Surfer turned wave photographer

Titled "Twister," this image won the Oceans Photography Award in 2010. It will be on exhibit at the Smithsonian starting April 16. Clark Little

In October 2010, Clark Little won the Oceans Photography Award at the Nature's Best Photography competition for his image, "Twister," which captured a Hawaiian shorebreak. The winning photos from those awards -- include 17 others given to photographers shooting wildlife, landscapes and more -- will be on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. from April 16 through Sept. 25, 2011. This is the first time Little's work has been on exhibit on the East Coast.

Last Friday, Little had his first-ever solo exhibition at Seattle's Evo Timesinfinity Gallery, which is currently displaying 20 prints on canvas until April 30.

Little made a name for himself as a pioneer of surfing Hawaii's Waimea Bay shorebreak in the 1980s and 90s. He first started shooting pictures of waves in 2007.

"To win an award and then show my work in the Smithsonian in the nation's capital was not even in my wildest dreams in 2007 when I picked up a camera," Little says. "This is my biggest honor so far. Until this, my peak was having a two page spread published in National Geographic last summer. I didn't think I could surpass that."

Little also received a runner's up nomination for the Endangered Species category for his image, titled "Flying Honu," of endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles swimming in waves. That image, as well as his winning wave photo, will be on exhibit at the Smithsonian. "With the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History being one of the most attended museums in the world, it is very exciting to have two of my images on exhibit there for six months this year," he said.

Although Little comes from a surfing background, most of his shots are of just waves, without surfers in them. "Even when I used to go surfing a lot, I usually surfed in places like the shorebreak where nobody else wanted to be surfing," Little says. "Where I shoot is the shorebreak. This is where the wave breaks right on the beach. It is very different from most of the surfing shots you see in the magazines, which show people surfing farther away from the beach. Very few surfers will go out in the shorebreak to surf because it is very quick and dangerous with a narrow window for error."

To capture the images, Little uses the knowledge and comfort in the water that he acquired through years as a surfer. "Positioning yourself in the right place and then escaping the wave after it collapses requires years of surfing and wave knowledge," Little says. "Timing and quick reflexes are essential. On the big days, body strength, a calm head and the ability to hold your breath for a long time become critical to survival."

Little will be presented with his award at a ceremony at the Smithsonian Museum on May 3.