Name: Ornella Hawthorn Gardez | Age: 23 | Location: West London | Occupation: Film Director 

Who are you and what do you do?
I am a extreme sports filmmaker and photographer from London. I have been shooting surf since 2011 and won Emerging Talent Award at The London Surf Film Festival in 2013 with a short I shot in the big waves of Madeira. Since then I’ve worked shooting for the WSL and Stand Up Paddle Board Tour in Hawaii, Brazil and Europe. As well as taking our UK surfers on filming road trips and adventures. Recently I had a film at Cannes Film Festival this year and am working on another narrative short film to shoot in the early new year and I continue to pursue extreme sports by shooting for Red Bull and filming UK women surfers who represent their country internationally.

Where did you love of photography come from?
I trained at Drama School for 7 years where I developed a love for film and photography. Surfing was originally a weekend adventure pastime that soon became the subject for most of my work.

Was it hard getting into it? Did you have any issues that you had to overcome?
It is challenging if you don’t surf, it helps to have knowledge of the ocean and surfing techniques. I could spend all day watching talented surfers in the water, I am in awe of them, I can now walk past a local break in Cornwall or Devon and recognise a surfer by their style. It was hard to be accepted onto the professional scene, I found myself being the only female shooting on the beach at many competitions. But I just started to stop caring what everyone else was doing or shooting and just did my own thing.

You’re still young but what is your career highlight so far?
5am standing on the cliff edge of Peahi, setting up to shoot Jaws was a pretty amazing moment. Watching the wave grow through the early morning, it was insane. But a big highlight was shooting John John Florence when he did the rodeo at Pipeline. When he came out the water he ran straight up to me asking if I had the shot, then there was this great moment of John and the lifeguards trying to work out what the manoeuvre was called. It was amazing.

What is the best bit about being a photographer?
Capturing raw moments. I have been known to annoy some friends with always having my camera at the ready. Those shots are gold, especially if you have someone who is camera shy and you capture a shot of them they like. You give a gift of encouraging their confidence.

Does your job allow you to travel?
Thankfully it does, there have been times where you have to take a risk, make the jump and go. I had a film planned to shoot with some surfers who decided to go with a male filmmaker, so I booked flights to Hawaii and whilst there, shot the John John wave. My career changed from that point. I had a huge connection of friends and contacts and so many work possibilities.

Where is the best place you’ve travelled to?
Has to be Hawaii, Oahu and Maui. They’re both so dreamy. I have been fortunate to work on the Da Hui Backdoor Shoot Out on the North Shore, which is a competition focused on giving locals the chance to compete and get recognition. The Da Hui and everyone are such a great community.

Camera of choice?
I’m currently switching between two cameras I own, Canon 5D mrk3 and Panasonic Lumix GH4. The Canon is beautiful for stills and and moving image, the Lumix’s adjustable frame rate is bliss for shooting slow motion, crisp, blue waves. And somedays I use my mums old Canon AE-1, perfect 35mm film camera. Sorry I’ve given three, depends on the day I guess.

Coffee of choice?
Black Americano – no milk, just coffee. Do love Kona Coffee (Hawaiian coffee) it’s naturally sweet, very addictive. I take my eco coffee cup with me everywhere to make sure I reduce my plastic footprint.

Best advice you’ve been given?
Don’t give up. Many occupations, photography and filming included, are male dominated. I have been harassed by male photographers on the beach and many times in the surf line up. Being a strong woman is all about standing your ground, being proud of what you do, not giving up.

What’s your goal?
I have started directing narrative dramas and have a feature written and ready to shoot. To be commissioned to combine extreme sports and narrative filming in a full length feature films would be a dream.

Advice for anyone wanting to get into photography?
Don’t worry about your equipment too much, I think people worry they don’t have the right gear. Being a photographer or filmmaker is about having your own style and an eye for the craft. There is no right or wrong. Go explore and experiment, don’t feel like you have to fit in or conform in any way.