Greetings fellow adventure photographers! We’re springing into the new season, and are super excited as Backcountry Journeys continues to grow like a tulip in April! Did you know that behind roses and chrysanthemum, that tulips are the third most popular flower in the world? And that they make wonderful photogenic subjects due to their colors, ease of finding, and their uncanny ability to stay still (unless its windy)?
In the past month, or so, we’ve introduced to you a handful of new photography guides, and we are excited beyond belief for what each and every one of them brings to the table. We hope that you are equally excited to meet our new staff, and in an effort to get to know these folks a bit more closely, we’ve decided to put together a series of blog posts using a Q&A style format for a more personal introduction.
Our first in this series will be with new Backcountry Journeys Photography Guide, Matt Meisenheimer.
Hey there, Matt. Thank you for taking the time today, we certainly appreciate it as do (we hope) our readers!
For starters, do you go by Matt, or Matty or have a nickname?
I go by Matt, a lot of my friends call me ‘Meis’.
Cool! We’re going to assume that we’re friends now, so, Meis, tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Matt Meisenheimer?
I was born and raised in Wisconsin, and still live in southern Wisconsin. I graduated from University of Wisconsin with a degree in ecology. I worked on a number of ecological research projects and worked for a few national parks. I love being outdoors and love nature so ecology meshed well with my interests. I wanted to eventually be the wildlife manager of a national park, but then I ran into photography and my path changed. Photography has really taken over my life, for the better…it’s my absolute passion and has inspired me to spend as much time in the outdoors as possible. I enjoy the quietness of Midwestern life and it will always be home, but without a doubt the western portion of the US is my favorite place in the world.
Looks like photography takes up a great deal of your time, which, why not? All of us here completely understand that! How about, then, your spare time? Do you have any rad hobbies?
My passion for photography grew out of my interests in travel and backpacking. Being from Wisconsin, I always wanted to get out and see the world…see what the mountains and deserts were all about. Backpacking was a bit of a fantasy to me…I found it hard to believe that people packed things up and were able to travel into remote places for days/weeks at a time. I experienced backpacking for the first time during my first ecology gig at Denali National Park in Alaska. I’m not sure if Alaska is the best place for a first time backpacker, but I’ve been hooked ever since. I love hiking and exploring new places. As a photographer, I strive to capture unique shots of unique locations…so backpacking has been essential to getting off the grid. I am just starting to explore packrafting. I really just love the outdoors. When I’m not adventuring, I love spending time cooking with my wife and working out…I’m a health freak.
That sounds great! Being a health-minded chef, we all can look forward to wonderfully prepared and clever meals on our camp-based tours with you! I, for one, can’t wait to try out your menus. Great food, while camping, can really make a trip just that much more special.
What have you been up to lately? Working on any specific photographic projects, or have you traveled to anywhere specifically for any projects?
My last big trip was last fall to Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies. An absolutely amazing trip! In my opinion Glacier National Park is the BEST park for amazing skies! There is constantly interesting weather pushing through that offers the chance for really dramatic photos. I can’t wait to get back this summer with my groups. There are great wildlife opportunities there, as well. I will be exploring some southwest slot canyons this spring, but my next big trip is a backpack/packraft to a remote area of the Canadian Rockies in August. I have scouted one of the larger peaks in the range and I’m hoping to get some photos of it during the wildflower bloom. It’s completely off-trail and will be my first time packrafting, I’m excited! I will also be visiting Kauai, Hawaii, for the first time, and then Iceland this winter.
Sounds like an amazing plan! You should get a plethora of fantastic images in those locations. Wow!
How did it come about that you were hired on with Backcountry Journeys? Did you know Russ prior, or did he seek you out?
I was actively searching for guiding positions that might be available, specifically in photography. I actually saw an ad for Backcountry Journeys and explored Russ’s site. I thought that I would be a good fit with my background and photographic aspirations so I reached out to Russ about guiding. We chatted on the phone and the rest is history…I’m a Backcountry Journeys trip leader now.
