Photographer Spotlight: Mike Matas

I’m started consolidated photographer interviews I had conducted on the previous blog onto the new one and this week, it’s Mike Matas.

Having declared his departure from Apple where he worked on the iPhone Human Interface Design Team for the past 4 years, icon and interface designer Mike Matas has equally proven that his artistic skill is not just limited to work accomplished on a computer. He’s also quite the accomplished photographer with an exquisite eye for seeing beyond the mundane and extracting the best out of any situation.

1. How would you define your photographic style?

I really don’t consider myself to have a photographic style. Not that most of my photos don’t have a style to them, they do, but that style really comes from whatever it is I’m taking a photo of, not me forcing it.

I don’t approach taking photos by going “let me take a photo of this in my photographic style”. I try to really embrace and exaggerate whatever emotions I get out of what I’m taking a photo of and turn that into the style of the photo.

One style I try to be careful when using is the “vintage”. You know, black & white, screwed up white balance, the Polaroid look, stuff like that. It’s a really easy trick to take an ordinary photo, mess with the white balance, maybe give it a thick vignette and voila! it looks like a nice old photo.

I really try not to use that stuff unless it acts as a sort of character in the photo and helps tell its story, rather than just having it literally look old. Screwed up white balance, black & white, the Polaroid look, these did not used to be styles, they were just the way cameras took photos back in the day, whether you liked it or not. It’s only looking back threw the lens of nostalgia that it becomes a glorified style.

I think the same thing is gonna happen with grainy digital artifact filled cellphone photos of today, in 10 years once cameras have grown out of all that people will look back and get all nostalgic about the charm of the digital artifact filled cellphone photo and start using that too as a style.

So that’s just a long way of saying I try to take photos that look like they were taken today, using modern technology, so in 10 years, they will be nice old photos with all the faults and charm of todays modern technology.

2. What does your camera equipment consist of?

Photographic gear of Mike Matas

I currently use a Canon 5D Mark II with these lenses:

  • Canon 16-35mm f/2.8
  • Canon 50mm f/1.4 
  • Macro Extension Tube
  • Canon 70-200mm f/2.8
  • 2x Extender
  • Canon 15mm f/2.8
  • Canon 28-135 f/3.5 - f/5.6

I’d say 90% of the time I am either using my wide 16-35mm or standard 50mm.

I also have a couple Low Pro camera bags, my favorite is the Primus AW. I traveled for a month last summer all over Europe with nothing but this backpack. It’s got a great specialized camera compartment in the bottom half with a little door on the side so you can quickly grab your camera without taking the whole thing off your back. The top half of the backpack leaves room for what other non camera related stuff I need with me. The back of the bag has a exposed sleeve where I carry my 15” MacBook Pro and the bottom of the bag has is a built in hide away rain jacket.

3. What’s your post-production software of choice?

Currently I’m using iPhoto and Photoshop’s RAW editor. I think Photoshop is one of the most important and unacknowledged parts of photography these days. When I’m shooting I almost always just throw the camera into the automatic settings, not worrying about color, exact exposer, flash, or any of that. When I’m shooting I just focus on getting a good composition that’s in focus.

If I can get that then I can do the rest at home. It’s one of my favorite parts of doing photography, sitting there with a photo and tweaking the colors, the lighting, the contrast until it looks the way I saw it when I went to take the photo or until looks the way I wish it would have looked when I took the photo. It’s something cameras just can’t do on their own. Photoshop is where the serious art happens.

4. Are you considering any equipment upgrades in the future?

I’m really happy with the Canon 5D Mark II I got in January. I’m sticking with that for now.

5. Share with us you proudest photograph?

Proudest photograph of Mike Matas

I would not call it my proudest photograph, but it’s one I really like personally. I was in the back of a giant prop propelled Chilean military Hercules C130 cargo plane over the Drake Passage on my way to Antarctica. I had got up to go the restroom, a propped up outhouse in the back of the plane.

Climbing over crates of supplies the plane was brining to Chilean scientist stationed on the content I passed by this officers who was drinking tea from a thermos and light from one side by this little window. He had this amazing look on his face that I read as “We are on our way to Antarctica, one of the coldest most isolated places on earth. I have a family back home, what am I doing here?”.

I didn’t have my camera on me but the whole things was so perfect and wrapped up for me so ended up going back and grabbing my camera and asking him if he minded if I took his photo. I love when photos just present themselves like that, where you don’t have to go looking for angles and stuff like that to try to make something out of nothing.

To read up more on other photographers in the Spotlight Series, check out the dedicated page.