Go behind-the-scenes with adventure and commercial photographer Michael Overbeck as he shares what inspires his branded work and personal passions.

Michael Overbeck is an adventure and commercial photographer based out of Whistler, British Columbia. He is both a valued photographer at Shutterstock Custom, as well as at Offset where he showcases authentic adventure and lifestyle imagery from his various travels around the world. Michael’s work has been featured globally in various magazines and commercial campaigns, so we were happy to catch him for a chat. We shared a few words with Michael about his creative process, how he got started in photography, and an exciting upcoming trip that’s a lifetime dream realized. Here is Michael Overbeck, as told to Shutterstock.

Michael Overbeck

Instagram | Portfolio | Offset Profile

Featured Interview with Adventure and Commercial Photographer Michael Overbeck — Michael Overbeck

Tell me a bit about yourself! How did you get started in photography?

My name is Michael Overbeck, I’m an adventure and commercial photographer based in Whistler, BC and I’m 22 years old. The start of my photography career started with my growing up in Whistler. I biked and skied a lot, and I hit an age where I started doing adventures further and further into the mountains. I kept wanting to come back and explain where I was, and the beautiful sites I was seeing, so picking up a camera was kind of the best way to do that.

So you grew up in Whistler, that’s pretty unique. People usually go to Whistler, but it’s rare to grow up there. How did it influence you going into action and travel photography?

It definitely did. The community in Whistler — you realize how many people bike, and ski, and run and spend their days outside. Growing up that was just part of my lifestyle. When I chose a subject, that was the first thing that came to mind.

Featured Interview with Adventure and Commercial Photographer Michael Overbeck — Lifestyle Imagery

Image by Michael Overbeck.

There’s a lot of really amazing photographers in Whistler. How does your style differentiate?

When I was growing up and watching the photography coming out of Whistler, I noticed people really focused on the action of the athlete whereas I came across it from more of a landscape perspective. I prefer to show the entire area or mountain peak that a skier is on. I guess you could say I’m a little bit of a landscape photographer, with a focus on sports and adventure as well.

You’ve also shot some commercial work. Is there any difference when you’re shooting an athlete or a more traditional hired model?

Definitely. I find when I shoot an athlete, I want to get a sense of the entire experience that’s going on whereas with commercial work with models, it’s generally a little bit more focused on the product.

So using the landscape with the human element coming into play. Is there a favorite place that you’ve captured that moment or a favorite photograph that encompasses that?

That’s a hard one! There’s a lot of places. Last year, I spent some time in Morocco. I grew up in Whistler where there’s a lot of mountains and rainforests, whereas Morocco was the first time I was in a desert. We went hiking around some sand dunes and that trip always stands out. It was so different than the other work I do. The landscape was simple, and I really appreciated it.

With that in mind, do you think you prefer traveling for work or the local Whistler scene? Maybe both?

It’s hard, I find that I go back and forth. I love being here, with the mountains and people who have given me so much. However, when I’m traveling, I find my inspiration towards photography a bit higher as I love seeing new things and finding a new take on stuff. I’m very familiar with the areas I go in Whistler, so I almost show up to the spot and know what it’s going to look like. When I’m traveling, that’s fully taken away so every place is completely new. I’ve really grown to love that feeling.

Featured Interview with Adventure and Commercial Photographer Michael Overbeck — Finding Local Inspiration

Image by Michael Overbeck.

I grew up in Calgary with Banff as a backdrop for my photography, so I absolutely appreciate that. Have you ever been to a spot where it’s not what you expected and you hit a roadblock? Any tips you have for overcoming that?

Yeah, one trip that really comes to mind is a few years ago when I was skiing in Hokkaido, Japan. I had seen ski movies from that area for years and years and always wanted to go. When I got there, most of the ski ended up being lines from rolling hills in the forests versus the typical mountain ranges in British Columbia. In Whistler, I shoot a lot more mountain peaks which I didn’t get in Japan. It was more of a whiteout. There wasn’t too much to focus on at first which was difficult, and then it became how you can use leading lines with the trees to produce images. I’m pretty happy with how they turned out at the end.

Featured Interview with Adventure and Commercial Photographer Michael Overbeck — The Drama of Travel Photography

Image by Michael Overbeck.

Talking about the commercial work you do. You have a lot of work that looks authentic and almost shot in the moment. How do you capture that feeling?

I think the biggest realization I had is that it’s less about what I’m shooting and more about who I’m shooting it with. When I do commercial work, it tends to be people I’m friends with, hike with, or are at least familiar with. I think the brands I work with are great at giving creative freedom to do what we generally do on our own. Work with companies that support your creative vision, as well as models and athletes that you work well with and are friends with.

Featured Interview with Adventure and Commercial Photographer Michael Overbeck — Consider Who You Shoot Best With

Image by Michael Overbeck.

Working with friends is something we do a lot with on Shutterstock Custom. Why did you start working with us, and how does it balance with your other commercial work?

I think the biggest reason I joined is I saw the flexibility with it. You have an assignment for me, and tell the budgets and images you want. It’s up to you to find the models and locations, so I think that’s really nice. To have the freedom to choose your shooting logistics. One thing I find with some commercial work is that the schedule might be really rigid so you can’t get the shots you want. This gives you the freedom to shoot what you want when you want.

How did you discover Shutterstock Custom?

It was a long time ago! I think I was scrolling around online. I’ve been lucky to work with a few stock agencies, and this was one of the first ones I saw.

