Michael Vericker is a surf photographer and drone pilot. @m_g_v I was captivated by Michaels work when I saw it on instagram. He captures the power of the ocean perfectly. I wanted to learn more about Michaels travels and what inspires his creative vision. He kindly agreed to share his adventures and photography journey www.mgvphotography.com
Firstly, can you start with a little bit about yourself?
I am currently living in Singapore where I have been based for the last two years. Full on expat here and one of the best moves I made in life. It’s been great being based in SE Asia to travel this side of the globe as it’s so far from home. I was born and raised Bergen County, New Jersey just outside of New York City and spent most of my childhood travelling with the family to beaches around the US and abroad as well as annual summer trips to the Jersey Shore and Maine. I was always in love with the ocean, being in the mountains, observing the weather, and just being around nature in general. I’m definitely an east-coaster who studied, surfed and snowboarded New England while attending the University of New Hampshire and after a quick stint living in San Diego right after college, I ended up back in familiar territory and settled in Upper Manhattan for the next 12 years.
When did you first start your photography journey?
I always traveled with a point and shoot camera from as far back as I can remember but made the transition to “photographer” back in late 2013. I am a science teacher full time and a colleague of mine ran the photography class in the school I worked in at the time while living in New York. That’s how I “got into” photography. That colleague of mine let me use some equipment from school, which had a fully stocked closet with a range of Canon DSLR’s and lenses so I grabbed a 6D with a 70-200mm and a 16-35mm. The first swell I shot was Thanksgiving Eve 2013 in Jersey, the photos look so-so because I was really kind of clueless but still I was hooked at that point. Two months later I purchased a Canon 5D MK3 and Canon 70-200 2.8Lii and my journey began. I was all self-taught mostly, with some help from my new-found friend and fellow photographer Ben Currie and focused on capturing empty waves along the beaches of NY and NJ. Eventually, with the help of Ben, I was introduced to the local crew of rippers in New Jersey and started shooting surfers from the beach. From there, it was only natural to transition to the water and in July of 2014 I bought my first water housing from SPL, which opened up a whole new world for me. I am a life-long bodyboarder so I already understood the dynamics of ocean waves, positioning, and where to be in the best spot. When I look back, this is where I can say that my photography really took off. I feel fortunate that I had the right people to bounce ideas off of throughout the learning process and the boys were always down to shoot if the waves were on.
What equipment do you use and why did you select it?
Canon 5D MK3 body with Canon 70-200 2.8Lii and Canon 16-35mm 2.8L iii lenses. I have an SPL water-housing for when I am swimming and for the aerial drone work I use a DJI Phantom 4 Pro. Those choices are all based on quality, they produce ultra-sharp imagery and can be trusted in any conditions.
What would you say is your favourite lens and Why?
The 70-200mm because of its range, clarity, and details it produces. In my opion the most versatile and second to none, although the 16-35mm is the perfect for the wide angle lens that works when I am shooting landscapes or swimming in larger barrels in and around the impact zone with surfers being the subject. Both lenses are just super sharp and my top choices.
What are your most frequently used settings?
All depends on what I am looking to produce when I am shooting and can range from slow shutter wave action, shallow depth of field portraits and macro wave characteristics, and of course what the lighting conditions are. It ranges really and I love being as creative as I’d like so I can’t pick one combo of settings but have a number of combos engrained in my mind that I know work for what I am after capturing . One rule I try to stick to is keeping the ISO as low as possible in any scenario just to keep the noise levels on my images down. Also, using polarizing filters is a great advantage in any situation as they really enhance the quality of the finished product.
When you travel what equipment do you consider to be essential?
Camera bags, multiple carriers for different outings on a trip. Depending on where I am headed, water temperature plays a a huge role in the wetsuit selection or not having to use one at all. Laptop, portable charging docks for phone or laptop, two external hard drives, several backup batteries and SD cards, adaptors, card readers, tripod, all my camera equipment mentioned with the drone gear and water-housing with ports for each lens and my flash as well. Having small cleaning kits and tools to work with the housing, drone and camera so I don’t need to worry about having to track something down and can usually fix it on my own. You necessary clothing, sunscreen, lip balm, and outerwear specific to the locale.
What time of day do you prefer to shot at and why?
Pre-dawn, sunrise, early morning hours , late afternoon hours, sunset and dusk. Basically those times of day when the best light angles and colors possible.
What would you say inspires your creative vision?
The atmospheric conditions, natural lighting, the challenge of seeing an image in my mind and setting out to create it. The plethora of amazing photographers on Instagram and Art of Visual whose work I follow, study, and try and figure out “how’d they do that?” Seeing other photographers work and being intrigued by styles, editing, and connecting to their individual visions inspire my own.
What methods do you use for editing? Can you explain your workflow?
All workflow happens in Lightroom on my Macbook Air. I download images from my SD Cards, select the best of the batch after several run throughs giving some time in between each pass so an objective view starts to develop and create folders for the best by date and location. Then I trash what I don’t keep, which is usually about 80-90% of the total photos taken and begin he editing process using a combination of Lightroom pre-sets and tweaks from those based on the image and feel I’m after. I’ll then use Photoshop to remove any dust or hairs that may be in the image if the sensor hasn’t been cleaned in a while or , water spots if the port wasn’t drop-free and the touch up won’t kill the final product. Then I back everything up twice on two separate hard drives with a naming sequence that stays consistent and makes it easy to retrieve files when digging through archives for features, media, or prints. The best of it all then goes on my website www.mgvphotgraphy.com which I am currently in the process of a complete overhaul so working overtime these days.
