An ex-surfer has turned his passion for the ocean into a profession after becoming a photographer of waves. His careful compositions showcase the jaw-dropping spender of walls of water beautifully backlit by the rising sun.
Based in the small seaside town of Margate in South Africa, Terence Pieters has been a marine photographer for two decades, ever since an injury caused him to have chronic shoulder issues and forced him to hang up his surfboard.
He shared about his niche with The Epoch Times.
“The waves break really close, and when the waves are big it’s an impressive spectacle,” said Pieters, who goes by the moniker Orange Rocks, named after a well-known fishing spot near his home.
“I like to think I was always meant to be an ocean photographer,” he said. “When I was young, around 11 or 12, I remember I would make a small opening with my hands while I was out in the ocean, surfing. I would peep through and look at parts of the breaking waves … the way they formed, it just seemed like uncontrolled precision. Every wave had a mind of its own. I wanted to pause these moments and look at them for longer.”
Pieters begins each photoshoot by preparing a week in advance; studying weather forecasts, cloud cover, tides, wind direction, wind speed, wave size, wave interval, and wave direction. The night before the shoot, he makes his best guess as to the optimal position for photography, then sets his alarm for two hours before sunrise.
On arriving, he dons his wetsuit and fins for treading water and wades out into the sea. “I make the swim into the ocean all before sunrise, so that I am able to capture the waves interacting with the rising sun, which often has the most outrageous colors magnified by the reflection of the water,” Pieters said. “Those are the moments that are truly unexplainable with words, so I let my images tell the story.”
Pieters hopes his pictures will evoke the same awe in his audience that he feels shooting these waves at sunrise, knowing most people will “never be able to experience the ocean and waves” as he does.
His biggest challenge is trying to stay anchored in one place while taking photos, as currents often send him drifting in different directions. Another challenge is keeping water and condensation off the camera lens.
He has an “unusual setup” using a Sony A6400 camera and Sony 50mm F1.8 lens protected by a waterproof case. A leash connects the equipment to his body in case a large wave knocks the camera out of his hand.
Pieters’s growing portfolio of ocean photography attests to a lifelong love of the ocean.
“My earliest memory was from around age 5,” he said. “I was going to the beach with my dad, I would wait on the shore while he went crayfish diving.” At age 6, he started going to the beach with his sister, who was already surfing by that time. “It looked like the best thing to do,” he said. “We would hang out at the lifeguard tower all day, going in and out of the ocean.”
After Pieters dislocated his shoulder twice while surfing in 2013, he had surgery in 2015. But after a “long and painful” recovery, surfing no longer felt right for his body.
“I got into traditional photography first, taking photos of everything and anything, even before my shoulder problem,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to be: a photographer.
“I decided to take photos of the waves, instead.”
Besides ephemeral waves at sunrise, Pieters loves photographing lightning storms over the ocean. He is exhilarated by the booming of thunder in the distance signaling an electrical storm. He treasures his most memorable instance of photographing lightning, which involved battling the wind and rain for hours to capture lightning strikes on the ocean surface.
“After about three hours of constant struggle, I managed to capture a huge bolt of lighting as well as my local beach illuminated by the strike,” he said. “I uploaded it to social media that same night, and it became very popular very quickly. It was well worth the hours of struggle!”
Pieters shares his work on his website and Instagram page and garners reactions of shock, joy, and sometimes disbelief from his followers.
“I get a lot of questions about how it is possible—and that I am extremely brave,” the photographer said. “Many people had no idea about the beauty the ocean holds until they came across my images.”
He added, “I have had a lot of heartwarming comments, but the one that stands out is a lady that had been going through a tough patch in her life and said that viewing my images had made her happy for the first time in months. Comments like that really make what I do even more rewarding.”
Beyond sharing joy, he hopes his photos will instill a reverence for the sea, calling the amount of plastic floating in the oceans “unacceptable.”
Anyone wanting to try ocean photography should become a confident swimmer first, Pieters recommends. The magic of the ocean awaits. “Shoot what you’re passionate about,” he said.
(Courtesy of Terence Pieters)
(Courtesy of Terence Pieters)
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