Life through a lens - A portrait of Superyacht photographer Tom van Oossanen
When you’ve gazed at those dramatic images of the most impressive Superyachts in the world, the chances are you’ve been admiring them through the stunning work of specialist Superyacht photographer Tom van Oossanen.
As the photographer for Superyacht Times, Tom has travelled the globe to capture his iconic images in exotic lagoons and remote seas alike - regularly making a splash with eye-catching cover shots and spellbinding centre spreads.
Now working solo, Tom continues to produce extraordinary photographs for both private and commercial commissions. We decided to have a chat to find out what drives him to go the extra nautical mile with every project.
How long have you been a professional photographer?
Hard to say, not sure how fine the line is between photographer and professional photographer to be honest. I do a lot of professional photography, but I also love to just go out there on a tender, make a circle around a boat and try and find an angle no one has ever seen before. Is that professional or just casual boat spotting?
Did you start out specialising in yachting?
Not really, I did like boats a lot though. I was raised in Den Helder, the Netherlands, which is the only city in the country with a navy base. Everyone likes boats!
However, I can still recall the first time I saw a Superyacht. It was 1999 and my brothers and I were always at the port when the Dutch shipyard Amels built Superyacht Boadicea and conducted sea trials from my hometown. She was one of the biggest Superyachts built at that time.
It certainly got my interest, and whenever a Superyacht was in port I would be there and have a look. Later on, I started taking photos. Although I was more into photographing helicopters at that time.
So when did you get into Superyacht photography in a big way?
The Superyacht virus really caught me in 2011 while on holiday in Ibiza. I went on a day cruise to Formentera and Superyacht “A” was there. She had only just been delivered. It was a spectacular sight and the photo I took of her back then has been my favourite one for a long time. When I got back home and got to the office I worked for back then, I immediately printed out the Top 100 Superyachts and started reading and learning!
What are the best and worst things about being a Superyacht photographer?
The best thing for me personally is that I can do what I love doing most. I am very passionate about my work and I hope that reflects in the photography I do.
The worst thing is the heavy bag I always have to carry with me!
Photographers say capturing the perfect shot can mean going to some extreme lengths. Is there one of your shoots that illustrates that point?
Probably the Dilbar shoot with SuperYacht Times over the North Sea. That day, or to be exact the whole weekend was crazy. We drove to the Dutch island of Vlieland and waited all day for Dilbar to pass over the North Sea. She went so far north but we wanted to make it happen. Finally we decided to take off and go for it. Dilbar is a big boat of course, but the sea is much bigger and when we finally found her and saw her ploughing through the waves it was worth the 50-mile flight over the dark North Sea. And the results were great! We had to get off the island late at night by a water taxi and then drive home to be ready to travel to Iceland the next day and capture Superyacht “A” in Reykjavik.
What a weekend that was!
What other places has your work taken you to?
With SuperYacht Times I have travelled all over the world - to every boat show in Singapore, Dubai, Fort Lauderdale and of course Monaco and beyond. We also travelled to Oman for example and Iceland as well.
Can you recall some favourite projects and locations?
My highlights would definitely be Komodo National Park and the Galapagos trip. Those are amazing places, out of this world to be honest. In Galapagos we spent 8 days onboard Savannah and exploring the Islands was such a unique experience. The wildlife there is amazing. It was so cool to see how curious the animals are as they see so little human activity that they have no reason to be afraid of us.
How long were you at Superyacht Times?
I was at SuperYacht Times for 3 years exactly but, luckily, we still work a lot together and I enjoy every mission we get ourselves into. Without the magazine I would never be where I am now. It is still my main source of information about the Superyacht industry and I am forever thankful for the opportunity given by them.
So why did you decide to move into freelance work?
As SYT is very much a media platform I would always find myself on the other side of the river during launches for example. You can definitely get a good shot from there, but never really the one I have in mind as a photographer. Working freelance gives me the opportunity to work directly with the shipyard and have all the options available to get the best shot. Although they may be published less now, the images are given to the owner and they and their family can enjoy a great portfolio of a very special day.
There’s clearly a great demand within the industry for your services, why do you think that is?
Over the past 16 years I have worked on my own style. Photography is very important in our industry as many potential owners won’t ever see some yachts in real life. In order to grab their attention, we need to create beautiful photography and get their interest to make them enthusiastic about the great industry we work in. I try to create unique and new photography which people like and, hopefully, I can help to make this industry grow with doing so.
Have all your travels and many encounters with people taught you any life lessons?
What I’ve learned is that you should not believe everyone on their bright blue eyes. No one is going to get you where you want to be, you all have to do it yourself and you really have to work your bum off for it.
I will never forget my first time on the docks in Monaco in 2012 and being turned down by at least 80% of the people who I was trying to talk to regarding photos and Superyachts.
But more importantly is that I will always remember the people who were there and took the time to talk to me and help me to support what I love doing most. Nowadays I can count some of them among my most loyal clients and I am very thankful for that. Just always treat people with respect and you might find them running that bit faster for you in the future.
How about any lessons specific to our beloved Superyacht industry?
I believe we can make a huge change all together in this industry. There is so much money involved and with only a tiny percentage of it we can protect what we all enjoy so much - the oceans. Probably the best thing happening now is raising awareness for our oceans and I am glad to see more and more owners finding it important too.
Finally, we love to see every one of your incredible photographs but do you have some personal favourites we can focus on here?
Oh, I have a few I am afraid. There is a story behind every photograph - very cliché but true.
I loved the Dilbar top shot and I was very happy with the Galapagos shark and the hull of Savannah. More recently the shot of Kismet in the heavy swell in front of MC and Amadea lit up in front of MC!
If you would like to see more of Tom’s stunning work or make contact,
Also follow Tom on Instagram:- @tomvanoossanen