What is it about the ocean that draws you to photograph it?
The power, energy, and constant flow. It’s dynamic in every sense of the word. We are of the ocean and I feel a strong connection to it that developed as a young child. There is definitely a spiritual connection for me and the ocean allows me to be in the moment and completely immersed in the present, which is hard to achieve in every-day living.
Among all your work what is the most memorable moment you have captured?
That’s a tough one, can’t really say I have a most memorable moment that is at the top because there are so many epic memories, but if I’d have to pick one it would be a December evening back in 2014 shooting with two of my close friends Mike Moran and fellow photographer, Ben Currie. It was super cold and the swell hadn’t quite shown up yet earlier in the afternoon but I convinced these guys to come out anyway. Ben made the drive all the way from Seaside, NJ in full gamble mode. Anyway, the combo swell picked up with perfect offshore winds not to mention the light angle was just where we wanted it. When it’s winter the cold air just brings out the sickest colors and we caught the last two hours of a setting sun. We were hooting and hollering the whole time with no one out but us. We definitely scored and I produced what are some of my favourite images to date.
How do you continue to educate yourself to be become a better photographer?
Observation of my own work, others work, and my observing my own emotions and how they affect my vision and interpretation. A lot of reflection and self-preservation is important and not being too repetitive. Trying new things and getting out of my comfort zone and not trying to be to obsessed on one thing or one way of collecting work.
You have travelled extensively where is your favourite destination?
Japan has to be on top the list, just amazing landscapes, snow, and oceanscapes to shoot and explore plus the culture is so intriguing to me. The lastepic trip I was on was a combination of surf and snow about a little over a year ago. I got to take three weeks and split it in half between Micronesia and Japan. Micronesia has been on my hit list since I first saw photos of Palikir Pass sometime back in 2005. Pohnpei is an extraordinary island to visit, the natural splendor and local people are among the nicest on Earth and the wave was a just a mechanical, barrel-producing machine. There wasn’t an all-time swell during my stay but just consistently head-high plus for 10 days straight with no more than 7 people in the lineup that consisted of a mellow crew that quickly became friends. Plus, I’ve never seen such water clarity so finally getting the chance to shoot underwater wave action was unreal. From there I jumped on a plane for a one-night stop over at home in Singapore and then moved on to the Japanese Alps where it snowed for 8 days straight. Powder runs for days in a guided backcountry tour based in the Tenjin Lodge. I’ll never forget those three weeks.
Is there somewhere you have been dying to shoot but are yet to capture it?
I’ll have to say Norway. Iceland was at the top of the “must go” list for a few years but after recently following a good friend’s journey to some epic set-ups there on Instagram and chatting it up with him after his return this winter, Norway has definitely edged it out. The combination of landscape, snow, solid waves, and of course the Northern Lights has put it at the the top of my hit list for sure.
Also I would like to see more of Western Australia. I have been once and only scratched the surface. I can’t wait to get back soon.
What would you say is the most challenging part of being a photographer?
Evolving and staying motivated. It’s easy to fall into a “perceived rut” and not want to shoot or edit. I think just picking up my camera as often as possible is a challenge for me but it’s important for me to do that. I’m not always inspired by my surroundings so it’s tough to stay motivated to shoot so overcoming that lackadaisical feeling is tough but necessary. One way to offset that feelin is teaching and running a digital photography club at school where I have a small crew of kids who I work with. They each have their own DSLR so running through settings, concepts, and techniques is great way for me to overcome the challenge of being a photographer who’s not considered “professional.”
Who are your greatest photography inspirations?
First off, Ben Currie is a huge inspiration. He’s always someone I share my latest work with for feedback, motivation, and overall stoke. He basically taught me the ropes early on so I have nothing but respect for him and am forever grateful for his insight and friendship we have developed over the years. Matt Clark, I just love his style and he’s a fellow New Yorker who works his magic with that NY light both in frigid winter waters and the warmer days of any fall hurricane season. James Parascondola, also a friend and New Yorker, is someone I share my work with right away so that we can stoke each other out as swells happen and get the inspiration flowing. Some of the international crew of photogs I am constantly inspired by are Warren Keelan, Andrew Semark, Chris White, Phillip Thurston and Ray Collins. Finally, Aaron Brimhall, though not a surf photographer per say, he has been such an inspiration to me especially in the realm of editing. Sorry if I left names out but you know who you are, there are just so many photographers that I follow on Instagram that inspire me on a daily basis.
What continues to motivate you to create?
Challenging myself to be better at the craft, sharing visions of the ocean and natural world with people who may never have the chance to experience those moments first hand.
Lastly what is one piece of advice you would give someone starting out in photography?
Have fun with it!!! Do it for yourself and for the joy of taking great pictures. The journey it provides and learning experiences you gain from that opportunity. There should be an emotional fulfillment it gives you and latch onto that. When traveling to photograph as you soon find yourself wanting to more and more, pack as light as possible, which is not always easy, be ready for anything, always be respectful of the locals and if you can obtain some local knowledge as you make moves or definitely hire a guide, especially if it’s your first time there. Not only does it support the local community but will make getting around more efficient and maximize your ability to shoot what you have in mind. If you’re the type of traveler who’s into making detailed itineraries, I would suggest keeping it as open as possible to allow for those spur-of-the-moment scenarios to develop. When you do get to your destination try to be as flexible as possible and most of all…. have fun and be safe!!!
If you want to view more of Mikes simply click on this link and it will direct you straight to his website www.mgvphotography.com