Matt Payne Wins Special Recognition for SATW’s 2018 Bill Muster Photography Awards in Two Categories

Great news! Last week, I was fortunate to win two special recognition awards in the Bill Muster Photography Awards at The Society of American Travel Writers convention held in Barbados. I’ve got to pinch myself when I look at the other talented folks who took home prizes. Photography came into my life a couple of years back during an intense spell of writer’s block, when I was only (and barely) working as a writer. I began taking photos in an effort to reframe my perspective. Slowly it became an obsession and as I look through my portfolio, which spans the globe in the last year from Panama to Australia; Oklahoma to Africa, I can’t help but see how much my perspective has indeed changed. Below is the portfolio I submitted for the awards. Looking back at these images brings me a lot of joy. What a life!  Tell me which ones you like the best!  I hope you enjoy!

Special recognition People category, Taken in the San Blas Islands off of the coast of Panama. A face tells a story of many decades, but this woman’s village doesn’t keep track of age. 


A lion in the Serengeti,  At first, when we came across this lion, he was terrifying. When he stood though, we realized he’d been injured in a fight with another lion and banished to heal or to die.

Purple Spring. Taken five miles from my house in Edmond, Oklahoma.

VividEach year in May, Sydney puts on Vivid Sydney, an innovative and inspiring light show that spans the city. The sails of the Opera House light up each night in dramatic fashion.

Winner Scenic Category.

Enkereri School outside the Maasai Mara in Kenya- Ten years ago, school for these Maasai children was held under a tree. Now, thanks to donations from Abercrombie and Kent and Sanctuary Retreats, these children have a building where they can learn.

 Each Monday in Oklahoma City’s famed stockyards, cattlemen participate in a livestock auction.

Special Recognition Scenic– Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia. I could not have timed my interaction with this sunset better… 

As we pulled into the island of Ukupseni, of the east coast of Panama, these boys ran along the shore, through the village and met us at the dock as we arrived.

Adventure Company UnCruise drops guests off on a remote beach off at a wildlife research station off of the southern coast of Costa Rica.

Maasai Mara- Two young bull elephants going head to head. When they get older, they will leave the herd to find a mate.

Taken inside the home of a Maasai villager. This child will go on to attend the Enkereri School.

Greenspot Travel is a small but mighty travel company that incorporates cultural immersion into their trips creating more meaningful travel.

Vivid Sydney inspired both young and old. I adore the look on the face of the young girl in the right hand corner as it captures everything magical about the event.

An eerie tree outside Pawhuska in Osage County, Oklahoma. I had the privilege of  making a documentary for OETA/PBS about this incredible part of the world. Thanks to the Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond and renewed interests in the Osage murders in the book Killers of the Flower Moon, Osage county has become a tourism phenomenon.

Taken in Panama, it is hard to believe that I had just a second to capture this woman smoking a pipe as she cooked over an open fire. One of my favorites.

I played catch with these young Maasai girls for about fifteen minutes. So much joy. Strange to be an outsider observing a life so different occurring in front of you.

The wonder of a safari doesn’t take place only on the savannah. The sky explodes with stars each night.

2018 Vivid Sydney PHOTO GALLERY: A journey through one of the world’s greatest light shows

Each May, Sydney, which is already one of the world’s most colorful, dynamic and innovative cities, steps it up a notch with Vivid Sydney. Over the course of two weeks, everything from the sails of the Sydney Opera House to the fronts of some of the city’s most influential buildings literally get electrified. The Botanical Gardens, vibrant by day and dark at night, turns into a pulsing, ethereal dream where hues of blue and green; red and purple ebb and flow to hypnotic beats. Luna Park turns from a quirky amusement park to something akin to Alice and Wonderland. It is a marvelous madness. Here are a handful of images from opening night at Vivid Sydney!  Hope you enjoy.


Newcomers Guide to OKC: 30 Things to do in Action City for 405 Magazine

If you live in Oklahoma, you’ve heard of Cattlemen’s. The Stockyard City staple’s prime cuts have long been a draw for visitors and locals alike. Folks come for the nostalgia as much as the steak and a visit to Cattlemen’s is hardly complete without some nervous soul gingerly taking a bite of, then being pleasantly surprised by the chewy texture of a lamb fry. It is an experience as authentically Oklahoma as they come.

