I'm Matt Payne, ask me anything!

Hello everyone!

I’m very excited to host this Ask Me Anything (AMA) today!

My name is Matt Payne, and I am a mountain climber, adventurer, and fine art nature and landscape photographer living in Durango, Colorado. In 2018, I completed my life-long goal of climbing the highest 100 mountains in Colorado, where my love of photography was kindled. Since 2017, I have hosted a weekly podcast dedicated to nature photography called “F-Stop Collaborate and Listen.” I am also the co-founder of Nature First Photography, an organization that was created in 2018 to help increase ethical awareness in nature photography. Lastly, I am the co-creator of the Natural Landscape Photography Awards, an international photography competition that rewards and celebrates nature photographers who dedicate themselves to photographing and editing their work in a realistic fashion. You can read one of my controversial articles about why I think this is important. I actually get a lot of negative attention for my position on this topic, and I truly think my position is mostly misunderstood despite my attempts at being clear through my writing and on my podcast. We digress…

I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado and was lucky to have parents that impressed upon me a healthy appreciation for the outdoors. I grew up quite poor, which was actually quite a blessing in disguise, as our family vacations involved going camping in the Colorado mountains almost every weekend during the summer. My father took me along on his pursuit to climb Colorado’s highest 100 mountains back in the 1980s and helped me climb my first 14,000 ft. mountain at the age of 6. My parents instilled a very strong sense of ethical appreciation of the wilderness, teaching me leave no trace ethics. On the slopes of Colorado’s mountains, my father taught me how to tread lightly to preserve the fragile tundra and ecosystem of our highest places.

In 2014 I moved to Portland, Oregon and enjoyed photographing all of the wonders that Oregon has to offer, including waterfalls, rainforests, mountains, lakes and beaches! In late 2015 I moved back to Colorado to reside in the town of Durango at the base of Colorado’s most amazing mountains with my wife Angela and my son Quinn.

As of 2018, I have climbed all of Colorado’s 14,000 ft. peaks (there are 53) and all of the highest 100 mountains in Colorado, affectionately known as the Centennials. It is on my adventures to these locations that I am inspired the most to produce images that truly speak to my soul.

Honestly, I’m just an average guy that loves the wilderness and outdoors. My goal as a nature photographer is to show you parts of our world you may have never seen before. I want to transport you to these places and have you experience the raw wonder and beauty of our world. I hope through my images, you can also feel wonder and joy and cultivate a greater appreciation of the natural environment and the positive impact it can have on each of us.

You can see my work on my website.
You can also follow me on the socials
Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Linked In | YouTube

AMA Rules:

  • Please only ask one question by replying to this topic a single time, using the yellow Reply button at the bottom. It’s also helpful to scroll to the bottom while reading the topic to make sure nobody else has asked the same question first before you ask.
  • Please don’t ask more than one question, so everyone gets a chance.
  • Please do not reply to anyone else’s post. The only purpose of replies on this topic is to ask the author one question. Please create a new topic if you’d like to discuss a related topic in more detail.

Posts not following these guidelines may be removed by moderators to keep the Q&A flowing smoothly. Thank you!

5 Likes

Hi Matt. I just listened to the Valda Bailey interview, and was wondering: how often do you incorporate into your own shooting style or practice the approaches and techniques discussed by your guests? Can you give an example?

2 Likes

Hi Matt! Last fall, I was on a photography workshop in Maine. I shot a particular scene with a couple of other photographers, one of them an instructor who was shooting the same scene. He hadn’t taken his camera out the whole trip but wanted this shot. When I got home decided that the image I shot was just meh. But later, I saw the shot on his Instagram and was wowed until I realized that it was the same view I had, but he swapped out a better-looking sky. So, I would call that a fairly big manipulation of the image, but my reaction was that his shot was better. Just wondering your thoughts on this. Thanks, Matt!

3 Likes

Hey Joe, great to see you here and thanks for listening to the podcast! That was a fun episode!
As you probably know, the topic of technique and gear rarely comes up on the show; however, over the years I have certainly incorporated things I have learned from my guests into my own photography!

Some really poignant examples come to mind:

  1. Looking for smaller scenes that tell a story of the landscape, similar to @Sarah_Marino or @Ron_Coscorrosa

  2. Thinking about curating my work more diligently (a constant work in progress) similar to the way that @David_Thompson or @Brent_Clark or @Eric_Bennett do

  3. I’ve really taken to heart the idea that there is no such thing as bad light, which is something both Eric and Sarah have drilled into my brain.

  4. Being more open to finding scenes that are not related to some kind of objective I’m aiming for (like a specific composition) and instead just being open to what nature puts in my path. Learning to see and have conversations with the lansdscape if you will.

There’s probably other examples like this but these have been the most beneficial for my own photography!