Featured Interview with Adventure and Commercial Photographer Michael Overbeck — Discover Shutterstock Custom

Image by Michael Overbeck.

When you’re creating branded content vs. adventure content, is there anything you do to prep or create that different kind of work?

With adventure stuff, you’re generally not too worried about the product. With product and commercial work, you need to focus on the product and make sure that the client is happy with how it looks.

Definitely. I can speak for myself when you start shooting, you’re more general and then you begin to build a more branded portfolio. Did you plan on jumping into commercial work or did it naturally come?

It was definitely something when I started out. I had a couple of great mentors in Whistler that really helped me out. One in particular always told me how important commercial work is and that it needs to be a focus if you want to make a photography career. I never went the editorial route and went full-force into commercial.

Who was that mentor?

Blake Jorgensen.

Featured Interview with Adventure and Commercial Photographer Michael Overbeck — Find Good Mentors

Image by Michael Overbeck.

So awesome. Is there any other photographers in the industry or outside adventure photography that you’re inspired by right now?

One of my biggest has been Jordan Manley, who’s also based in Whistler. He’s done a great job at doing commercial work in a way that you can’t tell it’s commercial. It’s all so similar. Another one is Garrett Grove. Whether he’s shooting for large or small brands, it always looks personal to his brand.

That’s the key to building your own photography style. It’s great to show authenticity that way.

Absolutely. I think in the long term, it really helps out photographers because you start out and try to do too branded or in a way that you think the client will like it. Whereas when you find your own style and stay true to it, brands will start coming to you for your work.

Featured Interview with Adventure and Commercial Photographer Michael Overbeck — Stay True to Your Style

Image by Michael Overbeck.

That brings us to the topic of Instagram. There’s a lot of conversation nowadays on what you should put on your Instagram. You have a great presence. How do you decide what to put out on Instagram?

Since I signed up on Instagram, there’s been a big change in what I’ve posted. I’ve transitioned from iPhone photographs that I’m proud of and moved towards my camera, and nowadays there’s quite a bit of thought into it. Is this something I want future clients to see, is this work that I’m proud of. I’ve realized over the last few years how much work does come from it and how much influence it does has. It’s good to be aware of what you’re posting.

It’s always a struggle between posting personal content or as a photography business outlet. Do you do both or one?

I think I subconsciously I made the decision to just post business stuff. I’m pretty happy with it because I do love to share my work. It’s nice to have that separation from my personal life to my business life. For me, it’s been nicer to just have the work stuff on there which does tend to blend in with my personal life.

Featured Interview with Adventure and Commercial Photographer Michael Overbeck — Don't Underestimate Social Media

Image by Michael Overbeck.

It’s definitely a balance. In terms of branding, do you have any tips on how new photographers can create that brand when they are putting their work online?

I think when starting out, people shouldn’t be so worried about their brand and what they’re shooting. When I was starting, I literally shot everything. Over time, I realized my niche is running, biking, skiing, and outdoor adventure based stuff. Go into it with a broad eye and then focus in. It made it a lot easier when I started to build my website. I’m not trying to get hired for family shoots anymore. It was very narrow and outdoor focused.

I think that’s awesome. We interviewed food photographer Joanie Simon a few weeks ago and she had similar sentiments about food photography. You are also a photographer with Offset! How did that partnership start?

Offset was actually the first online stock site that I started submitting work to. I did some research before I joined, and I found that Offset was one of the best to work with. I try to be pretty similar to what I generally shoot when I’m submitting content to Offset. So, I started submitting photographs from trips with friends. I find that stuff that has a lot of personality or has a personal touch generally does really well on the platform so I put an emphasis on that stuff when I started to put work onto Offset.

Featured Interview with Adventure and Commercial Photographer Michael Overbeck — Offset by Shutterstock

Michael Overbeck’s Offset Profile.

Do you ever create work specifically for Offset?

I find that when I do a lot of trips with friends, going into it I’ll know that I want to come out of it. Hopefully it’s with a lot of photographs that I can post to Offset. While I’m on the trip, I’ll realize where there are certain moments that could be a great photo and a marketable aspect to the photo. I’ve become better at realizing when those moments are and capitalizing on those moments.

As a company, we talk a lot about how photographers can create more authentic content. Do you have any tips on how you prepare a more staged authentic situation?

There’s a lot of times where I’ve had to do that. Recently, it was for a winter camping shoot. We found a little patch of snow and had to make it feel like winter camping in a way that seems natural. It’s about finding people who understand what they’re doing and understand that even if it’s a staged scene that they understand what it’d look like if they were really doing that. Creating an atmosphere that’s fun and showing them having a good time. It comes back to shooting with people that you’re friends with. That’s a huge one.

Featured Interview with Adventure and Commercial Photographer Michael Overbeck — Staging Matters

Image by Michael Overbeck.

The only other question I had is if you had any projects you’re working on at the moment?

I have one big project coming up, one that I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid. A road trip up to Alaska for a few months. Basically just living out of my truck. I’ll be leaving in about a week, talking to clients and getting a few things locked down.

I’m actually reading John Muir’s Alaska right now, so I’m very inspired by that.

Thanks again to Michael Overbeck for sitting down with us to chat all things photography, adventure, and Whistler. We can’t wait to follow along on his adventures to come. If you’re interested in becoming a contributor with us, you can learn more about applying to Shutterstock Custom here and Offset here.

Top image via Michael Overbeck.