Kelly Slater

Interview with Morgan Maassen Filmmaker and Photographer by Katherine Nielsen

Firstly, can you start with a little bit about yourself?

My name is Morgan Maassen; I am a 27-year-old filmmaker and photographer from Santa Barbara, California. If not travelling, I spend my days surfing, playing tennis, reading, or hanging out with my dog, Moose. I also have an art gallery and a coffee shop called Breakfast.

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Can you give a breakdown of the equipment you use to create your images?

For photography, I primarily use Nikon D4s's, single length prime lenses like the 35mm and 50mm and a trusty 300mm f/4.

For filmmaking, I use a Red Weapon and Scarlet-W, the same Nikon lenses as I use for my still bodies, and an ancient Bogen Manfrotto tripod. I have SPL waterhousings for each and every camera body and carry it all in pelican cases. I also don't go anywhere without my trusty Churchill swim fins.

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How would you describe your current photographic style? 

I think my photography and filmmaking are like postcards of the things I see while travelling or exploring, of what I find fascinating. Whether its people I meet, water textures, or beautiful clouds... I love to bring home memories of what I was interested in while adventuring.

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What would be your favourite lens and why?

The 50mm, without question. Its the one lens that I take everywhere, constantly. It simplifies everything and allows me to work with the subject without ever worrying or being overwhelmed by options.

What are your go-to settings when you shoot in the ocean? 

I always shoot on shutter priority. Otherwise, everything is manual, and I control it all through various buttons and knobs on my waterhousings.

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What inspired you to capture the ocean and what continues to motivate you?

I love to capture the water. It is such a beautiful, mysterious, feminine entity to me. No matter how rough or violent the sea, it is always beautiful. The only drawback, of course, is dealing with those conditions when you are trying to capture it... but I find the challenge only more inspiring. Motivation-wise, I love to point my camera at everything... I grew up reading books voraciously, about any and every subject. When travelling, I love to appreciate all aspects of where I am at, and I think that mindset directly translates to my images.

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What do you love most about making films?

The beauty of things in motion, combined with music, can be as simple or complex as the heart desires. Its an art form like no other.

Have you ever had an experience in the ocean that scared you?

I've nearly drowned in Australia, been chased by sharks in the Caribbean, rolled across the reef in Tahiti, caught in rip-currents in Mexico... it's never-ending.

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Can you tell me about any crazy encounters with marine life?

I was on a lifestyle shoot where we were zipping across the channel from Tahiti to Moorea when we saw the calf playing in the water. I jumped in with my camera and watched it swim around, as playful as a puppy, yet still clocking in at a solid 5 meters long. Suddenly, it disappeared into the depths, only to return a minute later, ascending underneath its massive, 20-meter long mother. Not only was I dumbstruck; I literally couldn't breathe. As they drifted silently towards the surface. Moments before the mother's pectoral fin was within touching distance; I found my composure to snap this one photograph. They surfaced, grabbed a breath of air, and were gone with the flick of a tail.....

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Among all your work what is your most memorable capture?

My photo of the mother and calf Humpback Whale in Tahiti, it, was the most breathtaking moment of my life.

What methods do you use for editing? Can you explain your workflow?

I edit my photos in Mac OS Photos. I import the photos, weed out the ones I don't want, then hunker in to edit the few that I keep. I don't shoot many photos, to begin with - maybe 250 in a full day of shooting - and then proceed to put them in black & white, change contrast/exposure, etc. I don't do any advanced editing in Photoshop, as I don't like to digitally alter my photos much beyond minor corrections to colour and exposure.

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How do you educate yourself to become a better photographer? 

I'm self-taught, and honestly, it all came from trial & error. I was 18 when I started shooting, and for the first year, I shot on auto. Then I advanced to aperture priority, then started messing around with iso... it was slow going, but I learnt so much from just asking questions, reading online, and shooting out in the wild. I shoot photos every day, no matter what, and that is how I continuously learn and grow my photography.

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Who would you say are your greatest influencers and inspirations?

 Films and art guide my work, under three pillars: composition, minimalism, and visual storytelling. So many other things also cast inspiration: music, the outdoors, architecture, graphic design, fashion, emotions, my dog Moose, and most importantly... the sea. 

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Where is your favourite location to shoot?

Australia, without question. So much beauty, diversity, and raw nature. Tahiti for its spectacular mountains and ocean, and Europe for its architecture and cultural heritage. 

Lastly, what is one piece of advice you would give someone starting out in photography ?

Shoot photos every day, of everything. Rain or shine, there is always a photo to be made, something to learn.

Films:  Water 11  Fluorescence 

See more of Morgan’s Work:  Instagram   Website