4 Likes

Thank you Matt for hosting this AMA. Wow you climbed your first 14,000 peak at age 6! Impressiv! I can see your love of the mountains in your wonderful photography.

My question to you is what role and impact has social media played on landscape and nature photography in general and on your own work? Things like trends, location sharing, the chase for vanity metrics, etc. Thank you!

2 Likes

Hey Matthew-
What is your favorite lens? (Kidding)
Curious, from your opinion, who your favorite interviews were from your podcast. Like do you have a few that just “hit different” and blew you away during the interview?

1 Like

This is certainly a sticky subject to wade into and one that I have on many occasions for sure. I’m personally quite frustrated when photographers do this for about 2,000 reasons. It seems to me based on your comment that you were taken aback by this technique for some reason and I can imagine I would have been as well.

I guess in terms of how I feel about that particular example - was it paired with any mention of the fact that it was a swapped out sky? Was moment or experience of witnessing that particular manufactured scene exaggerated in some way in their description of the work? If so, that really bothers me. It might not bother others and that’s OK too.

I am curious though - is it better? I think often we have become so obsessed with the final product of our work needing to check some made-up boxes in order to be “good” when really this is just social media, etc. encouraging behavior that’s questionable.

Thinking about the motivations of that sort of technique, I think we should look inwards for guidance as to what drives this sort of thing. I’m guessing although I can’t say for certain, that this particular person did this because they knew that the final result would help sell workshops. I guess that’s fine, but it certainly seems icky in my view to feel the need to do that in order to make it as a photographer. But each person’s lines are going to be different and many folks don’t see any issue with it at all. I personally would not be able to sleep at night if that is what was required of me to sell a workshop. It just feels disingenuous and very similar to techniques we see car salesmen use. Just being honest. Feel free to disagree! :slight_smile: In my own work, I place a high value on being genuine and showcasing actual moments that existed. That doesn’t mean I don’t edit my work, but for me one of the most enjoyable parts of landscape photography is the thrill of it all coming together. When it doesn’t do it naturally, that’s fine. There’s plenty of other ways to personally express myself without a banger sunset or sunrise, and most of my work over the past 2 years has depended less and less on that sort of thing.

Ultimately though, I think the most important thing we should do as photographers is to educate our viewers on these uses and why we chose to do them - because photographs really are not and cannot fully represent reality despite what we all want and hope… however, what we do see more often than not is people will employ these techniques and hope no one notices. I think examination of that motivation and behavior is worth a lot of thought and it certainly is something I have thought a ton about myself over the years. Naturally, every person’s reasons will be different; however, I think I’ve been able to distill this into the common themes in an article I wrote.

8 Likes

Hey fellow Coloradan named Matt! Thank you for hosting this AMA.

Over the past few years I’ve taken up the habit of reading more on photography, the history of photography, historical figures in photography of landscape and other types, and photography as art. It has educated me on what and who is important in photography, the finer aspects of what makes great photography, and photography’s place in the history of art.

How important do you believe it is for contemporary landscape photographers to educate themselves on such matters, to gain that historical and cultural perspective, and understand where their own photography fits in the wide world of photography and why?

4 Likes

Hey Matt, hope you’re well! Always enjoy our in-depth, nitty gritty conversations in the LPW Discord. Something I don’t believe I’ve discussed with you is who your personal inspirations for photography are. Who would you say is a primary, ongoing source of inspiration for your own work? What is it about their work that makes them play such a role when it comes to influencing your own approach to nature photography?

3 Likes

Hey Matt, how in the world do you find the time to manage a podcast AND be super active on social media AND do your photography AND day job AND family. Do you not sleep? Are you a vampire? :laughing:

8 Likes

Hey Matt! You’ve talked to so many great photographers and marinated in this stuff so much - what advice/wisdom would you prioritize for beginners? I’m getting a local photo club off the ground and would be curious to hear your thoughts.

1 Like

Hey Alfredo, great to see you here my friend! I really enjoy your work.

Thank you for your kind comments about my work - my passion for the mountains of Colorado runs deep and I’m glad I’m able to convey that through photography.

To answer your excellent question I may need to invent a faster keyboard because I have so many thoughts about that!

In my opinion, on the whole, social media has been a very negative invention for our species. That’s not to say it doesn’t have incredible value and positive things about it too; however, I do think it’s mostly bad. As you probably know from our other conversations, I have a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and one of my favorite subjects in psychology is social psychology which basically deals with social interactions, including their origins and their effects on the individual. I love thinking about the intersections between psychology and photography.

Social media has an insidious way of tapping into so many of our flaws as a species and easily exposes the most negative parts of our personalities and psyches. Things such as in-group / out-group mechanics, cognitive dissonance,, self-serving bias, etc.

