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Oscar Hetherington Wins International Surf Photography Award

New Zealand’s Oscar Hetherington has won the world’s most prestigious surf photography contest, when it was announced that he had won the Follow The Light Surf Photography Grant award a few days ago at Laguna Beach, California.

The awards are held each year to honour the late Larry “Flame Moore, who was photo editor at Surfing Magazine in the USA for more than three decades. Flame, named for his shock of red hair, was pivotal in guiding new photographers into the world of surf photography.

Oscar Hetherington is the first New Zealander to win the prestigious international surf photography grant award.

We caught up with Oscar while he was still reeling from such a significant win. Here’s what he had to say:

NZSJ: Tell us about Follow The Light and what it means to be the first Kiwi ever to win this surf photography competition.

OSCAR HETHERINGTON: Follow The Light is a surf grant programme that is run annually for surf photographers under the age of 25 in memory of Larry Moore (Flame) who was one of California’s pioneers in water photography. Put simply, it’s arguably the biggest Surf Photography Award in the world for young surf photographers. It’s very highly respected as most of the previous winners have gone on to become some of the biggest names in surf photography.

This win means a huge amount to me. To win and to be the first New Zealander to win is incredible. It’s important because we have some great waves, talented surfers and a great surf culture, yet it goes largely unnoticed internationally.

I’m by no means trying to blow up New Zealand surf spots, but I just want to show the world that we can hold our own and represent our country and people within the surfing world. I guess being first from New Zealand also means that I’ve shown other young photographers and surfers alike that, with a lot of hard work and passion, you can be recognised at an international level and show the next generation that you can create your own pathway.

NZSJ: Your images have a very surreal feel to them, yet seem to breathe the essence of your generation. How did you achieve that and is it a conscious thing, or does it just happen?

OSCAR HETHERINGTON: When I shoot I have a clear goal in mind, but I don’t consciously push things. Most of the places I shoot have been shot before, so I like to try and find a different angle or approach to show the scene the way I see it.

I like to think that if I shoot a wave, like Pipeline or the likes, I’d be able to show it in a new way and often that means missing 100 good shots in order to get one great shot that really stands out. My approach is often simple, too. A lot of my images have single colour pallets or minimalist compositions as I aim to show one thing really well. For a while, I tried to shoot the perfect wave, with an amazing sunrise, a surfer, dolphins, mountains, etc, etc. To show all of that in one image seems like too much to me. I like to show things simply, but dramatically. Whether it’s a lifestyle image or a surf shot, the same rules apply.

Photo: Oscar Hetherington

NZSJ: What’s your goal with your photography?

OSCAR HETHERINGTON: I kind of touched on that earlier, but I guess furthermore my goal is to produce a fine-art style of work. The question I ask myself when I shoot and edit an image, to see if it’s up to my standard, is “Could it be printed, framed and hung on someone’s wall in their house?” If it fits that simple rule then it generally evokes a feeling and is unique and powerful as a single image with no other context.

In saying that context does help carry some images further. Long term my goals are to travel the world and shoot waves, and professional surfers and to shoot for some surf-adventure brands. I love the places my camera takes me and the adventure of shooting in the water, or in remote spots is what keeps me hooked.

NZSJ: The Follow The Light Surf Photography Grant award is designed to help a young photographer propel their career forward. So, tell us what is it that you won?

OSCAR HETHERINGTON: I won $ 7,500 USD as the Grand Prize, plus a new Fujifilm camera and lens, a water housing from AquaTech Imaging Solutions and a paid working opportunity with Billabong. They’re some pretty amazing prizes and undoubtedly the biggest win in my view is the exposure into the surf world and the opportunities that may arise from being added to a list of legends within the surf industry.

Photo: Oscar Hetherington

NZSJ: Any advice for young photographers just starting out?

OSCAR HETHERINGTON: My main two pieces of advice is to shoot what you love and what you like to see, not what others want to see. And, secondly, just remember that hard work pays off.

Photo: Oscar Hetherington
Photo: Oscar Hetherington

NZSJ: Anyone to thank?

OSCAR HETHERINGTON: A big thank you to everyone who has helped and supported me over the past 8 years as a photographer, including my friends and family. Also, thanks to the people I’ve had the privilege of shooting with and the previous winners of Follow The Light as they are my main source of inspiration as a photographer.

I also want to say a massive thank you to Summer and Don Meek and the rest of the Follow The Light board and judges for this opportunity and for supporting young surf photographers. Everyone behind this event is a volunteer so they simply do it because they like helping people and want to carry on Larry Moore’s legacy.

Lastly, I’m looking forward to what the future has in store and I am keen to see where my camera takes me.

NZSJ: Thanks Oscar, this is a well-deserved win. We are stoked for you, mate.

OSCAR HETHERINGTON: Thank you, also.

About the Follow the Light Foundation

Shortly after legendary surf photographer and 30-year photo editor of Surfing Magazine Larry “Flame” Moore’s passing in October 2005 a group of friends and family formed the Follow the Light Foundation. Their goal was to ensure that Flame’s legacy of passionately supporting up-and-coming surf photographers, through his role at the eminent magazine and his passion for the craft, continued.

Supported by some of the most iconic surf brands, the Follow The Light Surf Photography Grant has been a game-changer for some of today’s most important and talented photographers.

FTL is dedicated to honouring this next generation through an annual grant program that also includes an awards presentation ceremony highlighting the work of each of the five finalists.

FTL is part of U.S. Board Riders Clubs a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organisation.

Previous Follow the Light Recipients Include:
2006 Chris Burkard
2007 Matthew Clark
2008 Todd Glaser
2009 Ray Collins
2010 Morgan Massen
2011 Duncan MacFarlane
2012 Shawn Parkin
2013 Trevor Moran
2014 Ryan Craig
2015 Seth de Roulet
2019 Nick Green
2020 Paul Greene
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