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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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Mt. Shuksan and clouds reflected in alpine tarn at sunset, North Cascades National Park, Washington State.

Stephen Matera’s outdoor photography spans the gamut from landscapes to adventure sports. His love of both genres frequently overlaps. Not every landscape session produces sports shots, and vice versa, but these’s no doubt that Matera’s love of landscape photography has had a major impact on his adventure-sports shooting.

Planning and previsualization are required to ensure the success of any shoot, but Matera works to remain open-minded and to actively see in order to change directions and take advantage of new opportunities as they arise. He once was headed to a Skyline Trail location on Mt. Rainier with a sun-filled grand landscape in mind, but instead he seized the unexpected opportunity to make a calmer, quieter image of a fog-drenched forest.

“I stumbled upon that scene in the forest on my hike in to this location,” he explains, “and I was actually going to shoot some landscape photos up higher, but it was like, ‘Whoa, this is stunningly beautiful.’ This fog rolled through the forest; it wasn’t my goal, but it ended up being my favorite shot from that day. It’s completely different from up higher, but they’re both in the same general location. It’s a challenge to go out there with something in mind, but also be open to seeing other things. You certainly get your personal blinders on.”

Though Matera mostly photographs sports, he came to the profession by way of landscape photography. And although the aesthetics influence each other, that doesn’t mean his sports shots are simply landscapes with people added or that his landscapes are simply sports shots without the sports. Sometimes the two literally overlap, but not often. Arizona’s Wave sandstone formation is one of a few examples where Matera has made literally the same composition with and without people to create successful images. With a hiker, it’s a sports shot; without, it’s an abstract landscape.

Small waterfall along the edge of Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan.
Matera usually doesn’t use the same equipment for sports-action as he does for his landscape work. For fast action, he finds a Canon EOS-1D Mark III necessary for the focusing and processing speed. For landscapes and slower-moving action—like climbing or hiking—his EOS 5D Mark II is plenty fast, and it provides higher resolution than he ever would have achieved in his 35mm-film days.

Matera also capitalizes on changing weather to make the same locations look different day to day. This is a boon to the Seattle-based photographer because he can get to a variety of locales in a matter of hours. “Your sense of a place is based on the objects, the terrain,” he explains, “but also the atmospheric conditions—the weather, the fog, the light. Especially here in the Northwest, I like to shoot locally whenever possible. I like traveling, but it’s really hard on the environment. If I can stay close to home, great. I tell my clients, ‘Look, I live in Seattle. In a day’s drive, we have rain forest, coastline, multiple mountain ranges, desert.’ It gives me all these options for shooting for clients when they say they want a certain kind of setting.”

A wealth of diversity makes shooting two styles in one place more feasible, but it still requires drive, discipline and passion on the part of the photographer. It’s one thing to notice a location that would make for a nice landscape photo. It’s another to actually get up even earlier tomorrow to go back out to get it.


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