How and when did you find photography? Has it been a lifelong process for you, or did you come to photography later in life?
I worked in Denali National Park during the summer of 2012. I brought with me a point-and-shoot and a flimsy tripod. I mainly wanted to document my backpacking trips, but I eventually got hooked on the incredible Alaskan landscapes. The next summer I worked at Mount Rainier National Park and picked up my first DSLR. I started to plan my trips around photography and my passion grew from there. I then graduated the next summer and worked in Africa where I started to explore wildlife photography. When I’m not out shooting, I spend all my time scouting photo locations and thinking about my next trip. I’ve found photography to combine all of my interests in life. It’s a creative outlet for me that gets me outside and it’s something that always excites me. It has also tested my fitness, as many of the places I shoot require hiking/backpacking.
Was there a defining moment, or anything that you can reflect on that steered you into photography as a profession?
Last fall I was standing at the shore of Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park in absolute shock and awe. I witnessed the most amazing display of light that I’d ever seen, a rare combination of wind, snow, and light that I’ll never forget. It felt almost primal. At that moment, I knew that I needed to find a way to get outside more and get away from the classic 9-5 work week. I thought about all the epic conditions and experiences that I was missing out on from only traveling a few weeks a year, so I decided I needed to find a way to make photography as a profession happen.
What is it about photography that fuels your passion?
I love the entire process. I spend months planning and researching a spot or trip. I love exhausting all resources to learn as much as I can about a spot or specific trip. Then, I love the trip itself and the photography that follows. I love backpacking to get to a spot…and then the moment you get that amazing light and the adrenaline starts pumping, oh I love that moment. I love eventually returning home and post-processing the images. And finally, I love sharing those images with the hope that they show others the beauty of our planet, and my connection with those places. It’s an amazing process that I want to share with others, even thinking about it gets me excited!
Man, I can feel your passion oozing out of your answer there! Folks set to travel with you are certainly in store for something! There will be no way that your stoke doesn’t rub off on them, changing them for life! You’ll be sure to have a bunch of people looking to do the same thing you did!
Do you have a favorite photo that you’ve taken?
My favorite is usually constantly changing. Right now, it’s a photo from that scene at Two Medicine Lake that I described above.
You have a background in wildlife ecology, and have worked in interesting places like Denali and Rainier.. Can you tell us a bit about those experiences?
I worked as a Biological Science Technician at both places. At Denali, I helped with some of their research on how the park road affects the movement and dispersal of wildlife in the park. Denali has a single road that cuts through the entire park. In summer, constant streams of buses travel on the road and I was collecting data on which wildlife species might be affected by the traffic. At Rainier, I helped collect data on the park’s endangered Spotted Owl. I spent much of my time hiking off-trail and doing call surveys for Spotted Owls.
Do you feel that your background in wildlife ecology and biology and the experiences you had while working in that environment provides you any advantages as a wildlife photographer? If so, can you expand in some detail on what those advantages might be, and how you utilize them?
Absolutely, one of the biggest challenges with wildlife photography is finding wildlife. Understanding the natural history of certain species and their habits can really help locating those species in the field during specific times of the year. Background knowledge also helps with safety (think grizzly bears) and also ensures the species being photographed isn’t stressed or threatened.
You’ve also spent time in Namibia..That is super exciting! What were you doing there? Do you have any stories from your experiences? Did you get any great photos?
I worked on a baboon research project led by a team at Cambridge University. I spent six months camping in the bush all while collecting data on a group of baboons. I followed the group every day from sunrise to sunset and mainly did surveys on their interactions within the group. It was very hard work, mentally and physically. An average day started at 4 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m. and involved about ten miles of hiking. Mentally, the remoteness was definitely difficult to handle at times, but looking back it was an amazing experience. I was able to visit Etosha National Park, which is one of the best safari parks in southern Africa. I was able to photograph wildlife non-stop and even saw a few elusive species. I also visited the famous dunes of the Namib Desert in Sossusvlei. I can’t wait to go back someday.
