My Favorite Photos of the decade - 2010 - 2019

In the spirit of showcasing my best photos of 2019, I thought it might be fun to look back on a decade of my photography (I got serious about photography in 2010, so the timing is perfect) to show you my favorite photo from each year I have been a photographer. It is also interesting to see how my photography has progressed (or some might say regressed) and how my tastes and subjects have shifted over the past 10 years. Without further ado...


I photographed this scene using an 8 megapixel Sony DSC-828 camera on my ascent of 13,809 ft. Arrow Peak at sunset. Arrow Peak has an absolutely unreal vantage of Vestal Peak, which I have tattooed on my right arm. This might be one of the most memorable trips I've ever done in my life.

Vestal's Wham Ridge from Arrow Peak at sunset
Vestal's Wham Ridge

This is the famous view of Vestal Peak's Wham Ridge, taken from the side of Arrow Peak near sunset.


It is no secret that this is one of my favorite images of all time - I photographed it using a Nikon D7000 camera and a Tokina 11-16 mm lens... it still ranks as one of the most unbelievable days of my life. 

A sunrise panoramic from San Juan Mountains of Colorado with views of 14ers Eolus, Windom, and Sunlight in the Needles sub-range. Epic Mountain photography.
San Juan Sunrise Panorama (2011)

After a 20+ mile backpack into Colorado's Chicago Basin near the town of Durango in the Weminuche Wilderness Area, my climbing partner and I got an early start at 3 AM to ascend North Eolus Peak's 14,000 ft. summit before sunrise. We were joined by mountain goats on the summit (one is in the photo, can you spot it?) for this panoramic and enjoyed one of the most epic and memorable sunrises in my lifetime. Directly east of us below the sun were the formidable 14,000 ft. peaks Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak (which we climbed later that day and the day after). To the right (south) towered 14er Eolus Peak and to the left getting hit by intense light were Turret Peak and Pigeon Peak, two of the more rugged peaks in the area. Also visible in this photograph are my favorite peaks in Colorado - Vestal Peak and Arrow Peak (left of middle, sticking up like a sore thumb), Jagged Mountain, Jupiter Peak, and more. You can even make out Uncompahgre Peak and Wetterhorn Peak on the horizon as well as Rio Grand Pyramid. If you can't tell, I'm a total Colorado mountain geek.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.


My co-worker, Dr. Michael Welch, informed me of an upcoming celestial event that would not return until 2117 - the Venus Transit across the sun. Transits of Venus are among the rarest of predictable astronomical phenomena and I had the pleasure of photographing it. For this scene, I meticulously planned my destination, placing the sun in the small gap created by a rock formation in the Garden of the Gods Park known as the Kissing Camels. The planet Venus is seen here as a small dot silhouetted on the face of the sun. This was well before good photo apps like PhotoPills, so I feel pretty accomplished with this particular image!

The Venus Transit and the Kissing Camels of the Garden of the Gods
Venus Transit Silhouette Kissing Camels (2012)

This was something I planned for weeks. The 2012 Venus Transit is the last one we will have until 2117. I knew the perfect location to capture it - The Garden of the Gods. I wanted to get the Sun coming through the Kissing Camels with Venus in view. I think I got it!


In December, 2012 I purchased my first full-frame DSLR, the Nikon D800 and took more photos than ever before (or since). In 2013, I worked out a lot of the kinks with the camera and fell in love with astro-photography for the first time. One of my favorite photographs from this era was this star trails image taken at Owl Creek Pass near Ridgway, Colorado. My son Quinn camped with me in my small tent (he was 6 years old at the time) and I had fun getting him in the photograph underneath the stars. This photo won me a small photo contest in Colorado Springs and I have always been proud of it. 

Star trails at Owl Creek Pass in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
Galactic Camping (2013)

My son and I slept under the stars at Owl Creek Pass after my epic night of capturing sunset at Chimney Rock and Courhouse Mountain. This photo of my REI Quarter Dome has my son hanging out inside as he got ready for bed under the stars.


