Full Length Interview:
Matt Trappe - Photographer

Mr. Trappe, how are ya?! I’m certain you’re either just getting back from somewhere or just about to leave to go somewhere. Which is it right now?

I'm on the road at the moment in Sedona, AZ, a gorgeous place to be on the first day of spring.



Lets jump right into this. Seeing as practically all the recent Flora Health and HOKA ONE ONE ads are photos you’ve shot, it’s no question that you stay busy. What other projects keep you on the move?

In the last few weeks I have shot for both Discovery Channel and National Geographic. I got to hang out of a helicopter and shoot in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah for Discovery, so that was pretty cool. Other than that I have been planning several upcoming photo shoots and summer film projects.



What keeps you primarily into photography versus going into video? Or is there something in the works that you’d like to share with us?

My work has actually become close to a 50/50 split between photo and film projects. Clients require both these days and you've got to be GREAT not just good to be successful. I made a documentary about a year and a half ago called Running the Edge that was my first major leap into film. Since then I have done several short promotional video projects. Film as a medium for storytelling is definitely newer for me but I feel I've improved dramatically in even the past few months. I will have several promotional video projects this year as well as a couple longer length documentary projects so stay tuned. I'm really going big on these and am excited to show them off.

Trailer for Running The Edge with Scott Jaime.

So moving forward, will you keep photography as your main focus, or not necessarily?

Not necessarily. I see both as a priority going forward. They are different and balance each other nicely. The film/video projects are a bit more involved in the sense that they require more upfront planning and backend editing that can give them longer timelines, especially documentary filmmaking.

Dylan Bowman with Zach Miller giving chase on the Coastal Trail during The North Face 50 this past December. © Matt Trappe

Do you find yourself using analog cameras from time-to-time?

No, never. I am definitely new school. I started shooting even just casually in 2005. A lot of established photographers learned on film with the benefit of being very deliberate with each shot in order to nail it and not waste film. I learned on digital and work 100% digital.



If you were to hang a photograph in your house, whom would you most want it to be shot by?

I really don't have any "professional" photos in my house. We have several photos of my family but nothing decorative from anyone I could even name.



Give us a breakdown of how you got into freelance photography/media:

I spent about half of grad school in Europe where travel became a priority over class. I had a point 'n shoot at the time and quickly felt limited by what I could do with it. That started several years of learning via reading and trial/error; I have never taken a photography class. I started shooting the things I loved (ultrarunning and mountains) and was able to gain some attention from commercial and editorial clients with pretty minimal effort. At the same time I was completely miserable and disenchanted with the greed and arrogance in the corporate world so that gave me a good push. I think it helped having a niche (ultrarunning) but in 2012 I took a leap and decided to really put some effort into it and haven't looked back.



How’d you get so involved in trail running?

I loved the mountains and trail running and was very inspired by ultras so I started shooting them. I'd show up at big races that inspired me and shoot in a commercial style simply because I thought it was a blast. Not many people were doing that at the time, most were doing the standard "shoot every runner" race photography, which bored me to tears.

Sunrise shot of San Francisco Bay from the trails near Mt. Tamalpais. © Matt Trappe

When it comes to shoots, do you seek out brands to do work for? How often do you have full creative freedom versus specific guidelines that clients ask for?

I seek out brands constantly. I've learned that big time photographers don't all have the biggest and best brands knocking on their door; they are proactive and work their asses off to get their attention and get the job. I do the same and probably spend more time doing so than I spend actually shooting. Creative control greatly depends on the client and project but most hire a photographer for his/her eye and while they or their creative agency may seek to guide the photographer in particular direction with a creative brief they don't want to stifle that creativity in any way.



When shooting photos for fun, do you find that your personal style varies from paid jobs?

No I don't think they vary at all. I still struggle to put into works exactly what my style is but it is always evolving and I see personal work as the best way to continue to refine and evolve that style.



Are you one of the photographers that always caries some sort of camera on them at all times, or do you require down-time and leave the camera at home to “breathe” a little?

I carry a camera often but certainly not all the time. Of course my phone is on me most of the time but I don't shoot with it very often. Running is definitely an off time for me. I never carry a camera on a run, not even my phone. I like to brainstorm, reflect or just let my mind wander and often make mental notes of shoot locations I find.



Are there any tricks that you’ve learned over the years that help simplify your workflow?

