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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Two Shots, One Place

Location! Location! Location! Scouting for nature and sports scenics, multifaceted photographer Stephen Matera sees a landscape as an opportunity for a variety of distinctly different images

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Kayaking along cliffs on Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan.
“The two types of photography kind of complement each other from a logistical standpoint,” he says. “I may be going out to shoot landscape photography at a location, and say, ‘Hey, this may be a great place to come shoot sports photography, as well.’ Or the opposite—I may go shoot for a client a sports shot, and say, ‘Oh, I really need to come back here and shoot some landscape photography.’ And sometimes I do both at the same time on the same day. That’s a little harder to do, but sometimes it works out.

“To do serious landscape work takes time,” Matera continues. “There’s kind of the luck factor of being in the right place at the right time, but often you have to spend some time searching and moving around and waiting for the wind to stop or the light to get just right. Spray Park is a good example of it working out—the wildflower shots were shot on a different day, but the other ones with the fog and the woman hiking, those were all probably within a half an hour of each other. That’s an example where it did come together very well. The trick is to make sure to maintain each style of photography at its highest level without compromising one just to be able to shoehorn in the other.

“It takes a lot of physical energy to be creative,” he adds. “To be in that mode all day long is hard enough, but to be doing both kinds of photography—especially at the same time—is that much harder. Having the ability to see both, and handle them both and not kind of degrade the quality of the imagery, that’s hard to do.”

Skiing in the Mt. Baker backcountry, Washington State.
When it comes to making these different styles of images in the same location, Matera says he owes some of his success to hard work, some to chance.

“There’s always that serendipity factor, right?” he asks. “There’s serendipity for both, but they’re a different kind of serendipity. With a sports shot, a lot of that serendipity comes with the model or the athlete and what they’re doing. With a landscape shot, a lot of the serendipity comes with the light or the atmospheric conditions or stumbling upon a really interesting subject.”

Beyond the philosophical differences between shooting a landscape at sunrise and a fast-paced midday skiing shoot, Matera says there’s another dangerous pitfall in using one location for two shots: complacency.

The nature of a commercial outdoor-sports photographer’s job is to take models and athletes to known locations in order to produce expected results. But the nature of landscape photography is usually more exploratory, less predictable. On both counts, Matera says he has to work not to settle into the comfort of habit.

“I find familiarity actually a hindrance,” he explains. “I get to a place I’ve shot before, and I really have to work to get beyond what I’ve always seen. If I’m looking for a new composition or a slightly new subject in a location I’ve been to a lot, that’s hard. It requires looking a lot closer and deeper. Whereas, if I go to a place I’ve never been before, whether it’s close to home or in another state or another country, there’s the newness and the excitement of a new place, and there’s a lot of creativity that flows from that excitement.”


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