A five-year seasoned aerial photographer and visual artist born in the Philippines and currently based in Perth, Western Australia, Merr Watson felt a passion for photography from a very young age. After flying a drone for the first time, Watson realized that the technology could allow her to expand and fulfill the photographic creativity that had been burning within her. Specializing in landscape, travel, and ocean photography and films, her work has been featured with reputable brands including DJI, Conde Nast Traveler, Qantas, Beautiful Destinations, and more.
Sasha Frate: What have been your most epic travel experiences of the past decade?
Merr Watson: For me, each country that I’ve visited holds a special moment that is unique in its own way. However, if I had to choose an experience that really stood out to me, it would have to be my trip to Indonesia last year.
During that trip, I got to ride on an old-school camper van from Jakarta all the way down to Bali and see landscapes that I’ve never come close to seeing before. I got to see active volcanoes, enchanting waterfalls, and craters to name a few sites. That experience in itself truly blew me away and was one of the highlights of my year.
Yet, what really made the trip so memorable was the people with whom I got to share that experience. I got to travel with some of the most incredible and talented content creators from different areas of the globe and form connections and lifelong friendships. I learned so much from them throughout the whole trip and came back from that experience feeling more inspired and motivated than ever before. At the end of the day, what really makes something so memorable for me isn’t just where you go but with whom you share those experiences, and that trip really was one of the most memorable trips to date.
SF: You’ve described observing Earth as an “empowering experience”. How was this feeling evoked for you while exploring De Djawatan forests of East Java?
MW: When I saw this place for the first time, I was in total awe. The grove of towering trees that surrounded me as I walked through these mystical green forests took my breath away—I was totally drawn to its beauty. I’ve never seen anything like it before; it felt like a scene from The Lord of the Rings! That experience was empowering for me. It reminded me how overwhelmingly beautiful nature can be as it made me stop everything I was doing to take in the beauty of my surroundings and truly become present in that moment.
SF: Sarah Kay has described the ocean with the following quote: “Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.” Born in the Philippines and currently based in Australia, places that offer warm, turquoise waters appear to be your main attraction for home lands and globetrotting beyond. What is your main attraction to ocean photography and tropical climates?
MW: Having been brought up in the tropics where the ocean was my backyard, I’ve always had a fascination and love for it since childhood. That love for the ocean stayed with me when I moved to Australia—a place that has some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. I knew I wanted to incorporate my love for the ocean into my photography and showcase some of the most beautiful locations on earth.
The big reason that drew me into ocean aerial photography—apart from it looking so aesthetically pleasing—is because the ocean is so dynamic and incredibly complex. No matter how many times I shoot it, I constantly get a different result every single time. The ocean is always changing, providing all sorts of shapes, patterns, colors, and textures that make it super-fun for me to shoot and exercise my creativity!
Seeing this whole new perspective of the ocean from above is what actually fueled my passion for aerial photography in the first place and now I simply can’t get enough of it.
SF: You’ve said of aerial photography that, “Being able to put a camera in a place I physically can’t get to, to capture something so incredibly magical, is what blows me away with the art of aerial photography.” What are your favorite out-of-reach vantage points to capture with your aerial photography?
MW: Some of my favorite out-of-reach vantage points would be capturing marine wildlife. Seeing marine animals such as dolphins, whales, and sharks in their own habitat from above is truly remarkable as an art from. I also love capturing an entire landscape using my drone to showcase the raw beauty of nature. This usually involves me flying high, taking multiple shots of a whole scene, and stitching them together in post editing. The results are incredible as it really captures the entire beauty of a landscape—something that would be quite difficult to achieve without a drone.
SF: From the mystical jungles of Bali to the islands of the Philippines and Seychelles, you’ve experienced a lot of paradise this planet has to offer! What sets these places apart, and which of these locations tops your list as a must-see?
MW: I for one am very blessed to have experienced and seen some beautiful landscapes our world has to offer and there are still so many places I plan to visit in the coming years. Each of these places I’ve visited so far are so unique for very different reasons.
The granite boulders and picturesque Jurassic-like beaches of the Seychelles are truly one of a kind—something I’ve never seen before. The rich diversity of Bali’s landscapes from its mystical jungles, waterfalls, and rice terraces make this a must-see destination and a photographer’s dream. Lastly, the unique tropical islands and beaches of the Philippines—and the friendliest people on the planet—make this place a top tropical destination and one I am proud to call home.
No matter what country it is, each are equally unique and different in their own way and I feel each of them would make the perfect dream location to visit!
SF: Simplicity and slow living are aspects that beautifully come through in many of your images. (Take Naked Island for example!) How have you experienced this in your travels, as well as with the local cultures?
MW: If there’s one thing I’ve picked up from my travels to these areas as well as through the local culture, it is that “simple island living” really is all about taking a step back, being present, and enjoying what’s right in front of us rather than worrying about the future and what’s to come. It’s about human interaction, connection, and really experiencing the beauty around us in that very moment. This is what I see through the people and culture of these places; they live in the now.
For me, I find this so refreshing and something that’s impacted my life and travels in a way that encourages me to simply live in the moment and be present with the people that I love. It’s moments like these that matter most at the end of the day.
I also like incorporating this idea of “simple living” in my work to encourage people to take a step back from their busy everyday lives and find peace, tranquility, and beauty through my photography.
SF: As a native of the Philippines, are there any lesser-known gems you’d recommend people venture to see?
MW: The south of Cebu has some lesser-known gems that are highly worth exploring. To name a few, Mantayupan Falls is a two-level waterfall two hours south of Cebu and the views are truly breathtaking. Another hidden gem is called Dao Falls which is further south and not only is it an incredible waterfall, but the thirty-minute trek through limestones and smoky blue waters to get there is simply astounding! Both waterfalls provide incredible scenery and are quite remote compared to the popular Kawasan Falls. I highly recommend doing a day road trip down the south of Cebu to check out these places if you’re considering a visit!