Interview With Mark Morgan From MXM Surf And Lifestyle Photography / by Katherine Nielsen

INTERVIEW WITH MARK MORGAN @mxmsurfphoto

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

I’m originally from South Africa,  I did not grow up near the Ocean, or even have much opportunity to surf growing up. My childhood experiences were usually short holidays in Durban  - the south east coast of Africa. However I have always loved being near and in the ocean and would never consider living far from it now. I started a love affair with kite surfing in 2003, and travelled the world looking for wind and warm waters, this has helped me learn a lot about the ocean.

When I moved to Australia in 2006 , I was immediately drawn to the beaches and surf lifestyle. From the moment I saw the first images taken of waves in the ocean around me , I was frothing to take my camera into the water. I got my first water housing in 2010 and since then have been a early morning riser to shoot the surf and beach. Surf photography is a major part of my life now as I just love being in the ocean with my camera capturing what I see . I do it because I love it not because I want to make money from it.  Although I do surf, when its really pumping it is the camera I grab. See more of Marks stunning images on @mxmsurfphoto ; @mxmbelow ; @mxmphotos

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As well as shooting in the ocean, I love shooting people, so you will usually find humans in my images in the ocean. I have a wife from New Zealand , 2 beautiful kids  and a dog called Sunny, all who make my life very fulfilling.

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

I use a Canon 5d m3, 5d m4 and a mavic pro drone.  My water housing is a Aquatech. I prefer to shoot with prime lenses. My only zoom lens is a 16-35mm which is used for my underwater work.  

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How would you describe your current photographic style? 

Clean and natural. Emotion in the ocean. I like shooting real photos and real emotions. The ocean is the best place to do this. No posing. Just capturing people in their happy place. You dont need to ask people to smile in the ocean. My best photos are usually unplanned. .I have spent so many happy times just hanging out in the ocean with friends watching the sun come up or go down. And this is what I like to capture.

What would be your favourite lens and why? 

50mm, with a 50mm you can capture landscape, portraits, underwater, barrels. It’s very flexible.  It creates virtually no distortion. I use the canon 50mm 1.2, which also creates some wonderful flare. For underwater, I tend to shoot with either a 20mm or 16-35mm. You have to be very careful with distortion with these lenses, but you cant shoot with much longer as the magnification and visibility play big roles in shooting underwater.

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

I have experimented with settings alot, and I either shoot in manual mode or TV  ( shutter priority.) . It really depends on the conditions. Generally speaking if I am shooting in the ocean with big waves, I shoot in Shutter Priority, and let the camera sort out the aperture . Unless I am trying for a particular shot I have planned.  I try to keep my ISO as low as possible, so its never in auto mode. Any other time, when I have more time to compose the shot, I use manual mode. But settings really depend on the type of shot I am going for.

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I think it’s important to spend time shooting in all of the camera manual modes, so you can understand them. Don't just copy the settings that  other photographers do. Because I now understand my camera so well, when I look at another photographers image - I can usually work out how that took the shot.  And when I visualise a shot I want to take - I know how to get it with the camera.

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

 I love the ocean, and its a huge contributor to the good things in my life.  Every time I go in the ocean, I come out feeling 20% better than I was before I went in. My health and mood always feels lifted. It doesnt matter if I am swimming, surfing or shooting.

What do you love most about making films? 

I love how films capture the motion and moment. My first love is always stills, but there is something special about a good scene from a film that can really transport you to the exact time , place and emotion. I especially love slow motion .

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

I’ve had a few scary moments in the ocean. One time whilst in the ocean early morning with 2 ft waves , I got hit in the neck by the fin of a surfboard. It managed to cut an artery in my neck, which required a rushed ambulance trip (with sirens going and a doctor in the back holding the wound on my neck) and emergency surgery to stop the blood flow.  Another time while swimming among some large swell, a huge wave managed to remove the fins off my feet. Swimming in 10-14ft waves, with no fins is not a pleasant experience. I was very lucky to be able to make my way to shore. I usually wear fin savers - but this time I had forgotten them at home, as I was too excited about getting into the waves.

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

I love sharks, and have been lucky enough to have had some great swimming with sharks experiences.  I have been diving with great white sharks, but unfortunately none turned up , so I just sat in a cage in ice cold water staring into the murky depths. It was still quite an interesting experience . It’s a dream of mine to dive with great white sharks in Southern Australia and whales in Tonga. I have swam with dolphins a few times which is always special.

Where is your favourite travel destination to shoot ? Byron bay in Australia

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Is there somewhere you would love to shoot but haven’t had the chance yet? 

Maldives / Tahiti / Japan / Bali / Iceland…… so many.

Among all your work what is your most memorable capture?

To be honest this is a hard one. My most memorable are without doubt shooting large waves in the ocean. I absolutely love being out in the water in big conditions. It’s impossible to explain to anyone the feeling of being in the ocean and seeing a huge wave approaching that you know you are going to deal with. The sound of it breaking, the smile everyone gives each other as they break though to the other side of the wave. My most popular images on social media are usually surfers in calm conditions.

Every sunrise I’m in the water is my favourite.

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

Lightroom and Photoshop. Over the years I have created my own presets, they have evolved over time. Try to stick to the same presets so your images have a consistent look and style.


How do you educate yourself to become a better photographer? 

Shoot shoot shoot.  Get out there and shoot as much as possible.  Study other photographers work, try to work out how they got the shot, and try to emulate it whist adding your own style. Look at your own photos and learn from them. Don’t stick to the same places and settings. Experiment. Take risks , put yourself out of your comfort zone. Take your time and understand what your camera is doing. Read, watch blogs.

I gained a lot of experience shooting weddings. Its such a dynamic setting, and you have to be able to shoot in all sorts of conditions.

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Who would you say are your greatest influencers and inspirations? 

@raycollinsphoto

@allanvanGysen

@dmosqphoto

@nathanoldfield

@ming_nomchong_photo

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

A good , expensive camera and lense helps. But you don’t need the best camera to capture amazing images. Use the tools you have, and master them. Don’t get caught in the instagram social media trap of comparing yourself to others .  Do what you do, and post what you love. Slow down always. Never rush into the water before first checking conditions. If you are shooting in the water. Test your housing regularly. Know your camera. Try to capture something new every day.  Plan your shots, dont just get lucky.

To learn more about Mark and his work view his website here www.markmorgan.com.au

On Instagram @mxmsurfphoto ; @mxmbelow ; @mxmphotos