One thing I have seen social media do that I do not personally enjoy is that it has a way of accelerating the popularization of things that are flashy, easily consumed, etc. We see this in landscape photography a lot. With more and more people engaging in photography, photographers are faced with a problem: How do we stand out? One solution it seems can be found in editing. Many photographers chose to push their images to greater and greater extremes vying for the increasingly limited attention of their audiences.

What we have seen unfold in the past 10 years has been extraordinary. Photographs that were once lauded are now largely ignored by the masses in favor of digitally created spectacle. Realistic photographs of natural phenomena, incredible moments in time, or those representing exceptional experiences witnessed by the photographer, suddenly seem mundane.

The images that have garnered the attention of the algorithm often possess extraordinary qualities: splashy post-processing, composite elements, and saturated colors, all tied together in a near-perfect fantasy-like style. Photographers who had mastered various techniques in Photoshop such as compositing, warping, and sky-swapping were heavily rewarded with views, likes, and more attention on the platforms. Indeed, groups of photographers quickly learned how the algorithm was tailored and banded together in social groups to game the algorithm and maximize the likelihood of making it onto the popular page. This solidified these images as representing the Zeitgeist of landscape photography.

It was obvious for any photographer paying attention that if you wanted to shoot to stardom between 2012 and 2016, your photographs needed to possess this dreamy, fantastical look.

On the positive side, these approaches have opened new avenues for artistic expression. It can even be argued that a new photographic genre has been created, valid in its own right. Many of the innovative post-processing techniques that have been developed in pursuing these extremes have become useful to photographers with more understated styles often helping them to present reality in an even more natural way. As a community, we’ve also developed a different understanding of light and color, and the qualities of a scene that transform it into the sublime. Like any disruptive artistic movement, a lot has been gained.

But if there are “losers,” then they are those talented photographers who find nature to be sufficient without significant embellishment. Creating work primarily for yourself should be the goal of any artist, but for those working professionally, there is a stark reality that they must court popularity in order to survive — or even enter the profession in the first place! When the viewer can’t distinguish between experiential scenes and digital fantasies, the latter will always become more popular. It’s a difficult conundrum to solve — should they try to keep up or just accept their new normal and the potential downsides that come with it?


I also think social media has played a very negative role in the destruction of locations due to geo-tagging and the way social media can exponentially increase eyeballs on any given video or photograph and push people to visit a place. We see this over and over again and land management agencies are being forced to create permit systems, close areas off, etc.

Unfortunately, social media taps into people’s desire to feed their ego and gain monetary success and by sharing a location and a beautiful photograph it allows the creator to feel very good about themselves - they helped someone else and they got attention. Those are very human needs (belonging, acceptance, helping others, feeling loved, etc.). Unfortunately, these folks rarely account for the negative things that come afterwards. There are countless examples of this, but I outlined a few here.

This was one of the main reasons I helped to create Nature First. I wanted to do something about it!

Now, with all this being said, I have NOT been immune to the siren call of social media myself and it has made an influence on my own work, whether I want to admit it or not. I’ve certainly been drawn to certain locations based on social media… it’s a vicious thing being a human! =)

5 Likes

Hey Joseph good to see you here!

My 100-400 for sure! :slight_smile:

I really need to get around to writing a blog post about this because it gets asked a lot lol.

Here are some that come to mind, although so many were so fun to make and I feel bad leaving anyone off this list!

  1. https://www.mattpaynephotography.com/gallery/creating-personal-work-with-brooks-jensen/
  2. http://www.mattpaynephotography.com/gallery/alex-nail-erin-babnik-interview/
  3. https://www.mattpaynephotography.com/gallery/conversation-with-alister-benn/
  4. https://www.mattpaynephotography.com/gallery/contemplative-landscape-photography-with-john-barclay/
  5. https://www.mattpaynephotography.com/gallery/how-landscape-photography-changed-my-life-jeremy-jackson/
  6. https://www.mattpaynephotography.com/gallery/personal-style-marketing-landscape-photography-rene-algesheimer/

Hi Matt - You mentioned those controversial articles in your intro… You seem comfortable with the controversy you sometimes stir up so I am interested in you exploring this a little further. You and I are both opinionated people but me sharing opinions online has brought be a lot of grief. So, my public persona has become pretty bland as a result. You have taken a different path. Do you think this helps or hurts your reputation, relationships with other photographers, etc? Just curious to hear a little more about how you think of these dynamics.

4 Likes

Hey Matt, good to see you here buddy!

I think this is really important if one finds personal value in the exploration of such things. I have found a lot of joy in doing this, although I’m going to be honest, I think that too much emphasis has been placed on the value of this activity as it relates to creating our own work. Using a silly analogy, it would be like suggesting that a college QB can’t be good at Football without watching a ton of film and learning about Joe Namath, Fran Tarkenten, etc. It’s just silly to me to suggest such a thing.

