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
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Stephen Matera is the quintessential outdoor photographer. He shoots action sports—like kayaking, skiing and mountain biking—and he’s also an accomplished landscape photographer, capturing both big, beautiful scenic vistas and intimate views of the land in which he spends so much time. He’s obviously a versatile and talented photographer, but what’s perhaps most intriguing is the variety of images he’s able to make in a single location. Matera shoots landscapes and sports, sometimes simultaneously, because he has to. He loves both ways of shooting.

Camping below Fjallsjokull, Skaftafell National Park, Iceland.

Sandstone buttes, cloud and sagebrush at sunset, Arches National Park, Utah.

Mountain biking through the spring balsamroot on Buck Mountain, Methow Valley, Washington State.

“There’s a satisfaction I get from each one that the other can’t provide,” Matera says. “The sports—I enjoy participating in them so I like shooting them. The thing about landscapes that I really like is that it’s a different kind of process. It’s a much slower process, a much more thoughtful process in the sense that you’re staying in one location for hours on end. Sitting in one place like that is a Zen thing. But also there’s a satisfaction that comes from a landscape photo that I can’t get from a sports photo—it’s all me as part of the creative process. The sports stuff is a collaborative process; there’s a certain amount of it that’s out of my control, that’s dependent on the athlete or the model. Whereas the landscape work is entirely me. The success or failure of the photo is [dependent] on my creativity and thought process, so when something works, there’s more personal satisfaction because I can take full responsibility, or blame, for it.”

Efficient though it may be, photographing sports and landscapes at one location isn’t as easy as it sounds. On occasion, Matera is able to “double-dip” and make great landscapes while he’s out shooting action, and the reverse also is occasionally true. Often, though, he uses one as a way to improve the other—treating a sports shoot as location scouting for landscapes, and vice versa.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

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.”

This Article Features Photo Zoom

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.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Snowshoeing in Paradise Valley, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington State.

“In any given location, I’ll see things, and say, ‘Oh, I think that will make a good landscape photo,’” Matera says. “If I’m shooting a sports shot, maybe I don’t have time to shoot that now, but I put a little note in the back of my head to go back to that location specifically to shoot a landscape photo and have something in mind.”

Reflecting on the diversity in the Northwest landscape, coupled with the changing weather and varied terrain, Matera reconsiders his idea that landscape photography is a truly solitary pursuit. In fact, he says, it also requires a kind of cooperation akin to his work with models and athletes.

“Both the landscape and the sports stuff is a collaboration,” he says. “The collaboration in the landscape is between me and the landscape. And if the landscape is contributing something new and dynamic, that sparks creativity in me. Something in your head pops. There’s a thread: Let me pull that and see where it goes.”

You can see more of Stephen Matera’s photography at

Travel Footprint
Stephen Matera on shooting close to home

I shoot a lot near my home whenever possible. One of the things I grapple with on a personal level is that this kind of photography does require travel. As somebody who tries to live in an environmental way, travel is one of the hardest things for the environment. It’s one of the reasons I like to shoot close to home. It’s something I struggle with—to run my business in an environmental way, to minimize my impact.

I think it’s something photographers don’t spend enough time thinking about, especially landscape photographers. One of the reasons we do what we do is because we’re drawn to these locations, and we love them, we’re passionate about them; and yet the simple act of going to photograph them has an impact on these places that’s making it harder for future generations to do the same thing. We’re changing our world in unintended ways, and I think it’s something we need to be aware of. I’m not trying to judge people, just to raise awareness.

I don’t have the answer. On a personal level, I drive a hybrid car whenever I can and I take that to locations, and that’s a big step. But that’s a small part of it. My hope is just to further the conversation.

Above: Balsam root and ponderosa pine in spring, Buck Mountain, Methow Valley, Washington State.


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.
Canon EOS-1D Mark III

Canon EOS 5D Mark II