PHOTOGRAPHER: Nick LaVecchia
BASED IN: Maine, USA
KNOWN FOR: Images shot on, under and near the ocean waves, including beautiful abstract images of light playing on the ocean surface
SHOOTS WITH: FUJIFILM X-T2 Camera, FUJINON XF23mmF2 R WR Lens, XF35mmF2 R WR Lens, XF56mmF1.2 R Lens
Nick LaVecchia is a photographer with a fascination for the sea and all its moods. Originally from New Jersey, the time he spent skateboarding and snowboarding in his youth eventually led him to surfing. This enduring love, in turn, resulted in him settling on the coast of Maine. We caught up with Nick while he was in Barbados, chasing a swell from Maine to the Caribbean, to ask him a few questions about how he got into photography and how he goes about shooting in the ocean.
How long have you been shooting the ocean and how did you get started?
I’ve been shooting in, on and around the ocean for over 20 years now. It started with a sailing voyage from Cape Cod, MA down to the Caribbean in 1995. I was at sea for 33 days without seeing land. I had my trusty Minolta waterproof camera and a Ziploc bag containing some rolls of film my dad gave me. That trip forever changed the way I look at light, water and textures.
What do you look for in a camera when shooting on, or near, the ocean?
Many of my cameras and lenses have been exposed to serious amounts of salt exposure, and once I even flooded a camera due to an improperly sealed water housing. First and foremost, I look for weather-sealed bodies and lenses.
What items or accessories do you always take with you when shooting near sand and water?
I always have a soft towel or rain cover on hand to cover everything while shooting in snow, sleet or rain. I also take a soft brush to wipe out any sand that finds its way in and a small Pelican case or wet/dry bag to keep things safe. You never know when you may want to make a spur-of-the-moment swim out to a secluded island.
With the sand, sea spray and lack of cover, beaches seem like fairly hostile environments for photography gear. How do you get around these difficulties?
In the winter, it’s mostly about keeping batteries warm. I stuff them in my down jacket with hand warmers around them. I always try to change lenses in the shade and out of wind as well, to keep any flying sand off the sensor.
In warmer destinations, while shooting from the beach, I just do my best to keep salt spray off the cameras and lenses. When it happens – and it will – I use a soft, slightly damp cloth to wipe everything down at the end of the day.
Getting into the water with a camera sounds like a daunting experience. What do our readers need to know before trying it for the first time?
When it’s time to jump into the ocean, my X-T2 goes inside a custom AquaTech Water Housing. Choose your water housing wisely. Take your time loading it up and checking the seals. There are a couple options out there, but when it comes to surface and surf work, I believe AquaTech makes the best custom housings there are.
The lens ports are separate from the housing. They screw on to the front of the housing and are sized for certain types of lenses. Flat ports or dry ports are used for more medium/telephoto lenses and are designed for above-surface work. I have flat ports for my XF23mm, XF35mm and XF56mm. Dome ports or wet ports are meant for surface and underwater work. I also have a large dome port for my 23mm lens when shooting underwater shots or under-over shots.
You’ll want to keep your ports dry and free from water spots with a little grease from the side of your nose. Rub it around the port and dunk it in the water to keep your images droplet free. For wet ports, some saliva will work and you can keep them underwater until you’re ready to shoot. This will create a smooth film over the dome, rather than lots of small droplets.
Do you use a flotation aid of some kind to keep yourself steady in the water?
I do not use flotation of any kind. I find it more important to be able to dive and swim under waves with a good pair of swim fins. In cold winter waters a 6mm suit will keep you good and buoyant.
What kinds of camera settings do you like to use when shooting waves? Do you tend to prioritize shutter speed, or aperture?
I tend to shoot in manual mode for everything. I like to have complete control of the situation, as lighting and surface conditions can change drastically in minutes. When shooting action from the water, it’s important that your shutter is fast enough to freeze the moment.
You don’t realize how much you are actually moving while treading water and trying to compose an image at the same time. When I shoot wide-angle action, I manually set my focus at three to five meters before loading it into the housing. That way I can concentrate on compositions without worrying about AF and refocusing.
Any final words of advice?
Invest in a good pair of swim fins – a trusted brand or whatever fits your feet the best. Swim a lot. In the ocean. In the pool. Any chance you get. Spend time swimming in the ocean, in bigger surf, without a camera. Get comfortable with waves passing over you and breaking right in front of you. Practice holding your breath and staying calm underwater as the ocean does its thing. Build up the technique and stamina required to tread water for hours. Once you’re comfortable in that environment, you’ll feel more confident about trying it with a camera, adjusting camera settings and composing images as waves move over you.
Nick LaVecchia is a FUJIFILM-compensated professional photographer.
To see more of Nick’s work, visit his website.
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