Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer

Welcome to another episode of Surf Bank's Beyond The Frame where we dive into the captivating world of surf and ocean photography, going beyond mesmerising captures exploring the backstory of many talented photographers.

In this episode we will be hearing from the talented Phillip Hernandez surf photographer originating from East Coast of America.

Beyond the frame aims to inspire and inform future surf photographers and ocean lovers being your backstage pass to detailed insights from the minds behind stunning surf shots.

Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer Gallery

Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer
Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer
Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer
Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer
Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer
Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer
Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer
Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer

What Did Your Childhood Look Like?

Surprisingly to some, I was actually born and raised on the East Coast in northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. My siblings and I were fortunate enough to have travelled quite a bit, including yearly trips to the Philippines. These journeys sparked my desire to be near the ocean as much as possible.

I've always had a creative temperament, even as a kid--the family camera was never far from my hands. I think this progression into surf photography is the culmination of many of my experiences growing up documenting and travelling.

What Came First, Surfing or Photography?

Photography came first. I had tried surfing and body surfing when I was much younger, but the lack of regular access to the beach made surfing seem like a pipedream. I honed my skills as a photographer firstly in fine art as well as a published & exhibited street photographer in Washington, D.C. I didn't truly take surfing seriously until I was out of college when I started to travel more on my own.

How Did You Get Into Surf Photography?

In my early 20s, I didn't feel like I was progressing as a surfer, but I knew my strengths in photography could be leveraged for this purpose. I felt that the path to being a true waterman and better surfer would rely on my ability to play the observer.

It would be a few years until I could properly test this theory, still living more than 2 to 3 hours drive from the nearest break. At that point, consistency and time were severely lacking plus access to the right gear as water housings were not as accessible for me. Around 2017, my career as a street photographer guided me into tinkering with 35mm film.

The market for the Nikonos V and other underwater analog film cameras hadn't yet been saturated or inflated. I botched my first roll of Fuji Pro 400h (and flooded several camera bodies) but despite my user error I was hooked! I got a real taste of some surf photography during a trip to Indonesia and the Philippines in 2018. Since then, I've made it a goal to make this my career.

Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer
Photo By Phillip Hernandez

Where Do You Normally Shoot?

In 2020, I moved to San Diego with my wife, so I'm now blessed with many options. My bookings tend to take me into the north county of San Diego, La Jolla, and the surrounding coves and canyons.

Where Do You Shoot? Water or Land?

I typically shoot in water. I've yet to be invited to shoot any major competitions, but I'd imagine that during a larger-scale event, I'd move to shoot from the land.

My preference though is to shoot in the water. I enjoy the intimacy that comes with sharing waves and reading conditions as they change from the water.

What Makes The Perfect Image?

Surf photography is dynamic, and I find that my focus transcends requiring perfection from my work. Embracing the inherent imperfections of nature, I find beauty in the organic and untamed juxtaposition of forms against the power (sometimes serenity) of the ocean.

In each frame, the story takes precedence, weaving narratives through the unpredictable dance of surfer and wave. I celebrate the chaos, spontaneity, and asymmetries as integral components of the genuine surfing experience.

Our ability to connect and connect with others relies on the imperfections conveyed in our imagery.

Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer
Photo By Phillip Hernandez

How Did You Become So Involved In The Surf Scene?

I'm a chatterbox with severe ADHD. This translates to my ability to network, something I do very often. I like to make an appearance as a photographer/surfer to as many surf-related events as I possibly can, show up as myself and learn about the people that I meet. This tends to include other surfers, surf photographers, and industry related creators.

Do You Have A Favourite Photographer That Has Inspired You?

Many- at present, I'm enamoured with the work of Ben Thouard. The level of artistry that coincides with his images is at another level. I aspire to bring the same level to my own work one day.

What's Your Biggest Challenge To Overcome When Shooting?

Sometimes, it is traversing a heavy set wave or finding the right position against a strong current, but I always find it challenging to keep water away from the front lens element of the water housing.

Phillip's Favourite Shot

This is a most recent photograph below, called Violent Beauty.

We were blessed with a year-end swell for 2023 in California. At Black's Beach, I waded out after the long hike down a fire rescue trail to the beach. My lens was met with 12-15 ft sets breaking right on the beach, as the tide was going low and the sun began its descent. At first, I managed to make it past the break into the thinning lineup of surfers. The current dragged me away from the position I originally staked, placing me between peaks.

After 20 minutes of trying to swim closer to a left-handed break further north and duck-diving with my housing, I conceded to the ocean's desire to kick me out closer to shore. Several yards from my target spot, I had only snapped a few dozen photos nowhere close to the thousands of sequences I had planned for and I never return from a session empty-handed.

I watched a set build at the break further north, knowing full well that my position was now compromised--I frantically dragged my squeegee across my lens port and snapped a sequence of the set. As I dropped the camera away from my face, I took a deep quick breathe. I was standing in a rip and facing 15 ft shore break. Some of the most fun I've had inside the washing machine!

Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer
Violent Beauty by Phillip Hernandez

Personal Message

Protect style, foster safe environments, and continue to practice etiquette.

Phillip's Equipment List

Marie Dehayes Camera

Camera & Lenses

Phillip uses Leica Q2 and an Essex underwater housing, Leica SL2-S, various lenses, and an underwater housing from Aquatech, Leica 24-70 F2.8 L Mount and GoPro 11

Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer
Photo By Phillip Hernandez

Phillip's Future Plans

Apart from getting back to travelling more, I'm hoping to add even more ocean-related activities to my portfolio of content such as scuba diving, free diving, spear fishing etc. Surfing is still the priority, but the ocean is massive. There is a lot to document out there..

Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer


You can find Phillip on Instagram or as well emailing him

Do You Want To Be Involved In Beyond The Frame?

Are you a surf photographer wanting your story told? You may be our next Beyond The Frame feature! Please get in touch with us over email so we can get a conversation going:

Many surf stories and shots don't get shared enough, so please no matter how big your audience is we want to show off your surf photography!

Phillip Hernandez Surf Photographer
Photo By Phillip Hernandez

The Surfbank is supported by its audience. If you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Affiliate Disclosure.

The Trusted Voice of Surfing.
Copyright © 2024 All Rights Reserved

313, 39 Ludgate Hill, London, EC4M 7JN