Surf Photographer Profile: Franck Berthuot

January 21, 2012, 8:05 PM HST · Updated January 24, 4:49 PM
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By Madeline Ziecker

Franck Berthuot arriving at Hookipa Beach for a mid-morning windsurf photo session. Photo by Madeline Ziecker.

Every once and a while, on an island where waves provide jobs, a water photographer will emerge out of the blue with breathtaking images that mix fine art with the timelessness of unique moments caught in the surf.

Many agree that Franck Berthuot is one of those photographers.

Berthuot met with Maui Now to speak about how he went from a passionate surf and photo hobbyist to a highly-sought  surf, water, and fine art photographer who is internationally recognized.

Hookipa sunset. Photo by Franck Berthuot.

Hookipa sunset. Photo by Franck Berthuot.

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MN: How did you get started in surf photography? 

Berthuot: By mistake actually about two years ago. I moved to Maui a long time ago to windsurf and three years ago I injured my back.

To recover I had to swim a lot and I was already in love with surfing and windsurfing, so starting water photography came to me in a natural way.

I had a Canon 40D and some basic equiptment, so I just  bought a housing and got started.

Even though I didn’t know too much about photography I just fell in love with it and started going in the water to shoot photos every day for hours and I learned everything that way.

MN: How long ago did you move to Maui from France, and why?

Berthuot: Eleven years ago, for windsurfing. I wanted to quit the big city in Paris and the stressful job, so I came here to escape all of that.

Berthuot's underwater photo partner, Giora Koren. Photo by Franck Berthuot.

MN: What did you do on Maui before you started taking photos as your full-time job? 

Berthuot: I had a travel agency here called Maui Connections and I brought a lot of European contacts here. It’s now run by my girlfriend Sarah because I don’t have any more time with photography as my main focus.

I was also a partner with the local surf company Kazuma, but in the end I had to choose between Kazuma and photography, so I left the company even though it was a really good experience working with them.

MN: What were some of your most memorable surf photo shoots?

Berthuot: Well one of my best memories is when I got my first photo published in a magazine. This is a really nice feeling  because you are being appreciated in the business world for what you do for passion.

Another best for me is to shoot surfers on vacation because they are really stoked for the photos.

MN: What’s an average day like for you as a full-time surf photographer?

Giora Koren and Franck Berthuot checking out conditions at Hookipa Beach. Photo by Madeline Ziecker.

Berthuot: It’s pretty much waking up super early, having a double espresso, and trying to follow the light for the rest of the day.

I try to get to Hookipa by 6:30 so that I’m ready by 7:30 when the sun is up.

I jump in the water if it’s good and if it’s not I just come back home and edit photos on my computer.

Taking photos is one thing but there is a lot of work in editing and contacting surfers by email to sell the photos.

When the wind picks up, usually around 11 a.m., I am back in the water at Hookipa to photograph windsurfers.

Sometimes if I’m doing underwater model shots I will go to the south side when the water is very clear in the morning or early evening.

MN: What are your future plans for your photography business on Maui?

Berthuot: Actually I will be moving in May to New York for part of the year to build up bigger brand clients and then I will hopefully bring them to Maui to do more ocean-related shoots here.

I am currently working with Giora Koren, who will take over my business in taking photos of people doing water sports on vacation, Maui Water Shoot.

Dave Wassel at Jaws. Photo by Franck Berthuot.

MN: What is the biggest challenge for you as a surf photographer?

Berthuot: The business end of it, being able to connect with clients and sell photos.

Even if you get great images, you need to find a balance where you can do your passion and also make a living from it.

Being a surf photographer is actually a real business, it’s not only pressing the shutter.

MN: What local surf companies have you shot for?

Berthuot: I’ve shot here now on a regular basis for two years with Quatro and Goya and I’ve also worked with Dakine.

Video-wise I’ve worked with Oxbow, which is a French-based company that represents locally here as well.

MN: What is your technique for capturing rapid and unique moments of surfers from underwater?

Berthuot: I’m always trying to get really unique framing and images instead of just waiting in the water, hoping to be in the right place. I see a lot of water photographers who don’t move too much, and I always try to anticipate the sets, the rider’s moves, and what’s going to happen in the next ten seconds. That’s what puts me in the right place.

I could stay in the water for four hours just to get the particular shot I want. This is what I like about it so much, the challenge.

Dakine windsurfer Elena Pompei Angulo prepping for a Dakine photo shoot with Franck Berthuot at Hookipa. Photo by Madeline Ziecker

I think it’s necessary to be a wind surfer or surfer to go into surf photography because you need to understand the ocean, the riders, and what they are going to do.

MN: How much gear do you need for one of your surf shoots?

Berthuot: You don’t need much actually but for sure you need a helmet, especially if you shoot windsurfing because it is really dangerous when you’re at the heart of the action. People are coming at you at 25 knots, so it can be pretty dangerous if they go out of control.

You also need a pair of fins to fight the currents, a wetsuit to stay warm, a camera with a wide-angle lens, and a housing.

As far as creating the images, it’s not so much the equipment that counts as much as placement and creativity.

MN: What is a recent surf shoot that you’ve done that you’re particularly proud of?

Berthuot: Well we had a really good day last week at Jaws. I shot from the cliff, which is not as  creative as going underwater, but I got some really timeless images of a few riders and I’m really happy with that.

MN: Do you think that you ever would have developed your passions of photography and surf into a business if you hadn’t moved to Maui?

Berthuot: No – everything came from windsurfing at Hookipa on the North Shore, which is such a unique place because the whole world is coming there to surf and windsurf. Taking photos of people surfing there was the start of everything for me in photography.

To see more of Frank Berthuot’s images, visit the Berthuot Visuals Facebook Page.

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