My Journey To Landscape Photography – Suzanne Mathia

My story of how I became a full time landscape photographer, workshop teacher and instructor is probably very similar to others who have chosen this crazy path.  As a single Mom for the majority of my life, and raising 2 boys I was firmly entrenched in the corporate world, making great money, with incredible insurance, a generous benefit package, solid career, stability and a seemingly safe future.

That was, until those wonderful boys grew up into fine young men and moved on.  In the years following, I regularly began to resent my life as a corporate wonk , trapped in a pale green cubicle with barely 2 precious weeks of vacation a year. Those few opportunities that I did get to travel and re explore the wilderness opened my eyes to what I really wanted in life and more importantly, what I didn’t want.  Was this my time now?

The dreaded office
The dreaded office

Photography was always a pure pleasure for me, mostly because it was something my father and I did together when I was young. I loved the places it made me go and the excuse it gave me to go there. Having no clue about the craft of photography,  shooting film back then, a few good snapshots back from I hour photo made me quite happy.  

After attending just one much-anticipated photography workshop back in 2005 the bug bit me…hard!  I remember the very moment that I made up my mind that I wanted to do this forever! We were all sitting on a distant desert dune waiting earnestly for the sunrise.  All totally present in the moment and I thought of the famous quote “Whatever you can do or dream you can begin it; Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

Hunts Mesa
Hunts Mesa

I became insatiable, learning everything there was about photography and cameras and weather, digital asset management and post-processing. Tenacious and determined, I surrounded myself with great photographers, willing mentors, and endless books.

It took a few years to be brave enough to make the jump. Looking back now and wish I had the guts to do it sooner, finally in 2010 after a glorious 14-day raft trip photographing the Colorado River, my mind was made up.  As the river meandered through the Grand Canyon with slow stretches of calm water and relentless pounding through world-class rapids, I was surrounded by steep walls of Sandstone and Bright Angel shale. Time had no meaning and I was totally at peace.  I just couldn’t go back to those suffocating green cubicle walls anymore.  I went into work and gave notice. As the saying goes “Everything you need will come to you at the perfect time.”

The next few years were ones of big change. It was not easy, simple or without major road bumps.  Realizing that if I was going to make this work I had to change some priorities and lower my personal living expenses as much as possible.  Get rid of all those things that I was running so hard to maintain, the house, the gardener, the pool guy, the car, expensive restaurants, all those things that I had spent my former career acquiring that now seemed more like an anchor and chains that made me sink further and further away from my goals.

If I really wanted to do what I loved for a living, personal sacrifices had to be made.  I also didn’t want my love for photography to become just like the job I just left. I knew so many people that were trying to make a killing in the business and were considered “successful”. They were marketing mavens with multiple revenue streams and social media platforms, affiliate links, you tube channels and workshops.  Then one of them told me they really don’t enjoy photography any more “it’s just a business”.

Not for me!  Maybe its because I didn’t ‘t have enough confidence to try and accomplish all that and keep those plates spinning but I really believed that I could be content if I could just make enough to do this next month. It was worth a try.

 It’s now been 10 years

During that time luck blessed me with winning a number of pretty prestigious photography contests and my work was published in numerous magazines and calendars.  A couple of covers for ARIZONA HIGHWAYS magazine and images sold for corporate and private clients. This gave me a bit of confidence a nice boost to the fragile ego and a little bit of extra credibility. 

After years of hard work the realization that there was still so much more to learn became obvious. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master your craft.  That’s just the beginning. You just have to keep doing the work.

As the learning and practice continued I realized that I enjoyed sharing this information with others. Already pretty proficient with Photoshop when Lightroom hit the market  I set about to learn everything about it and eventually that led to getting certified as an Adobe Certified Expert and to teaching Lightroom and post processing workshops, classes and seminars.

Landscape photography workshops began about 8 years ago.  My colleagues and friends at Arizona Highways Photo Workshops encouraged me to pursue teaching.  I waited a good year and sat on the idea until I felt confident and capable.  Once I started teaching workshops I realized that this was something I was good at and most importantly what I loved to do.  

I was so thrilled by the empowerment and insight it gave to those I taught. Its the greatest feeling when can teach a difficult concept to someone, and then you see it in their eyes…… they get it, the light bulb goes off and the concept clicks.  They have that A HA moment and are grateful beyond words. They have new tools and new confidence to use them.  I now combine both in the field and classroom instruction to my workshops.

My passion is in teaching landscape photography workshops. Not only photography concepts from the basic to the most complex but also helping people step out of their comfort zone both physically and mentally. For me, I’m teaching certainty in their knowledge, their vision and capabilities. Taking student confidently from capture to print.

Not everyone is in the right place, right time or circumstance to take a giant leap like this. If in doubt just take the next small step. Always keep pointing in the direction you want go.  Each subsequent step does get easier.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
― William Hutchison Murray


My top photography tips, (as those who have worked with me know.) 

Please yourself first, photograph what you love and what brings emotion to you and out of you.  

Learn the basics really well, then learn them again and know your camera.  This is the foundation on which your creativity will build. C.A.F.E…..Composition, Aperture, Focus and Exposure

DON’T BE LAZY – Get up early, change lenses, get down low, hike up high.  Spend time on what you don’t know. Be deliberate in your compositions. Don’t try to “fix it in post”. Go the extra mile, make images not excuses.

Suzanne Mathia
August 2019
Suzanne Mathia
Scottsdale, AZ

Suzanne is a professional freelance photographer, workshop instructor, and writer, whose work regularly appears in Arizona Highways Magazine, as well as numerous national publications. Her images have been published by National Geographic, Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photographer and calendars and digital media for the Arizona Office of Tourism, Nature Conservancy, and Global Action Team and Smith SouthWestern. Her work is displayed in many corporate and private collections around the world. An Adobe Certified Expert in Lightroom and Photoshop, Suzanne offers group and private classes for photographers seeking to get the best out of their images and to streamline their workflow and digital asset management systems. She teaches Landscape Photography and Digital Post Processing for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops as well as private small group and individual workshops. Suzanne was born and raised amidst the green rolling hills of the English countryside but is now completely at home surrounded by the arid desert and swirling sandstone of the Southwest. She finds Arizona a land of intense beauty and preposterous contradiction. Her photographs capture the diversity of waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, autumn leaves and desert sands, from the magnitude of the immense landscape to the smallest, most discreet of details. “The desert can be unforgiving of even the smallest errors, treating the unprepared harshly. But, for the few with passion, those who are willing to begin their trek at the end of the road, the secret world of the Southwest is revealed.” Suzanne loves to challenge the ruggedness of the land, the great distances to be traveled, and intense weather conditions to capture images of Arizona and the Southwest that expose its many treasures and extremes. Her images reflect her keen sense of curiosity, patience and the ability to see the world and its magic places in new and creative ways.

Article Type: News, Columns, MISC

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