Passionate newbie wins renowned surf photography contest

Carve Magazine Surf Photography Competition in 2022
(Image credit: Sean Pritchard -Carve Magazine Surf Photography Competition in 2022)

Born and raised in Swansea, Wales, in the UK, Sean Pritchard has always felt an affinity for the waves both as a photographer and a surfer. Whether riding them or shooting them, Pritchard has traveled all over the world chasing his passion and even spent seven years as a resident in New Zealand.

In December 2022, Sean Pritchard was named the 2022 Carve Magazine Surf Photography of the Year for his stunning shot Shoot the Pier. It captures a surfer at sunrise riding a wave just before he dips under the stanchions of New Brighton Pier taken when Pritchard was living in Christchurch, New Zealand.

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But photography competitions are new territory for Pritchard who only entered his first one last year. Photography in itself is a relatively new full-time passion, he might've owned a camera since the age of 15 but it was the pandemic that spurred him on to take it more seriously. We caught up with the newly crowned winner to find out how it feels to win his first competition and whether his passion for surfing or photography came first.

Carve Magazine Surf Photography Competition in 2022
Sean Pritchard

Sean is a freelance photographer based in Swansea, South Wales inspired by travel, surfing, people I meet, places he visits, and the spontaneous nature of photography. I was originally born and raised in Swansea, South Wales but have lived and worked in various countries around the world. I’m fortunate to be a permanent resident of New Zealand and called New Zealand home for 7 years between 2015-2022

Have you always been a surf photographer?

What is it about the sport that excites you?

I have loved both surfing and photography for a very long time, but I wasn't always a surf photographer. After spending so much time at the beach, it was only a matter of time before two of my favorite passions combined. Surfing is an incredible sport that is surrounded by great culture, it will take you to amazing destinations and allow you to meet some inspiring people.

What equipment do you use?

I’m currently using Canon mirrorless equipment, along with a mix of Canon RF prime, zoom, and telephoto lenses. I prefer shooting at a wider focal length that takes in more of the landscape and environment than getting in super close to the tight action. I also still try to shoot on film as much as possible, but in the digital age, I’ll admit I’m less patient about waiting for my images to be developed.

Do you remember a time you've had to have a lot of patience to capture a photo or go out in terrible conditions?

Shooting anything that moves takes a lot of patience! Not every wave is going to be perfect, surfers can fall over and there can be a long wait between good waves.

As much as I would love to be shooting perfect waves in Indonesia, and enjoying the tropical weather, the reality of photographing in Wales is that the conditions are often difficult. It rains a lot, and it’s persistently windy and cold! However, when you’re from Wales those conditions are what you grow to love, and if you get a good day there’s no place you’d rather be.

Carve Magazine Surf Photography Competition in 2022

(Image credit: Sean Pritchard)

Have you won any photography competitions before and if not, how did it feel?

I haven’t won any photography competitions before. The Carve surf photography competition was the first time my work received recognition.

I only started to enter the odd photography competition at the end of 2021. So, this was the first time I had entered this particular competition. It was incredible to win. Photography is very subjective so to have your work judged and come out on top is unbeatable. The standard of photography within surfing is high, and it is a true honor to be recognized in this way.

After surfing, what else do you most enjoy to photograph?

I also enjoy landscape and wildlife photography. Hiking is a favourite hobby of mine, and these styles of photography complement this hobby well.

I have been fortunate enough live and work in some beautiful countries. The majority of my landscape and wildlife photography is inspired by the incredible scenery and nature from Wales and New Zealand.

Have you got any tips for anyone trying to break into the world of sports photography?

Don’t be afraid to start. Just get out there and get shooting. We could go on all day about the best equipment and perfect shutter speed but none of that matters if you’re not out there doing what you love.

Often, you’ll find that some amazing shots are taken by photographers that aren’t professionals and don’t have top-of-the-range gear! All you need is a great eye for the moment and to be in the right place at the right time.

Whatever the sport, people are always happy to see photos of them in action.

What have been your biggest obstacles to overcome?

The most difficult thing for me was taking the initial step and putting myself out there. This is something I believe many creatives contend with. I struggled for years with notions like “Their photos are better than mine” or “They’ve been doing it for years”.

Although I have been photographing for over 15 years, I only truly started to pursue photography in more depth in 2021 as a result of Covid. Once you realize that everyone must start somewhere and you are doing it because it makes you happy, those anxieties no longer matter.

Are you a surfer yourself?

Yes! Often the biggest problem I have is whether to go surfing or take photos first. Most trips to the beach often result in both.

Surfing and photography are similar in many respects. For me, the primary benefit is the mindfulness that they both provide. Whether you are riding a wave or taking a photo you are completely in the moment and nothing else matters. That’s the best feeling there is.

Carve Magazine Surf Photography Competition in 2022

(Image credit: Sean Pritchard)

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.