Meet Ocean Photographer Terence Pieters
A Q&A with the photographer behind CTC&G's June 2023 cover.
An ocean baby from age six, Terence Pieters grew up an avid surfer on the east coast of South Africa. He studied photography after school and was never far from the water—swimming, working on cruise ships and sailing the world. When a shoulder injury restricted surfing, he converted to photographing the ocean. Wearing a wet suit, equipped only with fins and a lightweight Sony camera encased in waterproof housing, he records the complex waterscape. “I try to capture the effortless movement of water and the way it interacts with other natural elements such as light and wind—the complementary sense of peace and calmness they create,” he says. A minute’s drive from the sea and the orange rock coast selected for his company name, the garden cottage he shares with shepherd dogs Bella and Brutus is equipped with computers where he downloads and sort through 5,000–10,000 shots per excursion to make prints that are sold locally and online at orangerocks.store.
What is your fascination with waves?
Every time a wave breaks, it is unique. Although it follows a similar pattern, it has an independent mind of its own. Many variables affect how they break— size, depth, floor type, wind, whether it’s breaking near rocks or in a bay. Waves are similar to people—they are all different and influenced by their surroundings.
What is your procedure?
I start studying the weather charts—wind direction and speed, clouds, the swell—a week in advance. Then I get up at 4:45 a.m. for coffee. I have to be there 20 minutes before the sun comes up to put on my wetsuit. Then I’m out about two hours, one to five times a week—sometimes three to four days in a row. The longest I’ve ever spent out is four hours.
How deep is the water?
It depends on the location. From the beach, it’s about 100–1,000 feet out to sea where it’s 6–15 feet deep. But I also swim out to rocks submerged under a few feet of water; that’s the only place where the wave will break.
Why don’t you use a boat or jet ski?
I swim out to fully experience the moments I capture. I feel like I’m part of nature.
How do you keep droplets off the lens?
I dunk the housing just before I start shooting, and the thin film of water lasts a couple seconds before it starts running off and creating droplets. I also have a small squeegee to wipe excess water.
What light source do you use?
The light is always different and constantly changing. Mostly I use natural light from the rising sun, but afternoon light is also quite amazing—I like to swim and take photos during the sunset too.
How do you avoid sharks?
I love the movie Jaws, it’s iconic. I try not to think about it, and I’m also careful about where I swim, avoiding brown, murky water or areas near river mouths. Before I go out, I scan to see if I notice any kind of activity. There are scarier things in this world, like bad people.
Do you still surf?
I still ride waves from time to time. I absolutely love it, there’s something special about it, the purest form of harnessing Mother Nature. I think everyone should try surfing at least once.
How would you photograph the Loch Ness Monster?
I’ve been hoping someone would ask. I’d serenade it with bagpipes to get its trust. Then I’d set up my camera with a tripod and remote trigger waiting. When it comes near, I’d calmly raise my left hand to reach out to it while pressing the remote with my righthand, capturing the most famous photo of all time.
What’s your favorite fish?
Not a fish, a sea animal—the dolphin. They’re so intelligent and even ride waves.
The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Terence Pieters.