Onne van der Wal: World-renowned Nautical Photographer | Focal Upright
Upright Story:
Onne van der Wal

Onne van der Wal’s career as a world-renowned nautical photographer began as a simple hobby. After falling in love with sailing as a young man living in South Africa, he decided to pursue his passion and became a professional sailor. Always one to carry a camera, Onne would take pictures of his races and global travels. By chance, a magazine editor saw some of his photos and encouraged him to keep shooting. That support would develop into a career that has taken Onne to the farthest corners of the earth.

We had the chance to catch up with Onne and ask him some questions.

So what do you do?
I’m a professional photographer. I do both video and still photography in the boating industry. I also do advertising work both in and out of the marine industry–that’s really my bread and butter. Let’s say a bank or a pharmaceutical company wants to shoot a nautical scene. I’ll make a film, I’ll do the stills–sometimes in a helicopter, sometimes on board, sometimes in the water. It’s all boating related imagery–that’s my business.

Where do you find inspiration?
I’m inspired by amazing light and beautiful weather conditions or amazing boats no matter the weather conditions. If you get the two together, well then, you have no excuse. Then you can create magic.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
What do you mean? I’m still growing up!
When I was a boy, probably 10 years old going through the harbor in Cape Town wanting to be a tug captain. I didn’t want to be some guy pushing around little boats. I wanted to haul big rigs offshore for miles on end–that was my dream.

What are you afraid of?
Snakes–it’s funny, I grew up in South Africa and we had a lot of badass snakes down there. I’d ride motorbikes on the steepest mountains, I’d body surf in the biggest waves–but those snakes really got to me.

You know what else gives me the heebie-jeebies? Roller coasters. I’ll hang out of a helicopter and shoot really cool stuff, but I went on a roller coaster once with one of my kids and after the second loop de loop I said, “I’ll never do that again.” My kids say, “I can’t believe you’re scared, you’ve done all of these crazy things in your life–why?” It’s because I’m not in control. I can’t squeeze the throttle or hit the break. It’s all automated and if for some reason the thing goes off the track, it’s all over.

So snakes and roller coasters–those are my silly fears.

Do you have any creative habits or rituals?
I love to start really early in the morning. I’m very productive before anyone else is–in the office I have a lot of energy, I can really concentrate. I’m not a night person at all. I can happily climb into bed at 9 pm and get up at 5am and work my tail off.

When I’m editing video, I’ll spend hours, days, months in my office–it becomes my life. I have a great speaker system and always listen to music. I love classical music–mostly baroque–Bach, Mozart, that kind of stuff. I love organ music. I love my 70s music, Pink Floyd, the Beatles. And I love listening to modern stuff.

How much time do you actually spend indoors?
I spend a lot of time at my desk, and my desk is an important part of the whole workflow. People think, “Oh, you’re lucky, you work outside all the time,” I don’t. I probably only spend 20% of my time working outside. The rest of the time is spent here at my desk, at my computer editing. I spend hours at this desk, and it can be a long and tedious time if you’re not set up correctly in terms of posture and comfort.

Clean or cluttered?
Very clean. I try to be very organized because I shoot so many videos and stills and I have to be able to find my files very easily.

Coffee or tea?
Tea. I’m a big tea drinker. In South Africa, we grew up with an herbal tea called Roibos- it’s very relaxing, there’s no caffeine. But in the mornings I love just regular breakfast tea.

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