Shooter: Meet New Jersey Lensman Mike Vuocolo

May 31, 2019 • Local Photographers, Photo Portfolio, Photos, Shooter

First In A continuing Series:

1) When did you start shooting surf? My first dabble in surf photography came in the early 1970’s when my dad showed me how to use his Argus 35mm rangefinder which was exclusively loaded with Kodachrome slide film. Never got any good results because his short lens could not cut it. But I learned the importance of getting the correct shutter and f-stop combination and properly framing subject matter as slide film was not friendly to improper exposure and composure. In 1977 I got my first real surf photo gear, an Olympus OM-1 MD with a 28mm, 50mm and 70-200mm Soligor Zoom. Most important in this early effort was my experience with Kodachrome which I used but had no idea that it was the industry standard at the time.

As an upper level manager at Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, Mike V. is on top of what happens at Manasquan Inlet and nobody has better angles from the south side than him. Photo: Mez / ESM / @mezapixels

3) First photo published, was it film or digital and how much did you get paid? My first ever shot published in a surf magazine was actually two shots in the June 1980 issue of Surfer Magazine. The first was a two page color photo of Manasquan’s Chris Rooney carving a cutback at the Inlet during a great late November swell in 1979. The second was a black and white shot of Chris pulling off a pretty radical layback from the same shoot. The color shot paid $100 and the black and white fetched 20 bucks. Both shots were made on Kodachrome 64, 1/250 sec @ f8 with a 600mm lens on my Olympus OM 1-MD camera body. Surfing magazine published an article I had written about the same time that included several photos by Dick Meseroll. Florida-based Wave Rider also published a lengthy article I penned on surfing and ocean pollution in Jersey and featured about a dozen of my shots. I made over $400 just from surf magazine shots and words that spring and was able to buy a waterhousing.

Fish Tanks, a wave that’s been ridable maybe a handful of times anyone can remember, came to life on April 3, 2019. The combination of shoaling sand from the recent dredges and a strong spring swell created this view that greeting me as I walked into my office for the first time this year on that day. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

4) Biggest photo buyout? My biggest photo payday was not a single event but was the decade from 1977 to 1987 when I freelanced in the newspaper industry. Working nights and weekends while holding down a full-time career, I worked in my own darkroom and sold enough images to rake in about $30,000 over those years. That kept me in film, supplies and gear pretty well.

Being familiar with a surfer’s style helps to grab the peak action frame. Clay Pollioni always putting in a precision performance at Jenks any day of the year. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

5) Favorite place to shoot and why? Currently, I have two favorite places to shoot, Manasquan and Sebastian Inlets. It is all about the angles and there are so many options at both of these that you can almost always get something no one else got on every shoot. I am pretty well known at both and have some perspectives on Manasquan Inlet that nobody else has access to. (Although I may share one with a friend next week).

Nearly every spring you get at least one day where the southerly sand movement from the Manasquan Inlet is met by a south swell and results in these little peelers at a 30 degree angle to the shoreline. In the distance are Bay HeadÕs jetties protruding at 90 degrees from the beach. April 2019. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

6) Non-surf image you are most stoked on? Paul McCartney at Giants Stadium August 2016.

Sir Paul McCartney, Giants Stadium. The lesson here is always be ready to capture the moment. In 1964 I was introduced to both the Beatles and Surfing. Two interests that got permanently carved into my 10 year old brain and would be prevalent throughout my lifetime. When I learned there may be a chance to get up close with “Macca” at Giants Stadium during August 2016, I stuffed a cheapo digital point-and-shoot camera in my cargos. Rock show photo of a lifetime for me.

7) Photog you admire and find inspirational to your work? Every shooter has others who influenced or mentored them. Merkel, Brewer, Woody and Devine really got the goods in the 70’s and 80’s. But for me, Larry “Flame” Moore and Dick Meseroll really inspired and guided me early in my career. I admire them immensely for their contributions to surf photography and publishing. When I first started shooting, Flame would never criticize and would always offer tips on how to get better surf shots, even though I was a young  kid wasting his time by sending him pretty gnarly slides. He set the standard how images would be made in “Larry Light.” Meaning everything would be front lit and preferably, the wave riders face could be recognizable in each image. Meanwhile, Mez helped show that there was an international media market for the Jersey boys and always coached me on how important it was to get your shots to have perspective. Like get the pier or the rocks or the beach umbrella or boat in the frame. And Mez got Right Coast surfing where it needed to go by co-founding ESM. With Tom Dugan. I am grateful for their guidance in my early years.

