Lens Flair: An Interview With Matt Trappe
I’m a big fan of trail and mountain running photographers and filmmakers. It’s the athletes, of course, who are out there week in, week out, pushing the sport’s envelope, redefining what’s perceived as possible. But it’s the photographers and filmmakers, however, who are the unsung heroes—they’re the ones documenting the evolution and serving up some sensory treats for us all along the way. I caught up with Matt Trappe and talked about life in the trail running firing line.
iRunFar: Matt, you’re just about to release your first mountain-running film—Running the Edge—the worldwide premiere is coming up. Are you excited, nervous!? [Editor’s Note: The premiere event was this past Friday, March 7. Our review of the film.]
Matt Trappe: I had Scott [Jaime, whose Colorado Trail FKT was the subject of Matt’s film,] and his family over last night. We had dinner and a couple of beers and they loved it. So seeing their reaction to it, that made me feel really good because that’s more than half the battle. I’m pretty excited about the premiere.
iRunFar: That was the first time he and his family saw the finished, edited version?
Trappe: Yeah, it was. That was pretty cool because a lot of people can like it but if it disappoints them in any way I feel terrible about that. So they really liked it; so it’s all good! I’ve been working so hard for months editing and putting the story together as I saw it. For it to meet their expectations was really gratifying.
iRunFar: This was your first ‘big’ film project. You’ve done some short stuff for brands and at races. How was the experience?
Trappe: Yeah, this is the first thing that I’ve done that’s more than a couple minutes long, which is exciting for me and it was something that I jumped on when I first talked about doing this. It’s kind of a theme of the film, too—pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and all the benefits that come from that. That applies to both the length of the trail for Scott and the length of the film for me as well.
iRunFar: The filming must have been a challenge. Tell me a little about that.
Trappe: It wasn’t easy! Half the movie isn’t on the Colorado Trail; only the last half on the film is on the trail. So we started about a year ago, filming some interviews and going on some runs together around Colorado and filming some of that. That was just Scott and I having fun. Then, when the trail attempt started, that was a lot harder work all around. All our GPS batteries died, so I don’t know how far I went, but I probably ran 140 to 150 miles that week, which is the biggest week I’ve ever done. That’s carrying camera gear, too. I was trying to go as light as I could but good enough to get good footage—trying to balance that. There was some learning there for me; that was difficult. Then, as the week went on, the sleep deprivation was hurting all of us. Even thinking straight to get the camera settings right and paying attention to get important moments as they’re happening and not just letting my brain turn off because I was so tired—that takes a lot of discipline [laughs].
iRunFar: Cool. You’re still known more as a trail photographer up until now. How has your journey over to making trail films been, Matt? Has it just been a natural progression?
Trappe: It has to some extent. They’re very different—photography and film. I’m learning to enjoy the filmmaking as much as the photography. I think I’m a better photographer at this point, just because it’s pretty early in the game for me making films. I think for a lot of photographers it’s becoming necessary to know both. I mean the cameras are doing both now; commercial projects that I’m getting are requiring both now, too, because of the demands from online media that brands want to have on their websites. It’s kind of evolving. For me, it’s partly that and partly because it’s a new way to challenge myself and tell the story with a little bit more depth than photographs allow me to do.
iRunFar: It’s an interesting time for sure. Your own route to becoming a trail running photographer is interesting, too. You had one of those career-change moments where you jumped ship from the corporate world and set out on your own, didn’t you?
Trappe: Yeah, it was really exciting but also nerve-racking because it was a big jump. I guess my frustrations with the corporate world made it much easier to do [laughs]. I was put in a situation where I was really unhappy and just wanted to do something different and this was something that I really enjoyed. I had a bit of traction doing it, very casually and without much effort at all, so it really made me wonder how that could go if I really put a lot of effort behind it. So I started doing it a little more seriously when we were living in Chicago, Illinois and I was working. Then we decided to move out here to Denver, Colorado so I could give this a go full time with all the opportunities that Denver and the Rocky Mountains brought. It’s been going gangbusters ever since—I’m working harder than I was before. But I’m enjoying myself a lot more and my family gets to travel with me to projects; I get to go to all these cool places and spend a ton of time outdoors all while making a living. That’s very, very fulfilling, more than anything I’ve ever done.
iRunFar: That’s great. You’ve really found your niche in the world of trail running and now moving more into the general outdoor world. But how did you first start connecting with the trail scene?
