In Focus: Morgan Maassen

Morgan Maassen

Maassen's trained eye and Dane Reynolds' talent hard at work along their native central California coast.

Preeminent lensman Morgan Maassen just got back from six days in Oaxaca, Mexico, photographing Dane Reynolds at Salina Cruz. Next up, Maassen -- whose professional workload picked up considerably after winning the Follow the Light Foundation grant in 2010 -- is off to Japan for a lifestyle shoot for Quiksilver, then over to Tahiti to direct a short film about Dillion Perillo for Monster Energy. When he's not lapping the planet with his camera bag, the 22-year-old goofy-footer grounds himself in his native Santa Barbara, Calif., where caught up with him for a quick Q&A. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a young photographer?
Maassen: The advantages are amazing. I can shoot all day, every day, whether I am working or not. I can travel constantly. I don't have a mortgage or children, so my already liberating occupation can consume that much more time and freedom. However, as I am young, it took immense amounts of work to gain traction in the industry. Being young and without a college education in photography, people are still are hesitant to take me seriously as a working professional.

In Focus: Morgan Maassen

Affordable cameras and social media cater to all sorts of photographers, some of them very good. How do you maintain your professional courage?
Right now, there is a huge shift in photography. People mistake it for young kids with cameras and social media coming in and replacing the older, tech-illiterate guys and flooding the market with free photography. This, in my humble opinion, is a primitive and cynical way to assess the situation. I think that with the advent of cheap digital cameras and the means to share photos freely over social media, the playing field has been evened out. Now a kid with camera, computer and a natural eye can get his photos easily noticed. This new era is about excellence and how much more easily it can rise to the top. Some of my favorite and most inspiring photographers are 12-16 years old, and I see their work on their blogs from some random corner of the world. This is how I got started, and by saving up some hard-earned money and meticulously running my website, I was able to get noticed. With the playing field so much more level, the competition is immense, and grows by the day. To maintain professional courage, you have to find your niché, and work as hard as possible to help it flourish.

So your work as a surf photographer is so demanding that you rarely get to surf?
I fell into surf photography from my passion of surfing, and now travel to the best spots in the world to not paddle out. But I am not a pro surfer, and being able to photograph professional surfers and waves as beautiful as Teahupoo or Pipeline is one of the most artistically gratifying experiences. Plus, shooting from the water is equally as exhilarating as surfing, and you come away with artwork from it -- essentially, the ride doesn't end. That being said, on some trips I can surf as much as I please, while others I don't even touch the water. On one trip to Mexico, I was able to surf at least 2 hours a day, every day. Whereas, on a slab-hunting trip in Australia last year, I saw some of the best waves of my life, but couldn't paddle out once because of the caliber of surfer I was with and his (forgivable) habit of surfing the whole time. So it varies. But no matter what, I am stoked 100 percent of the time.

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