Matt Payne Photography | My favorite photos from 2013 - a year in photographic review

My favorite photos from 2013 - a year in photographic review

December 30, 2013  •  2 Comments

The time has come - the end of 2013 has finally arrived, welcoming another year of great photography opportunities for me and photographers across the world. I wanted to continue my habit of looking back on my year of work and pick 25 photos that personally resonated with me as favorites.

2013 was a big year for me, personally and professionally. I climbed two of the hardest mountains in Colorado, both of which required rope and rappelling. I advanced my photography business and photographed some amazing people. I finally made it to Southwest Colorado to photograph the fall colors and even captured the exact shot I had been planning for years. I travelled to Portland, Oregon and fell in love with the city. I saw some very spectacular scenes this year and so it will be quite hard for me to pick from all of the wonderful moments in time I've captured with my cameras.

So with all that being said, let's start at the beginning of the year and move on from there.

1. Frozen Fog in the San Luis Valley

In early January, I took a trip to the San Luis Valley to photograph the Quantarid Meteor Shower at the Sand Dunes National Park. On my way out, I encountered this amazingly eerie fog that engulfed me in a thin layer that was quite low to the ground. I was so enamoured by the fog that I had to pull over and photograph it to capture the moment. Despite the frosty -20 degree temps, this was one of the most awesome nights of 2013.

Frozen fogFrozen fogFrozen fog in San Luis Valley at night

2. Iced Dreams at Dream Lake - Rocky Mountain National Park

My friends Ethan and Sarah joined me on this trek into Rocky Mountain National Park on a very cold January morning. We snowshoed into Dream Lake to witness a very lovely sunrise and found some awesome cracks in the ice below Hallet Peak.

Iced Dreams at Dream LakeIced Dreams at Dream LakeCracks in Dream Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

3. Purple Mountain Majestic

Surely Pikes Peak would make it into my top 25 list, right? Barely. This iconic shot of Pikes Peak was not only one of my favorites of this year, but of any year. Additionally, it has been used by several web sites and local Facebook pages to promtoe the awesome beauty of Colorado Springs and America's Mountain.

4. Yucca Flare at Bluestem Prairie Open Space

I discovered this Open Space near my home this year and have returned time and time again. The area is home to many odd creatures, including several coyote, antelope, a huge variety of birds, and even an owl (which has still eluded my lens). This photograph from March highlights the passing sun behind a Yucca pod at Big Johnson Reservoir. I am very proud of this photo, as it currently hangs in the offices of the El Paso County Commissioners.

5. Milky Way over the Paint Mines

April marks the triiumphant return of the Milky Way in full effect. I travelled to the Paint Mines near Calhan, Colorado to photograph the Lyrid Meteor Shower, and came away with this magnificent panoramic of the Milky Way at dawn.

Milky Way over the Paint MinesMilky Way over the Paint MinesThis 9-photo panoramic of the Milky Way was taken just before dawn at the Paint Mines Interpretive Park.

6. Champions of the Night

2013 marked a year where I started teaching night photography classes. This was my first class out at the Paint Mines, where, in addition to teaching techniques for photographing the Milky Way, we also experimented with safely burning steel wool. This composite took a lot of work to combine the background as a very long exposure at f/2.8 for the Milky Way, and the foreground for the sparks at 20 seconds and f/11. My friend Ryan Fonkert is seen spinning the wool. What a great night of fun and excitement!

Champions of the NightChampions of the NightSpinning wool at 3 AM. I would call that pretty fun. Love how the sparks bounce off the rocks and light up the gully.

7. Galactic Archway

This killer panoramic of the Milky Way was taken the same night as the above photo, but I loved the other-worldly feel of it and how crisp the Milky Way appeared above the desert foreground.

Galactic ArchwayGalactic ArchwayThis 360 panoramic was taken shortly before sunrise at the Paint Mines Interpretive Park near Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Milky Way arches above the alien landscape of sandstone and dirt.