In late 2013, I moved to Portland, Oregon after spending a lifetime in Colorado Springs. It was a particularly challenging move for my family and I, having no friends there. We wanted to experience another part of the country and Oregon was a nice match for us. You can read all about our decision here. My obsession with night photography continued in 2014 and I found myself in a new playground with a lot of interesting subjects, including Mount Hood! This Milky Way panorama is one of a few I have ever seen from this location and is one of my favorite photographs from my time in the Pacific Northwest.

A panoramic of the Milky Way arching over Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, and Government Camp as seen from Tom, Dick, and Harry mountain in the Columbia River Gorg
Mount Hood and the Galaxy Above (2014)

This night panorama features Mount Hood beneath the a blanket of stars and the Milky Way Galaxy. Taken from Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain near Portland, Oregon and Government Camp, Oregon. Mount Jefferson can be seen on the horizon as well near the Milky Way core.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.


My time in the Pacific Northwest was coming to an end but I still had fun exploring what it had to offer. Still to this day, I fondly look back on this scene as one of my greatest photographic accomplishments to date - I shot a horizon-to-horizon panorama of the Milky Way on the Oregon Coast near Pacific City - a shot I see a lot of other photographers try to emulate. 

A horizon to horizon view of the Milky Way over Cape Kiwanda Rock near Pacific City, Oregon showcasing bioluminescent algae off of the shore of the beach.
The Mindbender (2015)

In this nightscape fine art photograph, the great Milky Way Galaxy rises above Cape Kiwanda on the coast of the ocean near Pacific City, Oregon. This photograph represents almost a full field of view of the night sky including stars from horizon to horizon. I waited at this spot until 1 AM to capture the Milky Way in alignment with Kiwanda Rock on the shore of the beach. Bioluminescent algae shined through in the darkness on the shores of the rock - creating a super dynamic scene.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.


A return to my home in Colorado. My family and I moved to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in Durango, which placed me right at the doorstep of some of the most incredible scenes in North America. My mountain climbers familiar with Colorado will tell you that one of the best views is from the summit of Turret Peak - a high 13,000 ft. peak in the Weminuche Wilderness Area. For this shot, perhaps my favorite sunrise ever seen, I summited Turret in the dark to capture this magical light display.

The best sunrise from the summit of Turret Peak showcasing the rising sun behind Jagged Mountain in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
Sunrise from Turret Peak Colorado (2016)

In August of 2016, I set off to climb two of Colorado's most difficult mountains, Pigeon Peak and Turret Peak. The Durango-Silverton Narrow-gauge train dropped me off next to the Animas River at 9,500 feet and I set-off up the steep Ruby Lake trail. I ended up setting up camp below Pigeon Peak but opted not to sleep. Instead, I climbed to the saddle between Pigeon and Turret and photographed the Perseid Meteor Shower. 36 hours without sleep and this was my reward - witnessing one of the most magical sunrises ever from the summit of 13,835 ft. Turret Peak - marking the 88th mountain out of Colorado's highest 100 that I have climbed at the time this photo was taken (I've since climbed all 100). The sun rose so brightly behind Jagged Mountain and Rio Grand Pyramid that I thought for sure I had fallen asleep and began to dream. Discernible rays of light spread out from behind Jagged and lit the clouds a crimson and purple combination, which I can only describe as surreal and scintillating. A literal sea of mountains including 13ers Arrow Peak, Vestal Peak, Animas Mountain, Monitor Peak, and Trinity Peak adorn the horizon. This may be the best way to view the Needle and Grenadier Mountain Ranges.

It can't be understated how difficult this photograph was to get. It required me to backpack up an incredibly steep trail to a high alpine meadow with all of my camera gear and sleep gear, set-up camp, and then climb up to 13,835 ft. in the dark.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.


