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"It just shows that going swimming for hours in the middle of nowhere pays off sometimes," he joked this week.
"I was pretty blown away when I got the phone call saying that I had won."
An Otago Polytechnic photography student, he won the grand prize at the Sony Imaging 2020 Alpha Awards, after his photograph was judged the best of 3500 entries from Australia and New Zealand.
A keen surfer, swimmer and free diver, Mr Hetherington, who grew up in Wanaka, went swimming with friends off the peninsula coast earlier this year.
He had just surfaced in an area about halfway between Sandfly Bay and Cape Saunders when he took the winning photo.
"I was fascinated by the current and power shown in the back of a wave."
Now studying for a
New Zealand diploma in photography, level 6, he
first picked up an old family camera when he was about
Fun had been the initial aim but "now I live and breathe it".
His year-long course ends in November, and
he is already working on a surf and ocean-related photography book, which he hopes to publish this summer.