the light is poor but the pressure's on, the EOS-1D X Mark III lets you capture winning images before the competition. "It's the ultimate weapon when it comes to power and precision," says Ben. "I've used this camera in the most demanding conditions and it has always succeeded brilliantly."


Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM

A L-series fisheye zoom lens offering a choice of full frame or circular image and a wide angle of view. "As a surf photographer, the fisheye has always been part of my kit," says Ben. "It allows me to place myself in the barrel with the surfer to be as close as possible to the action, and still capture the environment around the athletes."

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

A premium quality ultra-wide-angle zoom lens, with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, for the highest image quality possible even in low light. "This lens became my go-to lens to shoot underwater as it has the perfect range," says Ben. "It allows you to capture an underwater scene, as well as zoom in and focus on details and textures."

Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM

The professional's wide-angle lens with L-series optics, with a fast f/1.4 aperture, ideal for low light. "This lens suits my needs for underwater shooting perfectly," says Ben. "The precision is amazing and the ability to open your aperture allows you to create a unique atmosphere underwater."

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

With its incredible f/1.2 maximum aperture, the super-fast EF 50mm f/1.2L USM is a consummate low-light performer. "If you don't own this piece of art, you're missing a lot," says Ben. "I shoot everything with this lens, from lifestyle to portrait, action to underwater."

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

This fast portrait lens delivers clear, sharp images full of contrast and colour with razor-sharp detail, ideal for high-resolution sensors. "This is a serious piece of glass," says Ben. "The bokeh from this lens is something else. I use it to capture fine details and textures of the ocean."

Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM

The ideal tool for capturing indoor sports in low light and for shooting portrait photography. "This lens creates unique compression in the depth of field, and it's small, light and very powerful," says Ben. "Combined with an f/2 aperture, it allows you to shoot details from a distance."

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

A workhorse telephoto zoom lens designed for professional use. "As an action photographer, I couldn't not own this lens," says Ben. "It's a must-have if you're travelling and shooting action and for so many other things. I use it from the boat to shoot surfing as well as in my underwater housing to shoot surfers. The range is perfect, the lens is very fast and the IS is really effective."

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x

A professional-grade 200-400mm f/4 lens with a built-in 1.4x extender that boosts focal lengths to 280-560mm, and a 4-stop Image Stabilizer that maximises sharpness. "The ultimate weapon when it comes to shooting from a distance, the range of this lens is incredible," says Ben. "For me, shooting from a boat or a jet ski and being able to zoom from 200mm to 560mm is a game changer. I think when you become a serious photographer, you won't regret investing in a serious piece of glass such as this."


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