Trappe: Well, I played soccer when I was growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. That was always my sport, so running was always punishment after practice or something [laughs]. I don’t have a competitive-running background but I really love being in the mountains. Like a lot of people running trails, it’s a way for me to just see more of those mountains. For me, it was the love of mountains that really brought me to it. When we moved out here to Denver, I started running on the trails more and ran a couple of ultras last year and have a couple more on tap for this year. It came with the lifestyle change. I managed to do what I wanted to do a lot more and spend more time outside and a lot less in your standard, corporate, flip-on-the-TV kind of routine. Blending the photography, the filming, and the running has really brought those loves of mine together and that’s been just fantastic.
iRunFar: How did you get into photography, Matt?
Trappe: When I was a kid, I was into photography; I was also into drawing a lot. At the same time, all I did year round was play sports… whether it was basketball, football, or soccer. Sports were probably my priority. I really got into photography when I was in grad school. I was traveling a lot—I spent a semester in Barcelona, Spain, another semester in Budapest, Hungary. So I traveled a lot, took a lot of photos, and got pretty good with the camera. You know, just turning off the auto settings and using the manual settings…
iRunFar: …that’s a big step!
Trappe: [laughs] It is… it doesn’t matter nearly as much what camera you have, if you can use a camera on manual settings versus auto settings. So I learned that, a lot by trial and error, and got pretty good with that. I refined my eye for composition as well, which is a big part of it, too. That started my love for photography because I would just travel and go to places around Europe by myself and walk around and check things out—tour the city and take some photos. I just got lost in that and that was a lot of fun, just me and the camera. The love for that is still there; it’s still really strong.
iRunFar: Now you shoot races and do some work for brands, too. But is the majority of your work still mountain-based?
Trappe: Yeah it’s almost all in a mountain environment. I did one studio shoot, that was for Flora with Krissy Moehl and Sage Canaday, so it was still very much running focused [laughs]. Photography-wise, I’m learning a lot of different techniques but it’s all within the mountain world. I’ve just done a shoot for Chaco sandals, still a very outdoorsy brand, so that has still been the bulk of my work. It started with ultrarunning and now has expanded a little bit beyond ultra/trail to the more outdoor world in general. That was always my plan, to get a foothold in something that I really like and then piggyback on it and go from there.
iRunFar: In the trail running world, do you have favourite subjects, runners you prefer shooting?
Trappe: Not really one in particular. I’m partial to shooting Hardrock in general, race-wise. I love shooting that race; it’s so gorgeous and, for me, I’ve run over 20 miles in a day shooting that race, so it’s not bad… especially carrying camera gear. I especially love the challenge of that and the beauty of that course. That whole week leading up to Hardrock, all these ultrarunning people in one small town, is awesome.
iRunFar: Cool. I wanted to ask you about the changes in the sport, Matt. You’ve been shooting the likes of Hardrock, the race we just spoke about for example, for a few years now. The sport on both sides of the Atlantic is experiencing a boom the last while. You have a different perspective to the actual runners; you’re actually documenting the sport. Have you seen big changes?
Trappe: For me, I guess it’s a little bit hard to tell. In general, my business has grown and I’ve gotten more inquiries and more projects because of that. But I think a lot of it has to do with ultrarunning growing as well. The two are coinciding pretty well. So I’ve got a lot more interest from companies that are starting to jump into it—like Nike has a trail team now, to give an example. So bigger companies are coming in and putting a bit more money into the sport. I and other organisations have been benefactors to that. I’m excited about where it’s going. I think it has a long way to go for it to become a problem with too much money in the sport. You know, ultrarunning is far from the NFL. I’m excited by it; I think it’s headed in a good direction.
iRunFar: Have you seen changes on the trail, or is the camaraderie just as strong as before?