The best advice I have for a quicker workflow is to get it right in-camera in the first place. This is the lesson that those who learned on film do very well. For workflow I use Lightroom for stills and either Final Cut or Premiere for video. I store/backup on GTech drives, name folders based on the date and project name and keyword extensively. I store my Lightroom catalog in the cloud so I can access a current version on either my laptop or desktop from anywhere. Michael Clark put together a fantastic book on his workflow that I highly recommend.

Kilian Jornet climbing Bonecrusher Ridge during The Rut 50k in Montana. © Matt Trappe

On a shoot for trail running, what would your photo bag consist of?

If we were shooting tomorrow it'd be the D4s and D750 with the 24-70 f2.8 (my workhorse) and the 70-200 f2.8. I'd also have a wide angle prime (20mm) although clients don't often want super wide angle because of distortion. Lastly I'd have fast f1.4 primes at either 50 or 85mm for portraits or tight product shots with really shallow depth of field. I don't shoot with much artificial light unless the client specifically requests it.



Who are some of your favorite people to shoot with?

I can't say I'd name them if I did but I honestly haven't found anyone I really DON'T like to shoot with. That being said anyone that is really into the shoot is a blast to shoot with whether they are the subject, an assistant or a client. You can tell when a person on a shoot isn’t really into it and it drags the whole thing down a notch. Creativity and enthusiasm are contagious and you don't want to throw a wrench in that. I basically just love shooting with anyone who is as excited as I am about each project.

Timothy Olson and Adam Campbell prepare to descend from 13,000' Virginius Pass during the 2014 Hardrock 100. © Matt Trappe

Do you ever stress about traveling with a bunch of photo gear? Care to share any tips on that?

I don't actually stress about it but I do pack wisely and carefully. When flying I carry-on everything that is critical to the shoot and I check anything that isn't with TSA locks on all my bags. Something like a MoVI might be critical and has to be checked but I haven't had a problem yet (knock on wood). The Clik Elite bags and Pelican cases have always kept everything safe during transit. All of my gear is insured as well but sometimes that doesn't matter if you are flying in the night before a big shoot and something disappears!

When driving I just keep a low profile and am often away from very populated areas so that hasn't been a problem either. In the past I have lived in downtown Chicago and downtown Cleveland so I've become diligent about not leaving anything of value visible in the car.



If you were stranded and were left with one camera and lens, what would you hope it would be?

D810 and 24-70 hands down. I think I could shoot just about anything with that setup.

A surfer catches a wave in front of Chief Kiawanda Rock near Pacific City, Oregon. © Matt Trappe

This seems to happen to all photographers, so tell us an unfortunate story about loosing/breaking gear:

Fortunately I haven't lost or broken anything major although I have dropped lenses and bodies onto rocks and shot plenty in soaking rain before. The pro gear is really pretty durable. I do lose lens caps all the time though. I think I'm putting them in places that I'll remember and then they vanish. I have put many through the laundry in pants pockets. One time while shooting video I was on a bridge over a raging river and dropped a variable ND filter right in the river. A minor setback dollar-wise but I needed it for that shoot and didn't have another with me.



Correct me if I’m wrong, but you also take part in running races. Which races have you done and are you entered in anything this season?

I have raced 50 miles three times and ran 100 miles for the first time at Bighorn last year. While filming Running the Edge I ran 150 miles of the Colorado Trail. That was probably my hardest effort physically and the more tired I became the harder it was to focus on getting the shot. This year I ran the 33k at Red Hot in Moab and I'll be running the Quad Rock 50, Dirty 30 and finishing off with the Bear 100 in September.


Is there any other location that really compares to what Colorado has to offer? Any place that you have on your bucket list you’d like to spend some time to photograph and explore?

The high country in Colorado in the summer is really tough to beat and is definitely my favorite, especially the San Juans, but I often shoot in Northern California as well. I really want to do more international work exploring other cultures and mountain ranges. I have traveled a fair bit (most of Europe, Japan, Brazil, New Zealand/Australia) but most of that was while working my corporate job. The places that come to mind to shoot are Norway, Jasper/Banff, Alaska, Patagonia, Northern Scotland, Iceland, Bhutan/Nepal . . . I could go on and on.



I have to personally thank you for taking time to be our first full-length interview for Merit! [Thanks!] Is there anything you’d like to add before we finish up?

No, not really! Thanks for reaching out for the interview though! Anyone reading this that wants to see more of my work can check out my website at www.trappephoto.com or follow me on Instagram @trappephoto. Instagram is fantastic and is the social media outlet I update the most.



And one more: Share the very last photo you shot.

Hot air balloons take flight at sunrise over Sedona, AZ. © Matt Trappe