This month we’re sitting down with photographer Megs Hemsworth, whose dreamy seascapes are awash with graceful surfers, sun-kissed waves and elegiac skies. Her ocean-based approach and watery, wistful images are in demand among art directors, surf brands and travel operators who send her around the globe in search of epic shots. But as we near the summer solstice, she reveals there’s no place she’d rather be than the fresh waters of the Atlantic soaking up Cornwall’s brightest, longest days of the year.
There are lots of people who photograph surfers and coastal lifestyles, but they tend to do it standing on the shore. You shoot from the water, which is rare. How did this journey start for you?
I did a university degree in fashion photography in Cornwall, so that’s when I started shooting in the sea. I didn’t get on with the high fashion studio stuff, but I had been a competitive swimmer growing up in the Cotswolds. Cornwall’s lack of swimming pools made me just get in. My lecturer said, “Photograph what you really love and who knows what will happen?”
Now you make a living by going into the ocean to shoot most days of the week. How did you get onto such a unique path?
I realised there’s a gap for in-water content, and I’m excited about the way surfing culture comes across. I didn’t come from a surf background myself, so I really admire it. People say, “How can you shoot when the waves are good!?” And I’m like, “Very easily!” It’s my saving grace that I can’t surf – otherwise I get the impression that I might be annoyed all the time!
So if missing out on waves doesn’t bother you, what challenges do you grapple with when you’re out there?
There’s a lot to think about in the ocean. You’re taking waves on the head constantly. People underestimate how much you have to battle just to stay safe. Nine times out of ten you’re battling your own waves to get to where you can photograph the wave you want to photograph. But competitive swimming gave me confidence in the water so the physical part of it is never what challenges me; the challenge is more trying to work out positioning and get a different shot every time.
Are you travelling more now than you did before starting your freelance career?
Oh totally! Before, my family happily came to Cornwall – which was great. But the last two years since I graduated have involved lots of travel. I had no idea these doors would open. I reckon every month or so I go away now. I didn’t go into this path thinking that’s what I’d get out of it, so it’s completely lucky. Travelling is an absolute bonus. But I have to say this: no matter where I’ve been, Cornwall will always and forever be my favourite place to photograph.
What’s so special about Cornwall for you?
The waves and the light here are so much fun to shoot in. In Cornwall in summer, the sunset gives an intense colour palette to the sky and to the water that I haven’t seen in other countries. We get this lovely icy blue and pink and purple. In a hot country, it’s straight orange and nothing in between. That’s nice, but it's not what gets me excited. I always think we have a more constant and bigger package in terms of sunsets here.
What are some of your favourite local places to shoot?
In Watergate or Polzeath you get these lovely cliff edges that are so distinctive. I’m bored of seeing palm trees. I want to see sheep! Having a green field in the background – it’s so random! You just don’t see that in Bali or Java. We have such a unique coastline that isn’t as widely shared. And the sunrise at 5am – which feels like hell to get up for – is so worth it! That time is so special. The ocean is so quiet and it’s the most lovely light.
Speaking of lovely light, you’ve invented a new post-production approach called Coffee Club. What’s that all about?
I’ve always loved a Sixties and Seventies vibe and how stylish that period of time was. I also think clean and simple imagery builds quite a dreamy portfolio. So I started doing yellow, dulled-down edits. Now whenever I do an edit in that style, it genuinely interests so many people and I get a thrill out of it. With the colour palette being muted, it makes you focus more on the subject matter and textures of the image.
It’s almost as if you translate a broad palette into something much tighter, so it’s simpler for the eye to register. Plus it creates such a golden, nostalgic tone, which also connects us to a concept of simpler times.
Exactly! To capture simplicity is an absolute goal of mine.
Where will your journey take you next?
I’m going to Albania to shoot a private beach festival, to Morocco for a month with a female surf retreat company and then either Sri Lanka or Costa Rica. I’ve got Sweden, Ireland and Byron Bay on my wish list, too. But Cornwall is always where I want to be in summer. My biggest mission is to make Cornwall look completely on par with Australia and Hawaii. It’s cold, but it’s still beautiful!