Trappe: Yeah, I think the same camaraderie’s still there. It depends on which races you’re shooting, too. Shooting and running-wise, I tend to prefer the smaller races, I’ve never even run a race that has more than a couple hundred people in it. I like to keep it that way and they’re the kinds of races I like to shoot because it keeps that camaraderie there. I guess that I lean toward that a little bit. I haven’t seen a change. I think the races do a good job of keeping the kind of atmosphere that they’re used to—whether it’s big or small.
iRunFar: Going back to your own running, Matt. When or how do you decide to leave the camera and actually run the race yourself?
Trappe: There are some races that I really want to run regardless of whether I can take the camera or not. There are definitely others that I’m unable to run—getting into Hardrock is like winning the lottery… literally. Shooting that is the next-best thing to actually running it. You know, you can go to Silverton, you can look up where the course is, and you can go and run the trails; and I’ve done that. Those races are pretty epic races to say that you’ve run but you can just go and run the trails and courses and I like doing that, too.
iRunFar: Cool. What about Europe? Have you had any opportunities to shoot races there?
Trappe: No, the opportunity hasn’t come up. For a lot of American-based photographers the travel over there is a big barrier, cost-wise. To go shoot those races, you’d have to have a pretty good sponsor who’s excited by the project to allow that to happen… I haven’t had that yet. But I’d absolutely love to shoot all sorts of races in Europe—I think there are so many spectacular ones. It’s funny with the ultra/trail world in the U.S. versus Europe, I think there are a lot of runners on both sides that are unknown to the other—really, really good athletes. So there are a lot of people on the European circuit that I’d love to shoot, that a lot of Americans wouldn’t really know about, including myself. Having more exposure to that group of runners would be awesome.
iRunFar: It’s a good point, Matt. I guess with the U.S. Skyrunning series starting this year and the popularity of the U.S. races for some of the European athletes, the cross pollination that’s been happening will only continue and increase. It’s an exciting time for not only the runners but the filmmakers and the photographers like yourself—your cast of characters is getting bigger! Are you going to shoot some of the U.S. Skyrunning races?
Trappe: Yeah, there are a couple that I’ve jotted on my calendar that I definitely want to shoot. It kind of depends on what type of projects come up and, for me, some stuff will come up last-minute. So I pencil some things in on my calendar and leave some weekends open to see what happens when it gets closer [to the race]. Sometimes I’ll just go on my own if I want to shoot a race badly; other times I’ll wait and see what projects come up to determine what I want to do. But I definitely have a number of them on my calendar and some races that I haven’t shot before. Because that’s fun, too, determining what locations to get to and how much time I have to do that… what trails I have to take and how long it takes to get back to my car to get to the next spot. It’s fun to plan those logistics and come out with some good shots. When you throw in the element of a new course, then that’s a challenge and I love a challenge.
iRunFar: Going back to your filmmaking, there is quite a core group of amazing filmmakers within the mountain-running scene right now. There are the likes of Joel Wolpert, The African Attachment guys with their Ryan Sandes movie and Salomon stuff, and Seb Montaz’s work with Kilian Jornet. Do you get inspired by those guys?
Trappe: Yeah, absolutely. Those guys are all fantastic and I look up to a lot of their work. I think everybody is very different and that’s really cool because it brings a lot of variety and everybody is just trying to do justice to the cool stories, really good athletes and spectacular courses and scenery, in their own, different way. It’s just a lot of fun. Plus, all those guys are really good guys and I’ve met several of them at different races and events. Everybody has a lot of fun. Those guys push me to try different things myself and they all help grow and nurture the sense of camaraderie for all the people that are fans of trail and ultrarunning.
iRunFar: Excellent, so what races have you planned to run this year?
Trappe: I’m going to run Lake Sonoma this year; I shot that race last year and I’m going to run it this year. I don’t know how trained I am at the moment because I’ve been working on this film an awful lot but I’m going to run and just enjoy myself because that course is so spectacular and it’s really beautiful in April out there. Then I’m going to do a 100 miler this year; I’m going to do the Bighorn 100 in Wyoming. One, because it’s a fantastic course and I hear great things about it and, two, because it’s a Hardrock qualifier—I can get my name in the hat! The Bighorn 100 is in June. After that I don’t know; we’ll see how I feel. I may just want to shut it down and take some photos!