Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Stephen Matera: Real Sports With Stephen Matera
Hiking near Lake Maligne, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
Or the photograph of a skier he calls “Mother’s Milk.”
“That’s a super-graphic shot,” he says. “I remember when I was trying to get that shot, I preconceived this exact shot. Then it’s a question of communicating to the skier what I want him to do and where I want him to do it. It came together perfectly. I was also showing the gear, but trying to incorporate that into what I thought was a unique composition.”
Creating unique compositions requires Matera to previsualize the results he expects to see, but it also helps to make room for spontaneity—especially important if you’re photographing dynamic action in the wild.
“It’s a mix,” Matera says. “If I’m going out there on a day with a lot of fresh snow, I know I’m going to be shooting powder shots—people making turns in the snow. But then there are two other elements. There’s reacting to the landscape—as we’re moving around, I’m trying to go to new locations because there’s a lot of creative inspiration that comes from new locations and new landscape. The other element is serendipity, and that always makes me a little nervous. Serendipity can make or break a photo. It’s hard when you’re going out; you can’t really count on it. But when it happens....”
Matera’s portfolio is filled with action shots of mountain bikers and trail runners, cross-country skiers and beautiful landscapes. But there’s a type of imagery that’s closest to his heart—perhaps because the sports are some of his favorites, or maybe just because they can be so stunningly beautiful to photograph.
“Probably the skiing and snowboarding,” he says. “Those are both sports I do, as well, and I just love being out there, especially on a bluebird day. The thing about those sports is they’re so dynamic. In talking about the best moments to shoot a certain sport, both skiing and snowboarding have a lot of moments like that. The timing of a turn or catching somebody in the air—they’re just so dynamic with snow flying and so much going on that it’s really enjoyable to shoot. They’re probably my favorite to shoot, but they’re also the hardest.”
One of the reasons skiing and snowboarding are difficult to photograph is because the action moves so fast and it can change so quickly. The other reason, and this is a big one, is the location—not just on top of a mountain in the middle of winter, but surrounded by a blanket of highly reflective, light-meter-fooling, hard-to-photograph snow. If you do it all the time, though, you’re bound to get good at it, to the point that you may start appreciating the pluses of shooting in a world of white.
“You never really have to worry about deep shadows,” Matera says of snow shooting. “Light everywhere. Translating from my landscape background, I learned to meter manually a long time ago. Using a spot meter, usually the built-in spot meter in my camera, I’ll usually find the brightest area of snow in a scene that I’m going to shoot and open up two stops. That’s kind of my rule of thumb, and I’ll double-check that. For example, snow in the shade is usually right around medium, snow in direct sun is usually about two stops over. I have to admit I get a little lazy now with digital. I’ll do that and take a quick shot and look at my histogram. I shoot everything in RAW, so it allows me to correct for a little afterwards. I’d say that the quality with digital has gone up tremendously because I can tweak my exposure to get exactly what I want it to be.”