2017 marked a transition for me as a photographer. I decided to switch to the Sony Mirrorless system which opened a lot of doors for me as an adventure photographer. My pack weight decreased and my ability to climb to more interesting places increased. Perhaps my favorite panorama taken to date is this one. I actually hiked to this spot on a whim, disappointed with the photographic opportunities afforded by the valleys below, I thirsted for something new and hiked to this remote overlook to see this grand scene, including the 14er Uncompahgre Peak. This is another scene I have seen copied since I took it in 2017, and I can't blame people for it, its truly a magical sight!

Colorado Fall Color Photography Print - A wilderness panorama of the San Juan Mountains in fall - mountain photography from Colorado.
Big Blue Wilderness (2017)

I have always appreciated the amazing fall color scenes available at Silver Jack Reservoir east of Ridgway, Colorado. I strive to obtain photographs that no other photographer has. This represents such an image, although since making this image, many have tried to copy it (imitation is the highest form of flattery, I suppose). I wanted a view of the totality of the Big Blue Wilderness - both the Middle Fork Cimarron valley (right) and the East Fork Cimarron valley (left). The East Fork Cimarron terminates with the massive 14,309 ft. Uncompahgre Peak (a Fourteener), accentuated by amazing cliffs and fall colors along the valley. The Middle Fork Cimarron terminates with an impressive view of both 13,642 ft. Redcliff and 13,656 ft. Coxcomb Peak. Along the right valley is the impressive combination of 12,742 ft. Dunsinane Mountain and 13,144 ft. Precipice Peak. This may be one of the grandest panorama scenes I've witnessed in my life.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.


In 2018, I joined forces with my friend Kane Englelbert to focus on Colorado scenes that have yet to be photographed. As such, we backpacked to this remote destination with a fantastic vantage of one of my favorite 14ers, Capitol Peak. As luck would have it, we were rewarded with some absolutely insane sunset light after a passing storm cleared, which made for one of my favorite photographs I've ever taken... indeed, I have it tattooed on my arm!

Colorado Fall Color Photography Print - 14er Capitol Peak glows red with yellow aspen trees at sunset near Aspen / Carbondale, Colorado in the Elk Mountains.
Capitol Peak on Fire - Colorado (2018)

In September, 2018, I experienced one of the most exhilarating moments from my photography adventures to date. My friend and I backpacked into the wilderness to a remote location near Carbondale and Aspen, Colorado that he had found on Google Earth. We chose this location for its unique vantage of 14,131 ft. Capitol Peak and hoped there would be a nice pairing of autumn color to go with that view. We spent hours on this remote ridge looking for the absolute best compositions. A storm rolled through the area and we both thought our chances of photographing Capitol Peak at sunset were ruined until at the very last moment of light created by the setting sun, a beam of intense red light cast amazing color across the west and south faces of 14er Capitol Peak - sublime! The amount of red in the rock was absolutely intense and fabulous. The thin band of yellow aspen trees at the bottom of the scene create a nice anchor for one of the best photographs I've ever taken. A more unique and dynamic image of Capitol Peak does not exist.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.


This past year has been a challenging one for me as a photographer. I did not allocate as much time as I would have liked to get out and take photos; however, I tried to make the most of the opportunities I did have, including this particular moment that I randomly stumbled upon this aspen tree near Crested Butte which had just been eviscerated by a bear trying to climb to the top of it to get access to a beehive. It was one of the most interesting things I have ever seen or photographed.

Fresh marks of bear claws on aspen bark on an aspen tree near Crested Butte, Colorado in fall / autumn.
Bear Claw on Aspen Bark #1 (2019)

On a hike through the forest in autumn near Crested Butte, Colorado, I stumbled upon this aspen tree that had very fresh bear claw marks running from the base of the tree all the way to the top. I was fascinated with the way in which the bark curled away from the aspen tree juxtaposed with the fall colors in the background.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

I hope you enjoyed going on this journey with me. Here's to 10 more years of photography!