With that being said, I think you can get value from it, and it was something we discussed quite a lot on my special 200th episode of my podcast with Guy Tal and Michael Gordon.

I could spend a lot of time discussing why I think this is a tad overblown of a need for folks to partake in it but my friend Alex Kunz already did a great job on his blog

2 Likes

Hey Ben, awesome seeing you here man! I too have enjoyed our conversations on discord a lot. If people want to join us you can go here.

Great question. I am crippled a bit by your use of the word “ongoing” because I feel like that really limits it a lot since my tastes and inspirations are always changing depending on what I’m into.

But for long term inspiration, I always come back to the work of @Jack_Brauer, @Jennifer_Renwick, @David_Kingham, @Sarah_Marino, and @Kane_Engelbert (who I shoot with about 75% of my time).

I am also a big fan of @David_Thompson and @Eric_Bennett

I think more than anything their approach to making images inspires me a lot. The idea that landscape photography can be more than just collecting stamps (I know a lot of people hate that term) or showing that I’ve been to a place. I love that it can also be used for personal expression, to showcase appreciation for something in nature, and as a vehicle for personal growth. As a person that places far more value on effort and uniqueness than most others, I really love Jack Brauer’s work because he is constantly taking the time to get to really awesome spots and showcases them in a beautiful way that 99% of people will never be able to do. I aspire to do the same in my own work as much as I can. It’s fun! =)

5 Likes

Hey Jack!

I am indeed a vampire… haha j/k.

I think there’s a few things that I can attribute this to. I have developed a lot of tools and shortcuts to help me with productivity. I use templates for a lot of things to make it faster to write emails and blog posts/show notes, and I have found tools for automation (although I’m always looking for more, as you know from my countless annoying emails to you about WideRange, LOL).

People might be shocked to learn I actually sleep 6-8 hours a night on average, I watch a ton of TV including the latest Game of Thrones series, the new LOTR series, and lots of other shows. I love TV haha. I also listen to a ton of podcasts, not just on photography but also on marketing, economics, psychology, politics, etc. I am good at multi-tasking I guess!

5 Likes

I’ll just echo what Jack said, the amount of productivity you can pull off while living a balanced life is amazing. Keep up the great work buddy. The podcast is great.

2 Likes

Hey Sarah, I’m glad you brought this up as I think its an important topic to discuss.

First of all, I think it’s always good to remember that no matter how sterile or appeasing you are to the masses, once you gain some semblance of popularity, there will always be at least 10% of people that just won’t like you or your message and that is just part of reality and the more times I remind myself of this the easier it becomes to take the criticism and trolling.

Now, I think to answer your question as to whether this approach helps or hurts me… both! It’s certainly not black and white. Unfortunately, there are now photographers that legitimately hate me and what I stand for because they see it as a threat to their business, their personality, or their artwork. That’s certainly unfortunate because on the whole I’d like to see myself as a pretty likable person (don’t we all?) and I think I’m pretty easy to get along with. I just happen to have strong opinions and I’m not a coward when it comes to sharing those opinions. Just recently I had multiple photographers DM me out of nowhere telling me all kinds of negative things about me as a person, personally attacking me, calling me names, etc. because I posted ONE comment on a silly instagram meme! It was wild how childish and immature the affront was and I had clearly struck a nerve with them.

Ultimately, I think this is the product of broader societal problems with how people are being taught to engage in the world, being taught that politics and religion should be off-limits for conversation, etc. We have effectively made it so that people are so easily offended by things that you can’t sit down and have a deep meaningful conversation about anything it seems. People get upset quickly and can’t seem to take any form of criticism. I find that sad and disturbing!

Civil discourse is one of the foundations of our democracy and disagreements used to be seen as robust opportunities to engage in philosophical debate and a way to improve our individual intellectual prowess. Now it seems its shied away from and instead people seek out information that only confirms their already established beliefs (known as confirmation bias) and they reject any information that might be different than their own. I pride myself in being very open to other ideas and my ideas on things shift constantly!

This might shock you (haha) but there’s an excellent podcast I would recommend that illustrates why this happens and why its important to think more about being open to other ideas.

This also might sound bad, but I’ve found that I can have wonderful relationships with other photographers who completely disagree with my views on things because they are willing and open to have a conversation. The ones that I have bad relationships with seem to have some common traits - they are immature, young, resort to name-calling and cursing, and are completely unwilling to engage in civil discourse on any number of subject. I’m personally good with that sort of person not being my friend or not wanting to have a professional relationship with me.

TLDR: Don’t be afraid to share your opinions on things in a civil way and be open to other ideas.

I’ll leave you with a quote:

“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.”

― Jon Stewart

10 Likes