You might not immediately recognize his name.
But chances are you’ve stumbled upon the Californian’s work, whether it’s an enormous Corona campaign image plastered across the double-decker bus on your morning commute or one of those gorgeous desktop background images that brighten up your MacBook.
The 27-year-old photographer/filmmaker gained acclaim through his passion for capturing the ocean and the enthusiasts who use it as their playground.
His breathtaking style and genre soon caught the eye of top corporate clients, including Nike, Corona, Apple, Mercedes-Benz and Samsung, not to mention every major surf brand.
“Everything I make is like a postcard of somewhere I have gone or something I have really enjoyed,” says Maassen.
“Whether it was a texture on the water or a cityscape in China. It is something that I thought was beautiful and worth capturing, or compelling or inspiring or terrifying.”
— Photographer/filmmaker Morgan Maassen
Maassen is a self-professed traveler at heart and little appears to intimidate him. He continually puts his life in danger capturing some of the most recognizable names in the surfing industry, such as Kelly Slater, Stephanie Gilmore and John John Florence, while avoiding sharks, riptides and massive crashing walls of water.
It’s these extreme conditions that help streamline his creative process.
“It is immensely simplified because you are putting a camera in an aluminum enclosure and dealing with as few buttons and settings as possible. So, you can focus on surviving and getting exactly what you want to get.”
‘The ocean has given me everything’
Negotiating traffic through central Kowloon, a far cry from the crystal-clear waters of the South Pacific, Maassen explains the origins of his deep lust for capturing the seas.
“My father is a fisherman and my mother has always been involved with non-profits for protecting the ocean. So, I grew up in the water. I think I knew how to swim before I knew how to walk.
“It was only natural that through my passion for surfing and spending so much time on boats and at the beach that the moment I picked up cameras, that is what I would be focusing on.”
Morgan Maassen has worked with some of the world’s top surfers.
We exit the taxi and are thrown into Hong Kong’s controlled chaos. Immediately Morgan takes out his Red Weapon camera and begins to roll.
There is a calmness and subtlety about him as he captures the overwhelming scenes that engulf him and it’s apparent he’s as at home in this environment as any other.
“I find a lot of inspiration in cities, whether it is appreciating the art and culture and people or having some time alone to just walk around and appreciate technology and infrastructure.
“Or just to be somewhere new. I have always enjoyed that equally as much as being on a random beach or being on top of a mountain by myself.”
Traveling is the foundation of Maassen’s work, with the photographer and filmmaker spending most of his time on the road. He says that it’s a way of opening his mind to the greater unknown.
“Not only are you experiencing new things but you are also growing as a human,” says Maassen.
“The moment you stop traveling or travel less is the moment you start closing doors in your mind.”
His advice for aspiring travel photographers? Take advantage of every second.
“It is an incredible opportunity and luxury to even leave your hometown,” says Maassen.
“There are billions of people that are not afforded that luxury so make the most of it. Between that and being an intrepid traveler in the sense that you know your limits of safety, you aspire to learn as much of the local language as possible and you try to make the most of where you are going in a safe, pragmatic and respectful way.”
Departing Kowloon, we board an old Chinese fishing boat, bobbing in the middle of the harbor as the setting sun spreads its rays across the Hong Kong haze.
He quietly takes in his surroundings while composing his next shot.
Striving to become better
With so many corporate clients wanting to tap into his creative mindset, Maassen’s been on the road for about a year, working on everything from marketing campaigns to a Bollywood movie.
Having already achieved such success at a relatively young age, he doesn’t appear ready to slow down.
“I have long danced around the constructs of society as far as going to school, working a 9-5 job even aspiring to just having a nuclear family and live in a home,” he says.
“I am a nomad and I love to create and make things and my only expectation I hold myself to is to treat everyone fairly that I come across and as someone that makes art and media, I just want to become better at that.”