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Grand landscapes: capturing magic moments of light

By World Photography Organisation | 10 months ago

We are happy to reveal that Wisconsin-based photographer, Matt Meisenheimer, is our monthly winner (July) in the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards with his image taken at the southern fjords of Alaska.

Matt focuses mostly on exploring the wilderness and seeking out new adventures. He says of his work, "I strive to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. I love the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image."

Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the outdoors has taken him to many beautiful places around the world.

Find out more about the monthly prizes up for grabs and enter your own work into the Open competition of the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. 


Hi Matt. Congratulations on winning the monthly prize in the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. Tell us a little about you and your photography

I am a landscape photographer based in Madison, WI. I originally got into photography while I was working as a biologist after college. I spent a few seasons working in national parks and abroad in Africa. I did a lot of hiking and backpacking during that time, which inspired me to bring a camera along to capture some of the scenery. Originally, I was just documenting my trips, but that slowly transitioned to me becoming more interested in fine art landscape photography. Fast forward to now and photography has really become an art form for me. I'm very focused on composition and the creative process. However, my sense of adventure hasn't faded so I try to incorporate photography with backpacking trips (I just returned from a 60-mile backpack/packraft in the Canadian Rockies). This past year I have really tried to focus on finding new locations/compositions to photograph, that's what I'm interested in most. In my free time, I also lead/co-lead photography workshops and offer post-processing instruction. 


Tell us more about the winning shot... how, when and why did you take this image? 

I captured the image in the southern fjords of Alaska. I co-lead a workshop in Lake Clark National Park and I had planned to visit a few spots that I had scouted on Google Earth after the workshop. I actually wasn't planning on photographing the mountain featured. I had planned to photograph a glacier nearby, but while hiking there I realized that this mountain would make a great focal point. I hiked off-trail to get to this viewpoint. It is THE best view that I have ever had. I found this patch of flowers and there was an immediate drop off beyond the flowers, probably 500' or so. The view was just perfect; a glaciated mountain, a creek flowing in the valley, wildflowers, and waterfalls cascading down everywhere. It was a tricky shot though because I was so close to the mountain. I couldn't fit the entire scene into 14mm, but I visualized how I wanted the final image to look and I needed to implore some techniques in the field to make it possible. I used a technique called 'perspective blending'. I took shots where the mountain was at the very top of my vertical frame, that allowed me to include the flowers, but I had very little sky.... so I panned up and took another image for my sky. In the post, I blended more sky in and cropped the bottom of my image. Hence, I was able to basically create a vertical panorama that included both the flowers and enough sky to maintain a good rule of thirds. 


Why photography? What does the medium mean to you? 

Landscape photography is an art form to me. It's a medium that allows me to express my experiences at a place through an image or series of images. Wilderness is important to me and I love capturing the beauty of our planet. With a camera in hand, I can be as creative as I want to portray that feeling and message. It's also been a vehicle for adventure for me. I am motivated to get out and explore more, while capturing images of those areas. It's almost like a method of discovery for me. There are all these places in the world that haven't been seriously photographed and it's cool to plan trips to some of these remote areas with photography as the main focus. It has absolutely changed my life and I'm forever grateful for the medium. 


In your opinion, what are the ingredients for great landscape photography? 

The composition is everything in landscape photography, but I'll add a few more things that make a great image. Creating depth is very important, if you can make a 2-dimensional medium appear 3-dimensional, you're on your way to a great image. Contrast and contrast transitions are also essential for leading the viewers' eye - dark to light, big to small, cool to warm, high contrast to low contrast. I also think one of the most overlooked skills that great photographers have is the ability to selectively choose what elements they include. It's similar to a music analogy where it doesn't matter how fast you can play guitar, it matters what notes you play. Same goes for photography, what elements you include and how you place them in your composition can be the difference between an okay image and a great image. 


Do you have a photographic philosophy? 

Not really, again I see it as an art form so I have a pretty loose philosophy. I look at a lot of images every day and either an image makes an impact on me or it doesn't. I don't really care about the process (in-field or post), I just care about the end result. Personally, I want my viewers to look at one of my images and feel like they themselves are standing there in the scene, experiencing it in person. I cherish my wilderness experiences, they have really affected my life for the better. I want people to see that through my images and I want them to be inspired to get out and see more of this beautiful planet.