There are those lucky few that know exactly what they want to be when they grow up, and work tirelessly towards their ultimate goal. For the rest of us, it’s usually a bit of trial, error, frustration, course correction, and switching of majors halfway through college.
Not to say that those years spent soul searching aren’t invaluable. For adventure photographer Michael Matti, discovering photography as a passion in his 20’s has quickly led him to a thriving career traveling the world, being featured in such places as Backpacker, Good Morning America, and even Elle Decor.
Traveling the world and going on adventures with the purpose of taking photos of it all is a dream job, but one that doesn’t come without its challenges and its fair share of growth, personally and professionally: “I look back at my work from a few years ago and just laugh. It was so bad compared to what I’m doing now.” But only after a few years on the road, Michael can unequivocally say (by the rest of our standards) that he’s “made it.”
I chatted with Michael about his evolving photographic style, how he grew his Instagram following to over 129,000 (and climbing), and the one place he can’t seem to get out of his head. Check it out in the Q&A below!
A “Big World” Style
Did your style of shooting develop naturally, or were you aiming for a look and feel you had in your head?
My style is based on how I see the world and what I think is beautiful. I am drawn to natural scenes with vibrant colors so I think my photography is a reflection of that. My style just naturally developed over time and is something that is constantly evolving and hopefully improving. I look back at my work from a few years ago and just laugh. It was so bad compared to what I’m doing now.
I see a lot of “little people, big places” in your work. What drew you to this composition?
I love the sense of scale that a person gives an image. It is sometimes hard to convey to the viewer how big something like a waterfall is unless they have something they know the height of to compare it too, like a person. This is especially true on Instagram, where the images aren’t seen as big as say someone looking at my website on their laptop.
Did you have any early childhood experiences with photography or was it a passion that you developed later?
Photography wasn’t something I really became interested in until half way through my college career. That’s when I changed my major to photography.
The Business of Photography
You have an interesting combo of photography and business degrees. Any advice for the beginner photographer you wish you would have known sooner to become a FT photographer?
I would just like to stress the importance of marketing and networking. You can be the best photographer in the world but if you can’t sell yourself and your work then you’ll just end up with great images but no income. Also, connecting with people is such an important aspect of photography. It is how you get clients and keep those clients.
As of this writing, you have 129k Instagram followers — at what point did you notice your following begin to snowball? Was it something you invested time in purposefully to grow?
I was originally using Instagram like most people, just posting iPhone shots of my daily life. But then two years ago I started posting more professional images taken with my DSLR from my hikes and adventure.
That started the growth and then I got a feature from Instagram that took me to 25K and from there it has just been consistent growth. I never anticipated it’d grow to where it is now and it’s not something I try to focus on too much. I’m more worried about putting out great content and inspiring others, and if I’m doing that, then the growth will probably happen naturally.
I know you’ve seen a lot of elements. Any gear that you couldn’t live without?
My red Westcomb rain shell is probably the one piece of gear that I value the most. I live in the Pacific Northwest, so dealing with rain is a must as a photographer. I also really love my drone bag. It’s a ThinkTank Helipak bag and is the perfect drone/camera bag for me.
What has been your favorite location to shoot in?
My favorite location that I keep going back to would be the Columbia River Gorge in Washington and Oregon. Waterfalls are one of my favorite things to shoot and that area has so many spectacular ones in close proximity to one another. I’ve been in Seattle a little over three years and in that time have been down there almost 20 times by now.
Which locations are still on your bucket list?
There are so many places still on my list but I’d say Patagonia, Scotland, Northern Norway, and Peru would be the top ones. I also have lots of places I want to go back to and explore more. Iceland, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Indonesia probably being the top places.
If you had to choose ONE place that you’d say every photographer must visit and photograph in 2017, what would that location be?
Iceland. I know it is a super popular place right now but it deserves every bit of the attention it receives. There is really no other place like it, and it is a photographer’s paradise. The light there is just gorgeous and there is so much to shoot.
Any pre- or post-shoot rituals?
A good hearty meal after a shoot is always a must. What better way to finish of an adventure than with a big juicy hamburger, BBQ, a burrito, or a pizza!?
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