Best Surfing Photographer in Tahiti – Tim McKenna

I love extreme sports, snowboad, skiing, surfing, kitesurfing… that’s why we’ve introduced quite a number of the very best extreme sports photographers in the world to our readers.

Surfing photography? I just want to tell you how much I love it.

It is so exciting, beautiful, and challenging. I can surf, but just not good enough to take excellent surfing photography! So I admire all those great ski photography, Tim McKenna, is one of them!

I read his book “Teahupoo: Tahiti’s Mythic Wave” when I stayed in a B & B in a ski resort in Japan and was very impressed, and I started following his work. Until we began and decided he should be one of the featured photographers!

Tim McKenna, The Best Surfing Photographer in Tahiti

About Tim McKenna

Tim McKenna is a famous surfing photographer based in Tahiti; he was born in Sydney, spending his childhood first in Australia than in South-West France, especially on the Atlantic coast.

After gaining his French baccalaureate diploma, he returned to Australia, where he studied literature and political science at the University of Queensland.

On the way back from Down Under, he stopped in Los Angeles to work with his uncle, a photographer and location scout, stayed four months, acquired valuable experience working as an assistant for fashion and advertising photographers, and as a production assistant on film commercials.

Once he had completed his B, a degree, he decided to focus on photography. 

During his spare time, he had developed his technique and had submitted his first photos.  Surfing Life in Australia and Surf Session in France were the first to believe in his potential.

In 1990, the European sportswear company Oxbow took him on board and triggered his interest in other extreme ‘fun’ sports. He consistently produced more than 60% of their iconic, glossy catalog. 

During these years, he worked with innumerable champions such as Andy Irons, Laird Hamilton, Jean-Michel Bayle, Patrick Edlinger, Jason Polakow, or Karl Heinz Zanglerl in sports ranging from surfing, snowboarding, windsurfing to motocross and rock climbing.

Tim has traveled to over thirty countries, from the 5985 meters high Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador to the 20′ waves of Teahupoo in Tahiti and the -30°C of Mongolia.

By 1986, Tim visited French Polynesia and experienced love at first sight with this beautiful place. The luxuriant beauty of the landscape, the richness of the culture combined with perfect waves all year round made him finally decide to settle there.

Although now based on Tahiti’s island with his family, Tim McKenna still tours the world and has also assigned himself the task of capturing Polynesian life’s magic.

In twenty years, Tim McKenna has become recognized as one of the best outdoor photographers globally. Not only do his action shots make the covers of the leading surf, snowboard, windsurf, or motocross magazines, his landscapes and fashion shots also appear in numerous advertisements, on posters, and billboards worldwide. 

He has contributed to more than ten books worldwide and enhanced more than twenty websites with his images.

Tim is lucky to fulfill every graphic artist’s dream: to produce a large variety of beautiful and powerful images that speak for themselves. So much so that his portfolio is being published in art poster editions and a book collection.

He is still a keen surfer and snowboarder and a rusty black belt 2nd Dan in the Japanese martial art of Kendo. In quiet moments, he sits down at a keyboard and improvises. But he will never stay anywhere very long. He is too dedicated to nomadic life and capturing the perfect light with unforgettable images.

Tim McKenna’s Books and Awards 

  • Teahupoo: Tahiti’s mythical wave best seller book published in 8 different languages 
  • 3 Times winner of the XXL Big Wave awards for best tube photo
  • Winner of the best experimental photo at the inaugural RED BULL Illume photo contest 2008
bruce irons

Interviewing Tim McKenna – The Best Surfing Photographer in Tahiti

Tim McKenna’s Photography World

Q: How did everything start? Why and how did you start your surfing/ sports photographer’s life? Can you tell us a bit about your other photography works too?


I started surfing when I was 14 years old in France and started taking surfing pictures not long after my mother’s camera. I was lucky to live close by the first pro surf events in Europe.

I wasn’t sure that I would make a living out of surf photography, so I continued my studies at University in Australia until I completed a BA degree and then decided it was time to turn pro.

