Spotlight Interview … Photographer Matt Powell


JRP: To best describe the persona and work of Matt Powell one needs to simply think about an earlier article he authored, “Dream Globally, Act Locally”. Thank you Matt for sharing your images and thoughts with JRP Blog.

Matt Powell: Thanks for the opportunity.

JRP: Where do you call home Matt?

Matt Powell: I live in the small resort/college town of Boone, in western North Carolina.

JRP: How did you begin your photographic career? Do you have any formal training in photography?


Matt Powell: I consider my career to truly have begun in 2001 with the job I currently have. Prior to that I spent a summer shooting white-water rafting for a local outfitter, I spent some time shooting catalog photography for a retailer, and I shot a personal documentary project on an overseas trip. I took a few classes in high-school and college, but I was always an avid self-learner and hobbyist

JRP: What motivates the photography you currently produce Matt?

Matt Powell: There are two sides to my work, both of which motivate me greatly. One side is about making a difference in the lives of those my employer is helping. (I am currently a staff photographer for the international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse.) I am motivated by knowing that my efforts are part of that. So my desire to help those in need drives me to produce better work. And the love of Jesus Christ is the source of my desire to help them.


On the flip side I have a deep longing to produce work that will inspire others to do something significant with their life. Whether that is inspiring other photographers to do great work or inspiring someone to go to the other side of the world as a humanitarian aid worker. I believe we were all given certain talents and desires. Whatever those are, we should use them to improve the world around us and to help those most in need. I want my work to motivate others to that end.

JRP: What would we find in your camera bag for a typical assignment? What lens can you just not do without?

Matt Powell: I shoot with Canon equipment. My primary camera is the 5D Mark 2. I use a regular 5D as a back-up. I carry a range of Canon lenses: 16-35 2.8, 70-200 2.8, 50 1.2, 24 1.4, 85 1.8. I have flashes, remote flash cords and a reflector/diffuser. At this moment in time I cannot live without my 50 1.2.

JRP: What is your digital workflow like and what software do you use?

Matt Powell: I work almost exclusively in Lightroom now. I only go to Photoshop when something needs a lot of work, ideally never. I shoot RAW. Within Lightroom I do color adjustments, convert to DNG and re-name my files. I export both a jpg and a DNG version. And I back it all up on DVD.

JRP: I have read that the great Indian documentary photographer Raghu Rai said you should begin photographing those things around you. Ami Vitale has also expressed that you should begin with projects close to home. You have offered the same advice. Could you give your spin on this?


Matt Powell: After traveling all over the developing world on assignment and then coming back home to small town USA, I can say with certainty that it is far easier to produce interesting work in exotic locations. Put any decent photographer in a developing world context and they are likely to come back with some striking images. Send that same photographer on assignment for a small-town newspaper or even to a wedding and then you will see what they are really capable of. Shooting in familiar environments sharpens your ability to see light, to use composition, to capture moments or to just tell stories better. It’s like training for anything else. Telling stories with your camera is no different. The better I can do here, the better I will be when I go to Africa on assignment.

JRP: What would you say is more important to you, technique or vision in your photography?

Matt Powell: For me it’s vision, because my vision keeps me going when my technique fails me. In general my technique serves to execute my vision. Ultimately, in my line of work, it must come from my heart. If I don’t have a deeper message or a deeper purpose to what I am doing then it starts to look the same and it just doesn’t have the impact it needs to be effective. I believe it shows through. If someone has all the vision in the world for this type of work but doesn’t have the ability to make an aesthetically pleasing image, well that is ineffective as well. But at least their vision will ultimately drive them to acquire the needed skills. I know it has for me.

JRP: Do you have any special projects that you are currently working on?

Matt Powell: My biggest current project is a video series that I’m producing for my local tourism development authority. As a still photographer, I’m exploring ways to incorporate stills into it by trying a lot of stop motion sequences, etc. But I’m really trying to learn how to tell a story with moving pictures- it’s a different animal. I’m also trying to build a wedding photography business. I shoot 5 or 6 weddings a year. It’s big business where I live. Plus it keeps me sharp between international assignments.

JRP: Besides the earlier statement of starting close to home what other advice would you share with lesser experienced photographers?


Matt Powell: Learn to see light. I prefer natural light but learn how to use a flash to improve bad lighting situations also. Buy professional lenses. Learn how exposure effects the final image. Decide what you want to shoot and dive in with both feet. It will take some sacrifice and it will require some failure before you succeed.

JRP: Thanks Matt for this opportunity to talk with you about your work. We wish you continued success.

Matt Powell: Thanks to you. All the best.

JRP: To view more of Matt Powell’s inspiring work please follow this link:


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