8. Working on the Supermoon

A trip to Cripple Creek during the Supermoon and several area forest fires led to this photo of the moon, tinted orange from the smoke in the air from the fires. This backhoe is a staple of the mining operation in Cripple Creek. As a bonus, a sequence of photos I took and turned into a time-lapse of the Supermoon this weekend made it onto the National Evening News on ABC.

9. Milky Way and the Northern Lights in Grizzly Valley

After climbing 13,995 ft. Grizzly Peak, I descended in the darkness of the valley below to be greeted by this insane scene showcasing the Milky Way and a glimmer of the Northern Lights. This particular photo is currently being showcased in the John Fielder Photo Art Gallery in Denver, Colorado.

Milky Way in Grizzly ValleyMilky Way in Grizzly ValleyThis 180 degree panoramic showcases the amazing Milky Way with pine trees in silhouette. The pink light at the end of the valley is from the Aurora Borealis aka the Northern Lights - there was a huge CME that brought the Aurora all the way down to Colorado over the weekend. This photo was taken roughly 10 miles south of Highway 82 just west of Independence Pass.

10. Cresteone Needle Wildflowers

One of the non-profit boards that I serve on, Rocky Mountain Field Institute, performs on-going environmental restoration of the South Colony Basin near Westcliffe, Colorado. This basin is home of Colorado's more scenic 14,000 ft. peaks, such as Crestone Needle, pictured here. Crestone Needle is one of the more iconic mountains in the State, and one of my favorites. 

Crestone Needle WildflowersCrestone Needle WildflowersCrestone Needle is one of Colorado's most amazing 14ers. Located west of the small town of Westcliffe, this mountain is nestled in a pristine basin called South Colony Basin. Columbine wildflowers are seen in this photo from Upper South Colony Lake.

11. Fog Obscures Crestone Needle

Taken the same day as the above photo after a severe storm moved into the valley and left behind it a lot of fast moving fog, this shot shows the darker side of Crestone Needle with wildflowers and a moving mountain stream below. This was a particularly touching photo for me personally, as I returned from this trip to learn that one of my hiking partners, Terry Mathews, who I climbed Crestone Needle with, had committed suicide that weekend. This photo will forever be a reminder of Terry for me. 

Fog obscures Crestone NeedleFog obscures Crestone NeedleCrestone Needle, located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado near Westcliffe, is probably one of my favorite 14ers. The mountain is one of the most challenging climbs around and is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the whole state. In this long exposure, the shutter was left open for 241 seconds to show the moving fog after a long day of thunderstorms pounded the area.

12. Spanning the Great Divide

The second night photography class I taught this year was held at Independence Pass. This photo illustrates the intensity and beauty of the Milky Way spanning over the Continental Divide. I think this was one of my favorite shots of all time, not just 2013. 

Spanning the Great DivideSpanning the Great DivideThis huge night panorama was taken at Independence Pass, Colorado. The Milky Way spans across the Contentinental Divide

13. Independence Pass Sunset

Taken just hours before the above photo during sunset, this photo was also taken at Independence Pass. The purple wildflowers and purple clouds and reflection played quite beautifully together. 

Independence Pass SunsetIndependence Pass SunsetI took this photo from a small pond I found near the summit of Independence Pass in Colorado at sunset. I loved the wildflowers and how they complimented the purple hues. I did some focus stacking to ensure all of the flowers were in focus as well as the mountains in the distance.

14. Fireweed and the Sultan

This year brought me to some very amazing places, including Ice Lake Basin near Silverton, Colorado. I had long heard of the amazing beauty of this basin, but proof was in the fireweed as seen below. 

Fireweed and the SultanFireweed and the SultanThis field of Fireweed in lower Ice Lake Basin caught my eye at sunset. Just as I arrived to capture the glory, a rainbow appeared above the peak known as Sultan. Amazing little area just west of Silverton, Colorado.

15. The end of summer

Another photograph in mid-August from Ice Lake Basin. This was at sunset. I just loved the way the small stream leads you through the scene and into the mountain in the distance. Ice Lake Basin will forever be one of my favorite places in Colorado.

The end of summerThe end of summerA small mountain stream cascades through a strand of wildflowers in Colorado's Ice Lake Basin at sunset.