I soon branched out various other action sports like snowboarding, skiing, kitesurfing, windsurfing, or even motocross and climbing. I worked a lot with a brand that sponsored many athletes in all these different sports, so I got to work in many different environments with some of the top athletes.

At the same time, I would shoot fashion and lifestyle photos for catalogs, ads, and campaigns within the sports industry. When on location, I would always go out of my way to capture some landscapes, aerials, or underwater images.

Q: What is your photography philosophy?


My goal is to capture nature’s fine art. My philosophy is to be patient and analyze all the natural elements.

Knowledge of your surroundings and the weather forecast is paramount to capture the rare moments nature becomes a magical show.

Shooting with athletes and models, I always try and capture the connection and harmony. I try and convey emotion by capturing the beauty of nature.

Q: Which is your favorite piece of work? Why?


My favorites are usually my underwater photos because I have so much fun creating them.

I also always have a good surprise when I discover the picture at home on my computer. There is something about how light travels underwater and this liquid space works.

Q: What are your favorite parts and the most significant challenges as a surfing/ sports photographer?


It all comes in stages. The most significant buzz is when you capture something incredible at the right time in the right place. Then you rediscover your screen at home while editing and realize what you saw and experienced is frozen in time forever.

Finally, you see your work published in a book or magazine cover, on a poster, or 4X3 in the street or on TV. Or simply on a fine art print for an exhibition or a client on the other side of the world.

The biggest challenge is keeping your gear in working order and having the proper logistics to shoot correctly.

Q: Can you describe a typical day or trip of you at work?


I don’t have a typical day as I do so many different styles of jobs. Fashion, reportage, commercial work, architecture, filming, etc.…

However, a typical day of shooting waves and surfers usually starts at 5 am to be on the water at sunrise. Depending on the conditions, I shoot either from on a boat / Jetski, in the water, or underwater.

Often I just eat a snack and keep shooting until sunset. The conditions dictate the day. If it’s ‘all-time,’ I can stay concentrated all day so as not to miss a magic moment. If it’s average, I might call it a day and keep my energy for another day.

Tim McKenna’s Gears

Q: What cameras and lens are you using?


For photography, I use Nikon cameras and lenses with Liquideye waterhousings. For filming, I use Sony cameras and lenses. For underwater, I also use an underwater scooter called Seabob to get around and capture more dynamic images.

Q: Do you think mirrorless cameras would be great for surfing/ sports photography? Why? If you don’t think so, then why not? Can you suggest a mirrorless camera that you think would be great for surfing/ sports photography?


The Nikon Z6 and Z7 are great mirrorless cameras for shooting surfing. They are compact, fast, and sturdy. If you are used to DSLR cameras, it takes some time to get used to looking at an LCD screen rather than a viewfinder view on the real world.


Tim McKenna’s Tips (Photography and Travelling)

Q: Can you share with us some surfing photography or water sports photography tips?


It is essential to know your sports very well. Experience in the water will help you to anticipate and give your better positioning and timing.

You need to be patient and observe the terrain to use the conditions to your advantage and ensure you have good protective gear like pelican cases or water housings. Saltwater is the worst enemy of digital cameras.

Try various compositions. Get very close to the action and try and isolate your subject in a very wide landscape picture.

Q: What are your favorite top 3 surfing spots?


Teahupoo, Kirra, and remote waves in the Tuamotu.

Q: Can you give us some traveling tips to Tahiti?


When you come to French Polynesia, you must travel to a few different islands to really get the different vibes and sceneries. Don’t hesitate to eat in the ‘roulette ( food trucks ) alongside the road or stay in bed and breakfast with a local and spend as much time in the water or up in the valley.


Tim McKenna, The Best Surfing Photographer in Tahiti – Final Words

I love Tim McKenna’s work for long time, I purchased his book around 8 years ago and it’s still in my home town. I gotta say that a very big part of me joining this whole “MirrorlessHow” projects was because I get to share my favorite photographers and pictures with the rest of the world.

And Tim McKenna, is definite one of the very best one who I just want to share with everybody.

I hope you enjoyed this interview like I did!

Here are the contact details of Tim McKenna:


Tel: +1 626-638-3205