Q&A With Photographer Sean Thomas

Sean Thomas is a member of the United States Air Force and a Photographer based in Hawaii, where he lives a happy tropical lifestyle with his wife and kids.

Chasing his passion for capturing captivating ocean images in some of the most dangerous shore break waves Oahu has to offer. Thomas is a recent finalist in OneEyeLand’s Worlds Top 10 Wildlife competition 2021 of his “Flying Honu” image.

WeekenderNJ caught up with him recently to learn more about him, and some photography pro tips. Check out his story, tips, and some of his breathtaking photography here:

Sean Thomas enjoying the tropical paradise waves, Hawaii. (Photo/Sean Thomas)


Please introduce yourself

I am Sean Thomas and a photographer in Hawaii. I grew up on the panhandle of Florida in a small town called Navarre and have been shooting since October 2019 primarily focusing on Hawaii’s waves, ocean life, and astrophotography with either my camera or drone. My goal is to capture Hawaii’s beauty to show people around the world and help them feel like they are there.

Q. How did you end up in Hawaii?

Definitely by luck!! I’m actually enlisted in the United States Air Force and have been for about 12 years now and somehow managed to stay in Hawaii since 2014.

Q. Do you remember your first ‘professional’ shot? What was it?

Absolutely!! My first “professional” shot was taken on the North Shore of Oahu in the middle of the winter swells. I didn't have much for photography equipment and really was only using my drone at that time but was captivated by the aerial view of some of the shore breaks. With the mixture of sand dunes and powerful waves, they can create unique textures.

Q. What kind of photographs do you capture? Do you have a favorite style?

Currently, I love to capture anything that is in the ocean, whether it be ocean life, ocean scape, or the raw power of waves. But my absolute passion is waves, living in Hawaii we can pick and choose what we want to shoot (depending on the season) and I tend to stick to the heavy shore break spots. These breaks are usually too dangerous for surfers and really only for bodyboarding and bodysurfing but you can capture images of the widest barrels.

Q. What gear do you currently use? Do you have a favorite camera/lens?

I'm starting to collect a variety of different lenses for different scenarios. I'm currently using a Nikon D850 with a variety of lenses. If I shoot from shore I use a Sigma 150-600mm and depending on the wave size and conditions in the water I use my Nikkor 8-15 fisheye, Sigma 24mm ART, or Sigma 50mm ART. My absolute favorite combo is the 24mm with the D850 wrapped in an Aquatech Housing and my trusty Yucca fins.

Q. Let’s talk about your ocean captures. Do you swim, surf, or shoot?

Before I turned to photography, I spent a lot of time in the ocean with watersports whether it be surfing, skimboarding, and diving. But as of late, my time in the water has been to shoot empty waves and of course the riders. With everything that happened this past year, the ocean has been an outlet for many and the ability to escape reality and leave everything on the beach has shown that the ocean can connect us all. But capturing the raw emotions and joy of everyone at the breaks has been the biggest reward.

Q. Among your works, which one is your favorite?

I have few shots that always stick out to me not because of how the wave looks or anything, but it’s always the people and the stories behind the image. The one that means the most right now is actually one of my milky way images with a cairn (stack of rocks). A week before that shot my wife and I found out we were having another baby and our last one. Each rock represents a member of our family and turned out this last pregnancy was the most difficult for us. Our son was born 10 weeks early and was immediately admitted to the NICU upon birth. He stayed there for the next 4 months but now at 5 months old he is a healthy and happy baby. That image was for my family.

Q. What or who inspires you?

My wife Ashlee is definitely at the top of the list who inspires me and is also a photographer but mostly focuses on family and maternity. She has always challenged me creatively and can be brutally honest if she doesn't like the image or edit. Without her love and support of waking up early to catch the sunrise at the beach or staying up in the middle of the night to capture the stars, I don't think I would be the same photographer that I am today. Next on my list would be the photographers and riders that turned into family, they have always challenged me in difficult conditions and keep pushing me into bigger and heavier waves but also give me peace of mind that if anything bad happens they would be there to help.

Q. What are you working on at the moment?

Currently, I'm working on building my business and outreach to potential clients, also getting more into videography.

Q. What advice would you give someone who would like to become a photographer today?

You don't need expensive equipment to get great images. I have seen this quote float around:

“The best camera is the camera you have in your hand.” Find what makes you happy, passionate, and be creative.

Q. What future plans do you have?

Right now I'm just going to keep shooting and finding what makes me happy no matter where we go and trying to find unique angles of everyday shots.

More about Thomas

Learn more about Thomas and his photography at salty images.

Click here to keep up with Thomas’s Hawaiian journey on IG.

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