16. Telluride Morning Magic

2013 was a year of mountaineering accomplishments for me. I was able to scale two of the more challenging peaks in Colorado, Dallas Peak and Teakettle. From the ascent of Dallas Peak, I captured this black and white panorama showcasing the early light and dramatic form of the San Juan Mountains near Telluride, Colorado.

Telluride Morning MagicTelluride Morning MagicThis black and white landscape was taken near Telluride Colorado on the way up Dallas Peak. The San Juan Mountains bask in early morning light from the left of frame.

17. The King of Dallas Divide

Another photo from the climb up Dallas Peak, looking over at Mount Sneffels and Teakettle. Directly below me in this photo are dramatic cliffs that surely would have ended my life if I were to have fallen.

18. Gazing from Teakettle Mountain

Taken the following morning on our climb of Teakettle, this shot showcases the famous handle of the Teakettle in dramatic black and white form. Inside the handle of the Teakettle is our trip's leader, Rick McBee. This photo will always take me back to this amazing climb, one of my most memorable and exciting accomplishments this decade.

19. Chimney Rock on Fire

2013 was also the year where I was able to finally photograph Chimney Rock near Ridgway, Colorado. I have forever been in love with this scene and have always wanted to capture it at the right moment during the changing colors of autumn. As a bonus, this photograph won me a contest on Google + and a brand new HTC One phone courtesy of Colby Brown. Thanks again Colby!

Chimney Rock on FireChimney Rock on FireFor the 2013 fall colors I had one shot I just had to get and this was it! Chimney Rock, the scene of famous movies such as True Grit and How the West Was Won. Sunset lit up the rock like it was on fire. Amazing night. The recent dusting of snow added just the right amount of flair too.

20. Galactic Camping

One of the best parts of my fall photography trip was that my son Quinn could join me for the adventure. We camped in a tent in freezing autumn temperatures and were witness to some of the best dark skies Colorado had to offer, including this quite memorable photo of my son inside my REI tent under a blanket of stars. I've reached out to REI to see if they want to use this photo but never did hear back...

21. Dallas Divide Autumn Panorama

Another photo from the fall 2013 trip, this huge panorama of the Dallas Divide mountains (Mount Sneffels, Teakettle, etc) was easily one of my favorite shots this year. The colors were incredible and the orange and yellows of the farmland below contrasted so nicely with the Colorado blue skies above. 

22. Moonlight over Colorado Springs

The nearly full moon is usually considered a pain in the rear for night photographers, as it decreases the amount of stars you are able to see; however, this moon over Colorado Springs helped bring out some awesome details in the scene and really accentuated the entire photo. Bright constellations can easily be seen, including Orion's Belt. 

23. Portland Skyline from Pittock Mansion

My wife, son and I took a week-long trip to Portland, Oregon for Thanksgiving. We had never been to the area and had always heard amazing things about it. It did not disappoint. This iconic photo of Mount Hood behind the Portland skyline was one of my favorites from our trip. The trip was so amazing that we are in the process of relocating to the area, pending my acceptance of a job offer.

24. Moonrise at the Kissing Camels

On a whim, I decided to photograph the rising full moon behind Gateway Rock at Garden of the Gods. I climbed high on the Palmer Trail and was able to get this vantage, showcasing both the rising moon and traffic on the winding roads below in the Park.

25. Stargazing on Christmas Eve

Last but not least, I was very proud and happy about the way this photograph turned out on Christmas Eve. The photo is of my son Quinn gazing into a miniature planetarium in his bedroom. The photo evokes wonder, amazement and brings out the Christmas spirit. 

That concludes my picks for this year. Which were your favorites? Did I miss any that you love? As always, your support helps tremendously - please consider purchasing prints for your home or office or as gifts! Please do contact me if you have any questions!

Thanks, and Happy New Year!


Karl Lindsay(non-registered)
Great shots Matt! I really love #11, even though it is tied to a tragedy. Great vision... all the best for 2014!
Jeremy Moser(non-registered)
Absolutely amazing review of your extraordinary talent. Photo on, my friend!
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