Hannah Prewitt - originally from the UK, Hannah travelled the world for many years as a marine biologist. She’s now a freelance photographer based on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland. She also loves to create unique fine art images of the ocean that capture the emotion of the viewer and takes them to a calm and peaceful place. Enjoy the full interview here.
Hey Hannah! Stoked to be able to ask you some questions about your career thus far! Firstly, tell me – where abouts are you originally from and how was your passion in photography born?
I was born in the UK and grew up in the suburbs of London. I always felt drawn to the ocean and so I studied marine biology at university. With that job I travelled and dived all over the world but unfortunately I wasn’t into photography back then. It wasn’t until I actually gave up marine biology and started learning to surf that I became interested in photography. I was working in the Maldives and met the legendary surf photographer Peter Wilson – better known in the industry as Joli – and he taught me a few things about photography and helped me choose what equipment to buy. I think photography at that time was my way of being involved in surfing when I was a beginner and the waves were often too big for me – I could sit on the boat and take photos of surfers and share the stoke that way.
We note you’re now based on the beautiful Sunshine Coast of Queensland. How are you finding living in here compared to other places you may have lived?
I’ve lived in lots of very different places! I’ve lived in a straw hut on a remote island in Fiji, in bustling cities like Singapore, and at many different five star resorts around the world. I think I’ve been trying to find somewhere that had a perfect mix of a coastal lifestyle with the luxuries of the western world. The Sunshine Coast feels like that place for me. I just bought a house in the hinterland so I’m surrounded by forest but I’m less than 15 minutes from the beach and surf. It’s pretty perfect!
Marine biology as a career must’ve been incredibly interesting. Can you describe what some of your jobs were?
It was VERY interesting. Some of the best experiences I’ve had are from working as a marine biologist. A number of my jobs involved working on marine conservation expedition project sites. I lived on site as a field scientist and would teach volunteers how to conduct coral reef surveys. They’d come and stay for a few months and learn to dive, and collect scientific data for us. I’ve also worked on a coral reef restoration project in the Seychelles, building an underwater garden to grow coral. I’ve worked with schoolkids in Singapore taking them on environmental field trips to Malaysia to teach them all about conservation in different environments. Finding out that these kids had started a recycling program at their school based on things you taught them was really rewarding.
You’re also quite the travel bug – do you have a favourite place you’ve visited? And why?
Yes I have very itchy feet! If I had to choose just one place, I think it would have to be Madagascar. Probably because it was the first time I went overseas (talk about a culture shock), and it really changed my whole outset on life. I lived there for nearly a year with no internet, generator electricity, and rationed food and found it really difficult to transition back into a consumerist-driven world. Also, Madagascar has around 90% endemic flora and fauna, so it really is a unique place. I’d love to go back with a surfboard and camera!
What are your favourite things to shoot and what are you shooting with at the moment?
I enjoy shooting a variety of things, I go through phases of what I feel inspired to shoot. I guess ultimately I like shooting anything in beautiful light. I love to shoot into the sun. I also like to capture things that our eyes aren’t capable of seeing – like the reflection of the sun on the water as it’s rising. A camera can pull different elements in and out of focus, whereas our eyes usually adjust too quickly. If I had to choose just one thing to shoot forever, it would be a seascape of clear tropical water with plenty of wildlife swimming around and an empty wave!
I’m a Nikon shooter. I usually shoot with the D750, which is a semi-pro full frame camera. In the water I tend to pair that with a 50mm lens, but I’m fortunate enough to get to try out different equipment from Nikon so recently I’ve been shooting with the D850 and a 105mm f/1.4 lens. It’s a beautiful piece of glass.
Have you got any favourite female surfers or photographers that you draw inspiration from?
Favourite female surfers….. so many, mostly shortboarders, but Brisa Hennessy would have to be top of the list. She’s such a unique beauty and an incredible athlete. I like to portray female surfers as athletic first but still showing an air of femininity. I was fortunate enough to shoot Brisa last year when she was at Keramas – we did a pool portrait session together and she was so lovely and down to earth, and looks like a mermaid underwater.
In terms of favourite female photographers, I actually try to look outside of the surf genre when looking for photography inspiration, but I have to mention Cait Miers. I took her online course last year and she really helped me see what’s possible and gave me a massive confidence boost. I ended up doing my first exhibition this year with her, which is pretty cool. They say never to meet your heroes but she was a total sweetheart.
What advice would you give to women starting out in the photography industry?
It’s not easy for me to give advice, as I really am only just starting out in the photography industry myself. I think I would have to say to learn as many different types of photography as possible. I know some photographers who are surf photographers, so that’s all they shoot. But you’ll learn something from shooting all different things – astro, portraits, underwater – get yourself as comfortable as you can shooting all different subjects in all different lights. Oh, and never think you’ve learnt it all.
Do you find time do surf when you’re not shooting?
Yes I love to surf. Sometimes it’s a hard decision to make. I tend to surf when the light is bad and shoot when the light is good. I usually make the right call but there have been occasions where I’ve desperately wanted to swap my board for my camera!
How important is the ocean in your life?
I didn’t grow up close to the ocean so it’s kind of strange how it can mean so much to me. I don’t need to go in it every day, but it’s the one thing that can always make me feel better if I’m not feeling great. Even just a quick dip can totally refresh everything when I need it. I’m not sure how long I could go without getting in the ocean without going totally mad.
Plans for 2020?
I actually don’t have any travel plans this year, which has turned out to be a blessing! I’m really focusing on propelling my business this year and doing more work that I’m proud of. I don’t tend to plan too much but go with the flow and be open to all opportunities.