Latest ACOE dredge placed 22 foot high dunes over the southern half of Point Pleasant Beach. The movement of sand created this perfect mini point break which eliminated the views from these oceanfront seats at a popular boardwalk breakfast/coffee spot. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

8) If you could pick a place to travel and photograph all expenses paid where would it be and why? There are loads of places I need to hit and shoot in this lifetime. But for today, if someone was to foot the bill, I would love to shoot surfing at the 2020 Olympic Games. That would be a once in a lifetime opportunity of historic significance.  Rubbing elbows with the best never hurts you. (DM me on Instagram if you want to cover my expenses).

Dunes being Built at South end of Point Pleasant Beach Boardwalk obliterating, literally, the million dollar views that attracts locals and revenue generating tourists alike. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

9) How do you feel about the rise of digital imaging, social media “platforms” and the semi-slow death of print media? I am saddened by the decline of print media and surf magazines in particular. A monthly surf mag would sit around the house for months and you read it cover to cover over and over until the titles, slogans and quotes got burned into your brain. When you recited things like “A Day Beyond Description” or “Full-on Full-time” to someone you had an instant connection with them. Digital photography has changed the game as everyone can be a shooter and post it up on social media. There is the advantage of instant information and image sharing but the lasting impressions are rare. You just gotta’ work harder for your shots to separate you from the crowd. That could mean get up extra early, stay extra late, look for the angles and, most importantly, know your subject matter well.

Morning wave check in Point Pleasant Beach revealed some colorful cylinders on a spring swell, Manasquan Inlet extra hollow and colorful April 3, 2019 Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

10) Any other comments on the state of photography today good, bad and ugly? Photography today is better than ever, unless you are a film purist. It permits more people to make quality images without the effort or training required in the film and manual focus era. Sharing with family and friends is effortless. Create and share images is what we all do. Some of us just happen to operate on a different level.

Cole Deveney up and coming ripper and competitor from Brielle, NJ took full advantage of high school spring break with a couple of 4 hour + sessions at Manasquan Inlet. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

11) Current equipment?  In the bag (or vehicle) we got a pair of Nikon D-2xs, a D7100, Nikkor 18-140mm, Nikkor 70-300mm, Tamron 300mm/2.8, Nikkor 50-200mm, Nikkor 18-70mm, Sigma 70-210mm, Nikkor 80-400mm, Sigma 150-600mm and 2 Newer dedicated speedlites.

Clay Pollioni, Jenks. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

Perhaps most well know for his flying circus-like aerial antics the DelMarVa’s Simon Hetric’s rail game is just as dialed as this backside high line carve clearly illustrates. Photo: Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

Ryan Daly, Jenks. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

Newly “engineered” dune at New York Avenue in Point Pleasant Beach has altered the landscape for now at least. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

The Corp taketh away and also giveth – The Mantoloking dredge resulted in perhaps some of the best and most consistent waves ever seen at the Jersey Shore. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

“Solite Brothers” ( l to r ) Matt Amato, Delcan Coyle and Chris Bodine. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

Maryland standout Simon Hetrick hopped on the Cape May-Lewes ferry and hightailed it up to Point Beach this day fresh off a notable Pea Island barrel session on the Outer Banks not missing a beat in his radical above the lip antics. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

Seth Conboy ( pictured here ) and Simon Hetrick were chasing thick, mid-Atlantic barrels last week from Hatteras and North. When they landed at Manasquan Inlet this week they were ready for a full-on performance surfing on a quality Jersey spring swell. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

When James “Squirrel” Mitchell takes to the air, people stop and notice. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

Please raise your hand if anyone can ever recall a swell when Chris Brice was not sitting outside at Jenks patiently waiting to hand pick his waves for a smooth and stylish ride? Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

First meal for an Oyster Catcher hatchling on Jenkinsons Beach. To say Vuocolo’s talents are diversified would be understatement- the man can capture the “decisive moment” at wherever subject he chooses to point his lens at. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

Mike Vuocolo, always on the job pictured here documenting rare, nesting Oyster Catchers at Jenks Beach. Photo: Mez

Pat Parenty, a regular from nearby Long Branch in Monmouth County seems equally at home across the ‘Squan river in Point Pleasant Beach. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

Not every surfer can pull off – or dare to attempt to pull off – this move like Pat Schmidt does in the Point Pleasant Beach shorebreak. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

Unknown surfer airing it out at Jenks. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots

Possibly one of the last waves we ever see ridden at Bay Head’s fabled jetties as beach replenishment began two months ago and is covering them with tons of sand. New jetties are to be constructed on top of the new beach I am told. Photo: Mike Vuocolo / @mikesshoreshots