Matt Stanman and His Fujifilm GFX Make Beautiful Landscapes

All images by Matt Stanman. Used with permission. Be sure to follow him on Instagram and check out his website.

“…I kind of put the camera away for a few years. Then, Youtube came about, and it reinvigorated my spirit for photography,” says photographer Matt Stanman about how he fell back in love with photography. Matt life with photography has a long history. It involved a move from California to Florida, which drastically changes landscape photography. Matt told us about his love for black and white photography, clouds, and his Fuji GFX system.

Matt Stanman’s Essential Photography Gear

Matt Stanman: I am currently using the GFX 50r. I previously had a Canon 6D, and while I really liked that camera, I found that I would always be cropping to a format of 4×3 or thereabouts, and thus I would lose precious megapixels, so I wanted that format of a sensor to begin with, and I wanted more megapixels. I tend to print large (usually 40×30) and was left stitching images with the 6d, which works but is very cumbersome and hard to plan out. What I didn’t realize was there was an array of amazing benefits that going mirrorless has brought. The electronic viewfinder is probably the most important; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had out of focus shots because I couldn’t properly interpret the LCD on the 6d. The ability to zoom in on the EVF in real-time to get critical focus is just amazing and allows me to quickly get focus without having to guess. The dynamic range of the camera is also really good and rarely do I need to exposure blend. So for me, the GFX system has made what I do a lot easier and allows me to focus just on composing the image. Lens wise I carry a 24mm Samyang Tilt-Shift. on the gfx this about 19mm and the tilt-shift allows me to get front to back focus without focus stacking. I can also use the shift function to help straighten verticals which is especially helpful when shooting trees and other forest scenes. I have a Fujifilm 45mm GF f2.8. This is about 35mm in full-frame terms and is my most often used lens and the lens I captured the lightning strike over Sanibel with. Full frame 35mm is basically how I see the world, so it is my go-to when I see something. It doesn’t always work, but it helps me decide where i’m going with the composition. I also carry an 80mm and 250mm CF Zeiss t* lenses for my Hasselblad film system for capturing more distant storms and objects. I plan eventually to get all native GFX lenses, but they are pricey.

I carry the tallest aluminum Benro Tripod they make. The height is helpful here in Florida for keeping the camera above fences and tall grasses. The aluminum is a bit heavier than the carbon fiber, but it’s only 3 sections, which means there are only 2 twist locks per leg. Tripods with 3 or more twist locks really annoy me for some reason. The weight of it is actually helpful, especially when photographing in windy conditions or in the water: I know my GFX is not going to blow over!

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

Matt Stanman: I’ve always had an interest in photography, even as a young kid. I used my parents’ Canon a-1 and would take pictures of everything around my house and life. When I went to college my dad gave me an Olympus om-10 camera and I would use it to document that part of my life. The Olympus was unfortunately stolen, and I took a break from photography for about 10 years. I picked it back up when the first canon digital rebel came out. I bought it and a few lenses and started documenting my life in veterinary school. I would take some nature photos here and there, but not much. I got into macro for a time, but was never really fully happy with my photos and I felt like I wasn’t progressing like I wanted to. So again I kind of put the camera away for a few years. Then youtube came about and it reinvigorated my spirit for photography. It really made me remember why I loved photography and solidified, in my mind, the types of images I wanted to create. I knew I would have to put the time in to gain the skills and produce the images I wanted, but I also now had a real direction.

Phoblographer: What made you want to get into landscapes?

Matt Stanman: I got into landscapes because I really love nature and wanted to try to capture the experience of being in a specific environment. I feel so calm and yet invigorated when I see a great landscape image. So it’s really the genre that speaks to me. I think that it is one of the most challenging types of photography to do well; a lot of things have to go right in order to make an incredible landscape image. When I first got into landscapes I thought it might be easy, just show up in a beautiful location and get the photo. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that conditions had to be right and that even if conditions were right the composition had to be balanced and I started to realize pretty quickly that this was going to take a lot more effort than showing up at a location.

Phoblographer: You’re really into clouds, storms, and you’ve got an adoration of black and white stuff too. What made you get into these specifically?

Matt Stanman: When I lived in California storms were very rare and usually not electrical. They mostly are just diffuse rainstorms and overall dull. So when I moved to Florida I was just struck immediately by the clouds that form here. Every day during the summer it can be cloudless in the morning, but by the afternoon you have giant beautiful thunderheads dumping rain in very specific spots. So when you look at a storm off in the distance you can really see the entire cloud formation, water dumping down and if you can get some wonderful afternoon sidelight on the clouds it can be incredible. If you add a lightning strike on top of that, then you’ve really got something. There are no mountains in Florida, oftentimes the clouds become the mountains and are used as a great backdrop to showcase a subject. Or they can become the subject themselves and can make for some interesting abstractions.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about photographers and work that has influenced the way you create.