Shooting (with a camera) baboons sounds like something that would be right up the proverbial “alley” of many of our past and future guests! Perhaps we should one day put together a Backcountry Journeys tour to Namibia? I know a guy who’d be perfect to design and lead those tours. You!
You’ve also been an instructor at a university level. What were you doing at that time? Where were you employed? Any stories from this time in your life?
I was a graduate student at University of Minnesota for a year and was a teaching assistant during my time there. I was investigating interactions among carnivores in northern Minnesota. I quickly figured out that academia involves a lot of sitting behind a desk and staring at a computer screen so I decided to pursue photography. I loved being a teaching assistant though. It was a lot of fun working with students at an individual level and seeing them grow across the year.
We feel that one of the many valuable things that folks who travel with Backcountry Journeys will get while on a tour with us is superior personal instruction. Do you feel that your background as a teacher provides you any unique skills that you can utilize while guiding Backcountry Journeys guests?
Yes, learning is actually quite complex. All of us have different methods of processing information and ways that we learn best. I have found that being able to teach a single principle in multiple ways is essential. Something that is presented in one way might make perfect sense to one person, but make no sense to someone else. I think there are definitely some teaching methods that I’ve learned as a teaching assistant that clients will really enjoy. I’m extremely disciplined and goal-oriented too, if you’re on a trip with me you can bet that we’re going to find the best light and come away with great shots. I’m a big proponent of one-on-one instruction. I will be spending ample time with each participant during the trip to tailor the experience to their liking.
What are you looking forward to most about guiding Backcountry Journeys guests?
I can’t wait to share the process of photography with them and show them what’s possible with the camera. The camera is just a tool and I’m excited to show guests how to use it to unlock their own artistic vision. At the same time, Backcountry Journeys visits some of the greatest locations in the world so I’m excited to introduce guests to these places and help them develop a connection with the places we photograph.
Let’s just get it out of the way… The seemingly classic photography argument. Nikon or Cannon?
Nikon – as a landscape photographer, the D850 may be the best camera available right now. The image quality and dynamic range is incredible. I have seen underexposed D850 files where the brightness in Adobe Lightroom has been adjusted by 5-stops and there’s no noise, that’s unheard of. Watch out for Sony though! They are making remarkable cameras. I really don’t think you can go wrong with either system. Each company has their pros and cons, I just happen to use Nikon.
And then there’s this argument…DSLR or Mirrorless? (Thank you, by the way, for helping us solve these once and for all…. Ha!)
Right now, I use a Nikon D810. However, I can see myself switching to mirrorless in the near future. The newly released Sony A7 III looks like one of the best cameras ever released, a true do it all. If anyone is looking for a new camera or upgrading to full-frame, I think my number one recommendation would be the A7 III. I actually think I might grab one to use as my backup camera.
Talk to us quickly about your current gear setup.
Nikon D810, 14-24mm f/2.8, 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6, 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5. The 14-24 is my most used lens and one of the best wide-angles ever made, however I love the 80-400mm for wildlife and long-lens landscape shots. I use a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L tripod, probably the best investment I’ve made in terms of camera gear. I have two Really Right Stuff ballheads; a BH-55 and BH-30.
What do you feel are the biggest challenges in landscape and wildlife photography?
Composition is everything in photography. To have a great shot, you need a great composition regardless of conditions. Finding a compelling composition can be difficult, even understanding composition can be difficult for that matter. So, I think that’s the biggest challenge and one of the main topics I’m excited to instruct upon.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your career?
Being able to spend time in some of the most beautiful places on earth with like-minded people…there’s not much more that can be said about that. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had and excited for the ones to come.
Couldn’t have said it better, so we’ll leave it at that! Thanks to Matt Meisenheimer for taking the time today! Look for him on Instagram @mattymeis, as well as the Trip Leader for the following 2018 Backcountry Journeys tours: