Vail photographer creates stunning landscape images |

Vail photographer creates stunning landscape images

Melanie Wong
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
HL Matt Inden 1 DT 12-21-10

VAIL, Colorado – It was 7 a.m., with the temperature barely breaking the double digits on Vail Pass, and Matt Inden was tromping around in knee-deep powder in search of something.

By the look of his 40-pound backpack and weather-proof mountain wear, he might have been headed out for some winter mountaineering or maybe a backcountry trip. But for the Vail landscape photographer, it was just another day at the office.

He stopped abruptly and dropped to his knees, thoughtfully inspecting the snow in front of him. The object of his interest was a lonely clump of branches sticking about six inches out of the snow. Upon closer inspection, the branches were bearing the most miniature pine cones, entirely covered in sparkling ice crystals.

“They kind of look like antlers,” Inden said.

As the brightening sun hit the icy plain around him, the entire meadow appeared to be covered with haphazardly strewn diamonds. A close-up of these branches with the snow in the foreground, he decided, would be his shot.

It is this kind of eye for detail and thoughtfulness that marks Inden’s photography – anyone else might not have given the meadow a second glance, focusing instead on the surrounding peaks. They might have even stepped on the branches. But not Inden, who pulled his rather unconventional equipment from his pack – a Deardorf large format camera circa the 1950s that shoots negatives 8X10 inches huge.

Think of the kind of camera you see in old movies, where the photographer has his head under a black blanket, and you have an idea. His camera is wooden, with old-fashioned brass joints and trim, and black accordion-like “bellows” connecting the front and back. Inden spent 10 minutes setting up the contraption on the snow, another 10 minutes ducking in and out from under a black jacket that serves to block the light, and finally released the shutter for two images.

Inden discovered his love for photography while ski bumming in Telluride. The Delaware native returned to school to study photography and worked as a photojournalist for almost four years before branching out on his own. He opened a gallery, Matt Inden Photography, in Lionshead in July. The grand opening reception is set for Thursday afternoon.

Inden came across the large-format camera while working on his final project in photography school. He captured two images of the Vail mountains and fields of wildflowers with a friend’s large-format camera, and was hooked. He loved the history and romance of the old-fashioned machine and the incredible images it could capture, he said.

Because the film is so large, an 8×10 camera can create images of extremely high quality, so much so that it looks more like what you might see with the naked eye. You feel like you could reach out to feel the roughness of grains of sand or the bark of an aspen tree.

“People say, ‘I took a photo, but it doesn’t look anything like I saw it,'” Inden said. “Well, the idea behind the large format camera is that the quality can be so good that you feel like you can walk into the photo. You can blow it up to the size of a garage door, and it still has that intricate quality and detail. It helps bring back a scene to a person that looks more like you saw it in real life.”

Not that using a large format camera isn’t without its complications. Inden sometimes hikes for miles, camping for days and trekking across streams and through snow with all his gear on his back.

He used to travel a bit lighter, but the smaller pack limited the length of his journeys.

“Before I could only go out for a few days because I could only fit so much into the pack. I’d always be cold and hungry,” he laughed.

Besides being physically demanding, using the large format camera means that it takes extra work to successfully get a shot. Modern cameras can be maneuvered easily, and it takes seconds to frame a shot, focus the lens and snap the shutter. Inden’s camera takes minutes at best to set up, and because it is very sensitive to movement, wind can render shooting impossible.

He said he’s often hiked to an area early in the morning multiple days in a row trying to capture the right photo at just the right time. Many of his shoots, whether he’s looking for a spectacular sunrise, snow on aspen trees or ice on a frozen river, can be foiled by less-than-perfect conditions.

“You’re often waiting for the weather to cooperate, for the right kind of clouds, or the best wind. You just have to be persistent to keep going back for that shot if you think it’s worth it,” he said.

That also means he can go for weeks without getting a single photo, an odd concept now in the age of digital photography when it isn’t uncommon to take hundreds of photos in one shoot.

“I went away recently for almost three weeks and I hoped to get a photo,” Inden said. “Two or three? That would have been a success.”

All the work that goes into capturing an image makes successfully getting a shot even sweeter. Inden remembered one of his early shots, a sunrise he captured on Shrine Ridge after several days of hiking around the area.

“The last day the moon was setting, the wind calmed, and the sky just went crazy,” he said. “I was so psyched that I went out and treated myself to breakfast.”

It’s moments like that keep him trekking around the mountains with his 8×10 in tow.

“It’s always awesome when something about a photo rings true for someone,” he said. “They feel like they can walk in the scene, be right next to me taking the photo, or maybe I’m not involved at all – it’s just them in that scene.”

Melanie Wong is a freelance writer based in Eagle-Vail. E-mail comments about this story to

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