Clark Little - Making Waves

Discover what’s under the surface of his internationally recognized art.

Photography by Clark Little

Interview with one of the best surf photographers in the world, Clark Little

FINE magazine: Were you a good student in school? What was your favorite subject?

Clark Little: I was an okay student. I went to school and attended the classes, but it didn’t really excite me. My best subjects were PE, of course, and math. In some ways, I felt like my best subject was oceanography, which I experienced in the field at the famed surf breaks on the North Shore of Oahu.

Clark Little Recent Interview
Clark Little - "Heart" photographed at The Wedge - Newport Beach, CA

FINE: What attracted you to surfing?

Little: It started when I was 4 or 5. My parents got us [Clark and his brother] some surf lessons. Once you experience surfing, not too many other things in life are as interesting and engaging. Where I live on the North Shore, surfing is a sport, as well as a lifestyle.

Clark Little - North Shore of Oahu, HI
Clark Little taking a photograph on the North Shore of Oahu, HI.

FINE: Your fearless process of capturing the movement of the ocean is unconventional. It’s dangerous. Do you think artistic expression is sometimes best suited to a lack of convention?

Little:  I grew up with “danger” and adrenaline always being a part of the sports that I did. When I started photography it just felt natural to have the same element and level of danger and adrenaline present. I probably approach photography more as a sport. The danger aspect keeps me focused and loose and helps me be creative. When the conditions are extreme, I am laser-focused, yet my brain feels wide open to the present moment.

Clark Little - Dancing Honu Photograph
Clark Little - “Dancing Honu” photographed on the North Shore of Oahu, HI.

FINE: What is the best part of being a respected artist/photographer?

Little: It’s great to have people appreciate your artwork and be just as excited as I am about it. I am thankful every day to be able to make a living doing what I love. I have been able to travel to Brazil, Japan, Canada, up and down the coast of California, Washington D.C. and all of the main islands in Hawaii because of my photography. To see [my] photography appear in magazines such as National Geographic, to exhibit some images and win an award at the Smithsonian Museum, and to be able to see my shots in Apple stores and ads is wild—it’s wild to see how much has changed in just six years.

Clark Little in Tahiti
Clark Little - “Tahiti” photographed at Tahiti, French Polynesia.

FINE: What are you trying to communicate through your photography? Is it emotional? Spiritual? Something else?

Little: It is many things including emotional and spiritual. What I want people to see is the beauty in nature, especially from a place where they might not otherwise be able to visit themselves. I want to open people’s eyes to a dangerous environment filled with color, shapes and intrigue. I also want people to slow down and examine things carefully. A lot of my shots are captured with passion—my passion for the ocean and especially shorebreak waves—so I want that conveyed too.

Clark Little - Twilight Photograph
Clark Little - “Twilight” photographed on the North Shore of Oahu, HI.

FINE: What was the biggest challenge you faced while putting your new book together?

Little: It felt like building a house. You are creating something from nothing, so the amount of time and effort is tremendous. So many decisions—so much to consider. Much more than anyone can imagine. Just selecting the images took months.

Clark Little - Malibu Peer Photograph
Clark Little - “Malibu Peer” photographed in Malibu, CA.

FINE: How is the new book an evolution from, “The Shorebreak Art of Clark Little” ? What can people expect to see?

Little: Since the last book was published four years ago, I have done a lot of traveling for exhibits, events and commercial projects. The new book has photographs from many other shore-break locations besides the North Shore of Oahu, including Japan, French Polynesia, California and the main neighbor islands in Hawaii: Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. I have also included some detailed descriptions of certain images. It’s much more in depth than the first book. I have also done more work with my strobe flash and done more experimenting, so the variety feels much greater.

Clark Little - Double Mint Photograph
Clark Little - “Double Mint” photographed on the North Shore of Oahu, HI.

FINE: What are some of the most important lessons art/photography has taught you throughout your career?

Little: Be in the moment and don’t get too far ahead of yourself. At any moment, you can get that shot. It might be a cloudy day with the wrong winds, and two minutes later the sun pops out and the wind dies. Even days with really small waves, can bring out a magical shot. I never write off any moment. This can be carried over to my life outside photography as well.

Clark Little - Ocean Eagle Photograph
Clark Little - "Ocean Eagle” photographed on the North Shore of Oahu, HI.

FINE: What has been the most rewarding part of your career?

Little: The most rewarding part has been seeing my photography spread around the world. Also, the unique opportunities I have been given—I was really excited when I got a spread in National Geographic, the Ocean Photography Award and two pieces on exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum and doing the photography project for Apple in Tahiti.

Clark Little - Chariots of Fire Photograph
Clark Little - "Chariots of Fire” photographed on the North Shore of Oahu, HI.

FINE: What do you hope your art communicates to the future?

Little: I just want people to feel the passion that I feel and experience a glimpse of the beauty that I get to surround myself with in the ocean. If people can get inspired to pursue their passion or to find something in their life with passion...that’s what I would hope for.

Clark Little - Tropic Flow Photograph
Clark Little - "Tropic Flow” photographed on the North Shore of Oahu, HI.