Matt Andersen talks about photography, timelapse, and shooting for Pretty Lights

What’s up man, introduce yourself to the people

Hey everyone, my name’s Matt. I’m a graphic designer and photographer, currently working as an Associate Art Director in downtown Chicago.


How was life growing up?

I had it pretty good growing up. I grew up in St. Charles, IL. Nice suburban town, great neighborhood, great friends.

How did you get interested in Graphic Design?

In my senior year of high school I really liked to draw, but didn’t know how make a career out of that. Looking through the course list, I found a class called “Digital Media” or something really general like that. Then it clicked that what I was doing on paper would have to be applied in a digital format if I wanted to progress. My world opened up from there.. mostly when I had the realization that literally everything needs to be designed, no matter how basic. Every document, website, banner, ad, sign, logo, billboard, package, menu, etc. I was attracted to the variety and the fact that there will almost always be work.. even when the world is ending someone will need to make the quarantine signs


When did you begin to start testing out the waters with photography?

I got into photography through design. In college I took an advertising art direction class and wanted to use my own photos to make the ads so I could own 100% of the work. I started to train my eye when I began working at a sub sandwich shop in the loop. I’d ride around delivering subs on my skateboard and stop every few minutes to take abstract architecture photos with my phone. That’s where I practiced basic techniques of composition and light. What really helped me during that process was the consistency.. I was outside all day everyday taking photos.


After messing around with photography for a bit, was there a moment when you knew photography was something you wanted to do for the rest of your life?

I had a specific moment actually, and I made a point to remember it. I just bought my first dslr camera (Canon SL1) and this was one of the first nights I started experimenting with long exposure photography. I wandered down to lower wacker and captured a long exposure reflection of a car turning in front of me. A car turning is far from extraordinary, but being able to portray the world in your own perspective intrigued me. Experiences like that are why I love photography — you get to share moments and places with people that they might not see otherwise. 


They say graphic designers should have some sort of interest in photography as it helps benefit their design work. Would you tend to agree with that?

For the most part, I’d say yes. It wouldn’t necessarily benefit their design work directly, but it would make the designer more diverse. In the creative/advertising field, having a range of skills can benefit you more than not. However, there’s plenty of people that are successful specializing in a specific genre of design and that’s it. it all depends on what your path is and what you want to do.

Why do you like shooting zoomscapes?

I first got into taking these types of photos because I’m able to implement elements that are inspired from my design background. It’s also different every time because this technique works on a variety of subjects. You get to use the gear in a non traditional way to add a new dimension to taking a photo. The photo can drastically change whether you’re zooming vs out, fast vs slow. Also letting one focal length “bleed in” more than the rest, or panning or tilting the camera can have an interesting effect too.


I get super excited when you drop your timelapses. Explain what a time-lapse is to those who may not know

Glad you like them, they’re really fun to make. Timelapse is a technique where you take a sequence of photos over a period of time and then play them back quickly to show that time period of minutes, hours, or days in just seconds. A hyperlapse is when you do that, but the camera is physically moving.


When did you first get into shooting timelapse?

-has there been a favorite time-lapse?

After I started shooting I realized I’ve always been into timelapse videos, even when I was very young, I just didn’t know how they were made. Shortly after I picked up a camera it became obvious I would have to learn basic photo techniques before jumping into anything like that (same with long exposure photography.) A few months after I learned how to shoot in manual I began experimenting with timelapse.

My favorite timelapse project would have to be from my trip to Wyoming this year. It was so quiet and dark.. a much needed break from the city. I had only shot one astrophotography timelapse sequence before this trip, so it was awesome to be able to go out every night and get lots of footage.

On top of photography, we see you have begun to transition into cinematography as well. What sparked your interest in shooting video?

I got into shooting video through timelapse. It seemed like a natural transition. There’s a lot of similar techniques across design, photo, and video.


Have you noticed any similarities between video and photography?

Yes, there are plenty of similarities. I feel like the base of cinematography is photography, yet both are very different in their own ways. They can both do things the other can’t.


For a little while we have seen you shooting for Pretty Lights. How did that connection come about? -Favorite show/How has the experience been

It first started a few years ago when I sent a message to their website’s contact email address. I mentioned I was interested in taking photos of his show and asked for a photo pass. We worked it out and since then I’ve had the pleasure to photograph a few more of his shows. The whole PL team is awesome, I’m always excited to see what they come up with next. My favorite so far would have to be his show this year in Telluride, Colorado. Aside from a great weekend of music, that place is so photogenic. It was a great change of scenery.


I hear a lot of people talk about how they get tired of shooting in Chicago. Do you think you’ll ever get tired/burned out from Chicago?

I will admit, once you’ve had a few years in the same city, some of the same scenes that were once exciting can seem dull. That’s when it get exciting to find new ways to capture a location that’s been captured thousands of times before. There’s always so much happening that I don’t think its possible to truly get tired of taking photos here. That being said, I still definitely feel the need to travel more.


Upon graduation from Columbia you were able to land some positions in agencies. What’s the one most important tip you could give to college graduates who are about to graduate looking for an agency job?

There’s a lot of important tips I’ve learned, pretty hard to narrow it down to one. Try to focus only on paid jobs starting from your freshman year. It’s not just the fact that you have to eat, this monetary agreement will hold you to a higher standard. Make the move from creating work for friends and family to customers that don’t already know you. You will be held accountable for your work and begin to move towards the professional level. Have something lined up when you graduate by starting early. By the time senior year hits, you should already be applying. Get as much portfolio work from an internship as you can and share those experiences with where you’re applying to for an entry level position. While school is important for this field, don’t forget to build up yourself outside of class. During the interview for my current position, they didn’t want to see any school work. Take risks and have plenty of those nights where you lose track of time because you’re just busy creating.


For the past six months you’ve been associate art director at FCB. How has it been working here?

It’s been really great. I work with an awesome team. The agency supports expanding outside of our day to day client work which is a huge plus. Since I started I’ve been involved in several projects that allow me to use design, photography, and cinematography as part of my day to day tasks.


What’s your favorite quote you could give for advice to artists?

I don’t really have a quote for advice, but here’s one that I saw recently that’s related. “good work isn’t cheap, and cheap work isn’t good.” Maybe someone could use it if they’re being offered exposure as compensation 🙂


Where’s one spot you would like to shoot in the near future?

Well, I still haven’t ever been in a helicopter and I’ve never been to New York.. so those two combined would be first on the list.