A while ago we came across some impressive Medium blogposts on nighttime/star photography by Matt Quinn. Matt is a photographer and web developer hailing from Canada. Matt wanted to get away from the keyboard more and used that reason to push the envelope on his photography. Now he's both a digital product developer and a rugged outdoorsman, as proven by the Headlandsdigital, Matt Quinn he has been building up.
"Pictures on their own are just data, but if you use them to tell a story, they can become incredibly meaningful."
On your website I read that you keep on photographing to push yourself getting outside more. Is this also why you started out with photography?
Yes, in a way that is true. I’ve always loved taking pictures. No matter where I travelled, I would always pack a camera. However, the part about photography that bothered me was this seemingly endless pile of digital data you accumulate over the years and do nothing with. As my pile grew I asked myself why I was taking so many pictures. I moved away from photography for a while. After my daughter was born I had a great reason to take pictures again, so I purchased a Canon T1i and the “nifty-fifty” lens. I used the camera to take photos and create books to share with family and friends. This is where I learned to tell stories with photos and it gave me a new found love for the art of photography. Pictures on their own are just data, but if you use them to tell a story, they can become incredibly meaningful. I’ve taken this storytelling aspect into other passions of mine like the outdoors and specifically the outdoors at night. Photography is the fuel I need to get out and create stories about nature, exploration and adventure. I love the process of being in remote places, challenging myself, enjoying what natural beauty we have and sharing that experience with other people. It makes me appreciate everything a little bit more.
"It’s a pretty great feeling seeing a nebula appear on your camera’s LCD. You’ll probably catch yourself looking into the sky in disbelief."
Could you tell our readers in short what you find so appealing about night photography?
Night photography is fantastic in so many ways. People don’t spend a lot of time in nature at night. We might go camping, sit around a fire and so on but the night is often viewed as this terrifying place where danger lurks at every turn. I can relate to this fear and forcing yourself to face it is part of why I love being out at night. If you bring a camera and a tripod with you on your adventures the night becomes a pretty magical place. Long exposure photography allows you to see things you can’t with your eyes. You shoot into the sky and your camera soaks in every drop of light. When the shutter snaps back into position you see your surroundings in a completely different way. The landscape is there, like it always is, but it’s lit softly and is dwarfed by the immensity of the sky above it. You really get a sense of how small you are. For example, I visited Yosemite National Park recently and when I arrived during the day, the sheer magnitude of the granite walls was something to behold. As night fell, those granite walls were dwarfed by the sky, Milky Way and the billions of other stars above them. Beyond scale, our concept of time operates differently with long exposure photography. You get to see how nature behaves when time is stretched out and allowed to pile up on itself. What this process reveals in the night sky is amazing. It’s a pretty great feeling seeing a nebula appear on your camera’s LCD. You’ll probably catch yourself looking into the sky in disbelief.
Many inner city people probably have never viewed a clear night without light pollution. Do you think that gazing upon a star filled sky every once in a while would bring people closer together?
I definitely think so. I think lying under the stars can connect us all together in a way we’re not used to in our heavily routined lives. It allows us to pause and look beyond the minutia of the everyday and think about the bigger picture. Gazing upward into the stars leads to questions and conversations about things we don’t fully understand, and that open minded sharing of questions and ideas is what moves us all forward.
"If one picture of the Earth can catalyse an environmental movement, imagine if we could all see the planet from outer space with our own eyes."
In between / during exposures, do you ever wonder how it would be to be up there yourself?
I think it would be an amazing experience to be an astronaut and get to see the planet from above. When you can see the entire planet just floating there in your field of view, I would imagine the feeling being like nothing else. I think it would take that feeling of being small to the next level and at the same time increase my concern for the fragility of the ecosystems that exist here. The ‘Blue Marble’ image that was released in the early 70s of the entire face of the Earth changed our paradigm. It gave a face to the natural world and put into focus its growing destruction. If one picture of the Earth can catalyse an environmental movement, imagine if we could all see the planet from outer space with our own eyes. We’d probably make some different life choices after an experience like that!
Who and what inspires you (in the field of photography?)
What inspires me most are people living adventurous and unconventional lives. They prove that you don’t need to follow the status quo to be happy and successful. Most of us avoid roads like that because they are full of risk, potential failure and uncertainty. The brave ones find a way to make everything work. They have families and mortgages, run businesses and manage to avoid the rat race. I get fired up hearing about people that decide to go for it and upend their comfortable lives to try to make a go at what they love to do. It’s infectious. More specifically, my main point of inspiration today comes from John Muir. He was a naturalist, not a photographer, but he’s an all around amazing person. He’s best known for his activism around preserving the Yosemite Valley and is referred to as the ‘Father of National Parks.’ Quite a legacy I’d say. As for photographers, some that I’m really digging on Instagram right now are Callum Snape (@calsnape), Chris Burkard (@chrisburkard), Andy Best (@andy_best) and Michael Shainblum (@shainblumphotography).
Are there any spots to photograph (from) on your bucketlist?
DEFINITELY! Where to begin? I’d love to travel across Canada and explore our National Parks. Canada has some of the world’s most amazing natural landscapes and I would love to explore them all. From the fjords in Gros Morne to the mountains in Jasper and everything in between and beyond. After Canada I’d have to say it’s a toss up between Iceland and Scandinavia. The United States also has its fair share of beauty. My brother and I have been dreaming about doing a road trip from the Grand Canyon to Death Valley, up through the Sierra Nevadas to Yosemite then back to Arches National Park in Utah and then northward to Yellowstone. It’s ambitious but I like plans like that. South America would rank high as well, especially the Patagonia region, the Amazon and the Inca Trail in Peru. The list goes on from here. Does “anywhere I can see something awesome” count?