What most folks don’t know, however, is that if you really want a peak behind the curtain, head down to Stockyard City for a live cattle auction. Every Monday at 8am, as the sun rises over dozens of pins swelling with nervous steer, in a small auditorium, cattle are herded into a small holding pin as cattlemen look on, somehow following the auctioneer’s frenzied chatter. That’s right… Think “old guy in a cowboy hat” at fever pitch… monotonously calling out “one-dollar-one-dollar one-dollar-can-i-get-two-two-dollars-two-dollars-can-I-get-three SOLD for three dollars…” to a room of stone faced buyers. These auctions have been taking place in the state for more than a century and are nothing short of fascinating, exemplifying the cowboy culture so many affiliate with the sooner state and visitors are welcome to observe to age old event….

A Gospel Brunch on a Sunday sounds about as Oklahoma as you can get. After all, it is the bible belt but Gospel Brunch Sunday at The Boom is just a little different. On Sunday mornings, not five miles away from cow town where stone faced cattlemen bid on steer, the bleary-eyed pack into The Boom on 39thstreet for Sunday brunch. There is no shortage of brunch spots where a Bloody Mary can roll a hangover on into Monday, but this little gay gem offers something a little more. The show features “Kitty” and “Norma,” to cross-dressing gospel “singers” whose raunchy performances are so sidesplitting that they will leave you rolling in your omelet.

Gospel lunch at The Boom

From gay drag Gospel Brunches to live cattle auctions, Oklahoma City is exploding with unique opportunities not only for Oklahoma newcomers but also for those of us who have lived here for years. Across the city are experiences we never knew existed, have forgotten existed or we things that we can experience again but in a new manner. For instance, you have been to the Oklahoma City bombing memorial, but have you ever been there just after sunset when the lights of the chairs go on? Maybe you’d finally like to take that art class you’ve been thinking about in the back of your mind.

The Wheeler District Ferris wheel previously was on the Santa Monica Pier

Co-written with Christine Eddington, here is a brief history of OKC and thirty amazing experiences big and small that you must try this summer to make it the best summer ever.


Here is my cover shot of Mayor David Holt that goes with this story.

Three Days with the Kuna Yala in Panama’s San Blas Islands

Children of Playon Chico, Ukupseni

Three Kuna women waited for the plane in the rudimentary airport as I arrived to Playon Chico, a small indigenous village in Panama’s San Blas Islands. Each woman was dressed traditionally with a gold ring through their septum and dawning a bright red headscarf, colorful blouse and an explosion of colorful beads on their wrists and legs. The tallest of the three came half way to my torso and they spoke in hushed tones using Kuna and not the Spanish I’d grown used to in my 16 day stay in Central America. Several crabs scurried between their feet and a pair of white ibis flew lazily overhead. A man with a machete walked down the runway towards the three walled airport as children chased a soccer ball in the opposite direction. It was a different world that the frenetic Panama City from whence I’d come.

Local Guna woman in traditional clothing

I pulled out my phone to check in with my wife, but had no reception. The three women boarded the plane which took off over from the mainland over their tiny island connected to the airport by a footbridge. I patted my back pocket realizing quickly that my passport was still on the plane which seconds later, disappeared over the Caribbean Sea. “My passport is on that plane,” I said to Domi, a Kuna gentleman who was there to take me to Yandup Island, a local ecolodge, went minutes away by boat and run entirely by Kuna. I’d hoped to go to Yandup to relax, a goal which was thwarted by my own carelessness.

San Blas Islands

“Come to my village,” said Domi, in broken English. “I help you…”

Three days later, after an incredible trip and thanks to Domi, I got my passport back. Here are some of the beautiful people and incredible places I got to see along the way.  Hope you enjoy!

The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda: A hike to visit one of the world’s greatest creatures

While this is a new article, it has been several years since I actually had the privilege to hike into the ran forest of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda to visit these gorillas. I still remember the experience with such remarkable clarity. The musty smell, the way the rain seemed to stop as you came into their presence. The odd way that fear melts away to closer you get to a beast that could kill you in seconds. I remember asking a fellow traveler if there was a chance in the world we would see something in nature so profound. The answer thus far, despite many thousands of miles and adventures, is a resounding no. I hope in my lifetime I can make it back. Read more about the experience here.

Mountain Gorilla, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Mountain Gorilla, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda