You know it’s going to be a fun interview when you spend the first few minutes discussing World Animal Day and the fact that my current interviewee’s WhatsApp photo is of him and his two ducks. They are called the Dutch equivalent names of Donald and Daisy Duck. So ducks? I’m more of a cat person I say. Well apparently so is Tom, however he is highly allergic, and instead he hangs out with Donald and Daisy, going for swims and generally just chilling out. This definitely set the tone for what was to be a light heated and fun discovery of how Tom, born in the Naval town of Den Helder, grew up to be one of the most stunning superyacht photographers we have met in recent years.
So where did it all begin? Tom’s Dad was in the Dutch Royal Navy who were based in Den Helder, The Netherlands only Naval base and so he was always around boats from a very young age and had a fascination for anything that floated. But it was in 1999 when MY Boadicea, Amels beautiful 76.6m was launched in his home town for sea trials that his love affair with yachts and photography really began. With his Dad’s old analogue camera in hand he began taking photographs of anything that moved, or didn’t for that matter. 3 years later, after beginning work on the flower farm he was proudly able to buy his first camera, a Kodak 4 MP.
Now you have to remember that these were the days before Marine Traffic, so you didn’t know which boats were going to be coming and when, and it required a persistent nature to find out, which Tom clearly had in abundance. He would hang out and when the boats would come in he would often be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. The local papers started picking up his photographs and turned him into somewhat of a local celebrity. 3 years later and more cameras, and his photos were getting better and better on a daily basis. Although I should point out that he is quick to say that he was starting from a very low bar, though I feel that this is more due to his rather humble self-deprecating nature that the fact that his photos were actually as bad as he claims.
Still, whilst his passion never waned it wasn’t until a summer holiday in Ibiza around 2011 when he came across his first real muse, Motor Yacht A, off the coast of Formentera. She was, and I quote, “Sick!!!!” He went home newly invigorated and determined to learn more about the industry, printing off the Top 100 superyachts worldwide and having his photos printed in Boat International. Despite this enthusiasm it was still a slow entry into the industry, with fairly low pay. He recalls his trip to the South of France in 2012 when he was staying in a crap hotel in Nice when the Monaco Boat show was on, and the exorbitant entry fee of 80 euros. So he took a chance and emailed the Marketing Director offering his photography services for free entry. And lo and behold they took him up on his offer. Once again he says they weren’t the greatest photos but the Director loved them and he was invited to return.
It was then that he had a chance meeting with a chap in classic boat show attire who came up to him and said “You’re Tom.” Slightly flummoxed he didn’t really understand what it was that he wanted at that point, until he discovered he was from the SuperYacht Times and had been watching Tom’s progress with Boat International and had wanted to introduce himself. He thought that was that, but a few months later he called him about a superyacht festival that was happening in Amsterdam and could he come and cover it for SuperYacht Times? It was here that he saw what a small industry it was, with groups of close knit friends coming together drinking and enjoying the food trucks. At that time Tom was super shy and he says with a resigned laugh that the number of photos he took at the festival you could count on both hands, a very small ten.
He decided on a change of direction and followed another of his mechanical passions, that of helicopters. However this road wasn’t in the stars, boats were still calling. Literally. Johan the Marketing Manager from that first Monaco Boat show called up and said that the SuperYacht Times were looking for a photographer and he had put Tom’s name forward for the role. It was time to put the shy, awkward young man from the corner in the festival away and embrace the opportunity that had been presented before him. So in 2015 the butterfly emerged from the cocoon and he began to do what he had always dreamed of, fly the globe taking photos of the World’s greatest superyachts.
For three wonderful years the SuperYacht Times afforded him a platform to hone his skills, be at all the boat shows and constantly evolve his photography. But it wasn’t quite enough, as it was still difficult to work with the shipyards and boats directly. So finally 3½ years ago, Tom took the biggest step and went freelance. Hs says that it by far the best decision of his life. He has incredible jobs every day, working directly with the shipyards on new builds, following the boats from inception to launch. He joins owners on trips where most leave him to his own devices to capture those perfect shots of the things they treasure most in the world. He says he wakes up everyday excited, and in fact he often can’t sleep before a launch, of which he shoots some astounding 30 per year.
He says that whilst the last 1 ½ years have not been easy in many ways, it has in fact been his most successful year so far. He has visited the Caribbean, the Maldives, Iceland and probably his favourite place to shoot, Norway. But it wasn’t always like this. There were frustrating times and people who said that he couldn’t make a living out of photography, that was at times draining. However his determination and hard work have brought him to this place where he is now. Where he is shooting iconic yachts such as Black Pearl or following Feadship’s newest launch down the canals of The Netherlands for four days, using a myriad of different photography styles and techniques. It just goes to show that with a little luck, a lot of skill and bucketloads of passion, the sky really is the limit!
By Victoria Pearce