First off, it’s been a while since we last spoke. How have you been?
Life is good, 2017 has been another interesting year. The European winter was the worst that I've ever seen, almost no snow and much too warm but I still managed to shoot some great moments and keep my clients happy. Then in May I flew back to Australia to continue my mission to sail around the world in my 37ft sailboat “Lets Live”.
There's a popular saying “you cant change the weather”, well this is proving to be wrong. We have managed to change the weather and its having a pretty massive impact. I see it on both sides of the world, in the mountains and in the ocean.
I try to keep my footprint light and hope that my images will inspire at least a few people to go out and see our beautiful planet and think about their own impact on the world.
Right now I'm recovering from surgery. Last week I was on a photoshoot at Kitzsteinhorn in Austria and ended up breaking my collarbone badly. Back in Zurich they screwed me back together and I'll be fine in a few weeks.
How has Red Bull Illume influenced your career or life as a photographer?
Getting the invite to Chicago as a Red Bull Illume finalist was huge! Just being surrounded by all that talent, I mean the 55 best action sport photographers in the world, that's something! That alone gave me a confidence boost. Generally we fly under the radar, we go from shoot to shoot, images get used widely and the public see a great image but have no idea of who made it.
Red Bull Illume celebrates the photographers. I saw some very inspirational work in Chicago and had the opportunity to speak with some of the photographers and gain an insight into their work ethic and motivations. Obviously it doesn't hurt to be able to tell clients about this success.
What’s it like shooting for a brand with a special mission in mind versus what you would normally shoot? How different is the approach?
I am fortunate enough to have worked closely with Volcom for over a decade now. They give me a very loose brief and leave me pretty much total freedom creatively. This is amazing and I cant thank them enough for trusting me. It also means that I have to continually come up with ideas which in turn keeps everything fresh. I just trust my instincts on this.
I have other clients though that provide pretty exact storyboards for each shoot. They still want my input and personal style but need for example a very specific shot of a girl hiking through the snow at a 40 degree angle to me while looking past my left shoulder in order to portray the jacket well. Working to strict guidelines is very easy in a way as you can tick off images as you get them and be very efficient with your time.
How does your daily life influence your photography? We know you spend summers sailing around the world, so how does this impact your work?
Photography is my passion and I do it all the time, wether I'm getting paid or not. I shoot more photos in summer and dont sell any of them. For me life is all about balance. If I chase every job, compete for every contract and really make “success” my goal then I think I would very soon not enjoy photography anymore.
I feel if I can combine photography with my other passions then I will never tire of it. Sailing during summer, getting away from all the social media and hi-speed lifestyles really calms me down and at the same time regenerates within me the passion and energy needed to stay at the top of my game in winter. I find myself sailing along, its 35 degrees in the tropics and I'm thinking about this icefall drop I want to shoot next winter. Its a perfect balance for me.
What would you say is the coolest project you’ve worked on this year? Either personal or professional?
In early September I flew to southern Australia to join a large crew of Volcom riders at a ski resort called Falls Creek. A lot of prep work was done in advance and when we arrived there was a very cool feature waiting for us. I cant say too much more as Volcom will be rolling out the images internationally in an upcoming campaign. We were a crew of 16 and it was a pretty epic week! Such a mix of individuals, so talented, not just snowboarding, they were also making art, playing all sort of instruments and singing. We just had a blast! On top of all the fun though we created some amazing content that people the whole world over will see in the coming months. These are the jobs that I live and breath for!
What’s your current go-to setup for photography?
I have been using Canon products since 1997. Currently I use a 5D lll with prime and zoom lenses from 15mm through to 400mm. I have a bunch of Elinchrom flash gear that I haven't used in about 4 years.
Canon and Nikon, the two major brands for the last 20 years have in my opinion been left in the dust though. I feel like for 80% of my work now I could literally have a couple of Go-Pros, a DJI Mavic and my new iPhone and that would be fine.
This of course also has to do with the fact that a good proportion of my work these days is really for online use only. The actual quality of the image is slowly taking a backseat to the ability to shoot anytime, anywhere and at the drop of a hat. I don't think the big prime lenses will go away but I just might be carrying them a bit less which my knees will appreciate.
What’s one piece of gear you won’t leave your house without?
These days its my iPhone! I did a trip to Brazil last year and took all my normal 30kgs of equipment. Right before I left I brought an iPhone 7+, it has 2 camera/lenses, shoots 10 frames per second, films 4k and super slomo. During the whole trip I hardly used my Canon gear. Obviously in some situations, bad/low light for example the iPhone cant compare to the Canon but in other situations the iphone was way better.
In Rio, where crime is very high, I felt much safer shooting with a iPhone rather than a huge Canon with that white lens that everyone know costs many thousands of dollars.
GoPro and DJI both make it possible to shoot RAW/DNG format now and I'm sure the next iPhone will have that capability too.
Any tips for aspiring photographers?
If you're read this far you will realize that the entry into this profession is much easier than back when I started. A reasonable setup will cost you about the same as 1 decent Canon prime lens. So the best tip I can give is to go and use that cheap amazing equipment as much as you can. When everyone has access then it comes down to how you use it. Most people are not prepared to lie in the mud or climb a tree to get a different angle. Be that person! Get dirty, the gear is all waterproof now anyway.
And last but not least, will we see you at the next Red Bull Illume?
I really hope so! One of the things I noticed in Chicago was that many photographers there had shot their images specifically for the Illume competition. It's such a huge event that it makes sense to devote part of your year to coming up with a concept and spending time and money to create those images.
This is a strategy that I choose not to take. Its like anything, when everyone starts doing it the results will all start to look the same. In Chicago there were quite a few images that were totally amazing but in reality completely posed. The photographers would find amazing locations and then figure out what element of sport they could add to change it from a great landscape image into an image that would qualify it as Action Sport.
I'll keep shooting real action and submit my best images and hope that Red Bull appreciates that. It would really be an honor for me to be chosen as a finalist in the next edition of the Red Bull Illume!
To see more of Vernon's work, check out his website, follow him on Instagram and watch him travel around the world on his YouTube channel!