Matt Stanman: As I previously said, Youtube is what really got me shooting landscapes so I would have to credit Ben Horne, Thomas Heaton, Nick Page, and Adam Gibbs. I love their work, and especially Nick Page was very influential in my storm photography. He kind of gave me some confidence to actually go out and shoot these things. Most people’s instinct when there is a lightning storm is to seek shelter, so it is hard to go against that feeling in your gut.

When my wife and I were thinking about moving out to Florida I came across the work of Clyde Butcher. I was amazed by the landscapes he was able to capture and I immediately wanted to go out and start shooting black and white landscapes like he was. Well, it turns out that black and white photography is actually very hard; at least for me. But I still loved his work and was initially trying to capture Florida in color. I actually went to a signing at his gallery and got to meet him. I gave him my calendar I had made of my first year in Florida and bought one of his calendars. I had one black and white in there and he looked at it for about 10 seconds and said “stick to color”. I was a bit disheartened by that, but I took it as a bit of a challenge.

Phoblographer: When you’re shooting, do you often know what you want when you photograph? Like, do you envision that you want a photo to be in black and white before you even get to the editing process? How do the creative side and the technical side talk to one another?

Matt Stanman: I usually do not go out with any expectations unless I am specifically chasing a lightning storm. More often than not, however, lightning storms just happen and that is why I almost always carry my gear with me no matter what I’m doing. I do however practice pre-visualization of what I want the final photo to look like. I know if a photo is going to be in black and white usually before I take it, or soon after I take it. This is where the mirrorless system helps, I just switch it into Acros mode and am able to see exactly how the photo will look in black and white. That has probably been the thing that helped me the most. Before that, I was just converting photos that didn’t work in color to black and white and hoping that they would turn out. With black and white, you really have to know what it’s going to look like and plan accordingly.

Phoblographer: What attracts you to certain clouds and storms? Do you get some sort of thrill out of it?

Matt Stanman: I really like the clouds that are large and have a lot of texture to them, when the light hits them the right way you can really see their beauty. When you add lighting to the equation it just gets a whole lot better, especially in blue hour or at night. The lightning will act as a flash to illuminate the internal structure of the storm, which is something you really can’t ever see with your naked eye. So these are really snapshots in time of something most people will never experience and that is really the thrill. Of course, when you feel the thunder under your feet it does give an adrenaline rush and usually, if I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed I will sit in the car and adjust the camera remotely on my smartphone.

Phoblographer: How do you want to improve over the next year?

Matt Stanman: I just want to do more photography and focus more on storms and weather. I feel like I’m progressing at a good rate now and really just want to keep the momentum going. The best piece of advice I ever got was that you just have to go shoot if you want to get better.

Phoblographer: What have you been doing during the pandemic when it comes to photography?

Matt Stanman: One thing that has helped is that I live on a natural 8 acres in Florida with a wonderful creek and tons of wildlife so during lockdown I could just wander into my backyard. I feel very fortunate for that. I would also say because of the heat and humidity of the Florida summer, there aren’t that many people in the state parks.

Phoblographer: What’s your favorite part of this entire process?

Matt Stanman: I love being in the field and using my creative side to really craft a great image; It is the moment where everything I’ve learned comes together. I do enjoy post-processing as well, but I tend to spend very little time per image doing it. I feel like the images that you really have to work on for more than 30-40 minutes, weren’t really that good, to begin with. The photo of the Lightning Strike Over Sanibel Island took me about 10 minutes to edit, it just instantly was what I wanted it to be.

Phoblographer: Where do you see yourself in the next year as a photographer? How do you plan on getting there? What big goals or projects do you have coming up?

Matt Stanman: My major goal since moving to Florida has been to see all that Florida has to offer including trying to visit all of the state parks. It’s an amazingly diverse environment here, and I think it’s a bit underrated as a landscape destination due to a lack of mountains and waterfalls. The next thing I want to do is to get a small boat or canoe to really explore the waterways. We have these amazing trees called mangroves that grow all around the small islands and water edges, these protect the islands but at the same time, they really obscure the landscape photos you can get from land. So to get a bit of a better view having a canoe or boat is great, you can usually set your tripod up in the water, as it’s usually not that deep. I also want to start making some prints available for people to buy. Although I don’t do this for the money, some people have asked me for prints of my work so I would like to make that available in the next year. This may entail me buying a printer or outsourcing, both of which have their pros and cons.