How’s this for lifestyle goals? Imagine traveling the globe with nothing but your pack and trusty DSLR—Tahiti, Australia, The Indian Ocean, and more. That’s just the everyday experience of Santa Barbara-based photographer Morgan Maassen, known for stunning surf photography that captures the magic of the natural world—both above and below the surface. Morgan shared his viewpoint with the Vuori community as a collaborator for our EcoOuterlands collection. We talked with him about chasing inspiration and wanderlust, as well as his unique connection to the outdoors.
Idyllwild Sherpa in forest
Did you always want to be a photographer/videographer? How did you get into this line of work?
Honestly, not at all! When I was a teenager, I would fiddle around with a home camcorder to make little surf and skate films featuring my friends and our adventures. I actually left high school early to pursue a career in graphic and web design, and around the age of 19, I had saved up enough to take a sabbatical to travel the world and make a film—my ultimate dream! At the last second, I opted to purchase a DSLR to bring along as well, and throughout my travels that year I chipped away at learning photography while continuing to make short films. Upon my return, a more clear path emerged as to how to make photography and filmmaking a profession, so I jumped in!
What is your favorite location you’ve photographed?
Tahiti, for its incredible power. The strength of the ocean, the breathtaking mountains, wildlife, the people and their stunning culture… I am forever in awe. Tahiti is closely followed by home in California, especially in the winter. I live for chasing the winter light, whether it’s the coastline being lashed by a storm or the picturesque golden sunset.
What is a moment you’ve had as a photographer that will resonate with you for the rest of your life?
Swimming with Humpback whales in Tahiti is the end-all. There is nothing more profound than being approached by a 60 ft creature as it curiously checks you out, while its child dances around you with the aloofness of a puppy. It is truly heart-stopping; maybe the only moment in my career where I struggled to hit record as I was so transfixed.
What helps you continue to stay inspired and tap into your creativity?
Growth, and the unknown. I wake up every day excited to capture something I’ve never seen or experienced before. I love traveling. I love meeting new people and experiencing new environments. Wildlife truly fascinates me! And I love being challenged creatively, whether that is from the circumstantial hardships of the environment I’m working in, or meeting someone that turns my worldview upside down. Just getting out the door every day with a camera and a curious mind keeps me looking forward.
Your work looks like such a beautiful and exciting adventure, but we’re sure like most things in life it has its ups and downs.
I am incredibly fortunate to call my passions my occupation, but mixing the two is never easy. I often joke that photography is 99% emails, and 1% shooting… but it is true! And it can be soul-crushing to pair creativity with the interest of business, so it really does become a delicate dance. I have always aired on the side of optimism in that the reward far outweighs the risk; it just requires a strong work ethic and being clever in navigating personal and work projects. Beyond that, the amount of travel and work can sometimes be overwhelming to maintaining a personal life, but balance and simplification are key. I look back on previous struggles and realize they were incredible growing points in helping me get to where I am today.
What is the most humbling part of doing what you do?
Beyond being able to make photos & film, I truly am grateful for the people I meet, the wildlife I encounter, the nature I get to experience. I am reminded daily just how large and fantastic this planet is.
What is the most rewarding part of seeing a project come to life?
Being able to step back from a completed project, big or small, is like stepping back from having finished building a house. There are so many intricate steps and procedures that often blur into one, sometimes detracting from the magnitude of the creative, physical, and mental growth experienced. It is also very easy to leave photo and video projects unfinished or ongoing, so the sense of completion in the artistic space carries a special weight to it.
What do you hope people take away from watching your films?
Environmental beauty is the ethos of my films; I am particularly obsessed with the power of the ocean, for it has shaped almost every aspect of my life. It is an honor to share with the world what I find so riveting about the sea. Beyond that, I love pointing my lens at characters who inspire me along my journey. While my cinematography may be ethereal, I never aim to convey a particular message, so much as to document what captivates me.
Are there any bucket list destinations or people you still hope to work with?
The list is too long to share, but right now I am having an absolute blast working with the Korua Shapes snowboarders and their incredible riding and mountaineering. Snow is a great unknown to me, and I am just scratching the surface in my own exploration of that world. I am also drooling to get to east Africa—Tanzania, Kenya, Socotra—for its wildlife and scenic beauty. These are places that have been on my bucket list since reading National Geographic as a child.
What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self knowing what you know now and where you landed in life?
As cliche as it sounds, life goes by so fast. There are so many decisions I made thinking about the next move or the end goal—I think out of nervousness about mixing my passions with my occupation. It took me a long time to go with the flow, really slow down, and enjoy what I cherish most.