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. http://www.405magazine.com/June-2018/Welcome-to-OKC/


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

Wild Icons OK: Conservation Stories Rhinos

I got to produce a series of ten mini documentaries highlighting endangered species and conservation efforts in Oklahoma and worldwide at the Oklahoma City Zoo for OETA, our local PBS affiliate.  It was an incredible learning experience getting to interview the talented and passionate individuals who have dedicated their lives to conservation and these beautiful animals. Beyond grateful to have been a part of it. They will air on several PBS affiliates across several states through October alongside the documentary RARE which tells the story of famed National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore and his effort to photograph every species of animal in captivity to raise awareness. Here is the first one.

RARE: a look at endangered wildlife at the Oklahoma City Zoo

For years, I felt like I had my foot in two boats. On one hand, I’d find myself in Los Angeles working on incredible television shows with great writers where I made lifelong friends. When I was blessed with the opportunity to start travel writing, even though I had no experience doing that type of work, it was an opportunity that I had to explore.

For years, I’d find myself working on a television show on the CBS lot, heading to the airport on a Thursday night, catching a red eye to another country, spending a weekend in a jungle only to take a cab from the airport back to CBS on Monday morning. It was an exhausting but profound experience for me… I thought to myself, eventually these two worlds MUST collide and finally in the last month, I’ve got a taste of what it might be like if they did.

I’ve been hired by OETA, the local PBS affiliate to produce and direct a series of mini-documentaries to be aired in conjunction with a larger documentary on famed  National Geographicwildlife photographer Joel Sartore. Sartore has made it his life’s work to photography every wildlife species living in captivity. He is absolutely brilliant and his passion for wildlife is infectious and inspiring.

My mini documentaries highlight different endangered species, the zoo staff that love them and conservation partners for the Oklahoma City Zoo. I’ve met some of the most passionate, dedicated people imaginable through this process and gotten to spend time with, photograph, video and engage with some of the most tremendous endangered species on the planet. It has been a true joy. These photos are from my experience at thus far on the project. Hope you enjoy them. It has been an experience I’ll always treasure.

Cam the tiger


Elephant and new mother.


Toba, a fifty year old Orangutan at the Oklahoma City Zoo.


A grizzly keeping cool on a summer day.


This plough share tortoise was seized in Hong Kong before it was put onto the black market. There are less than 200 in the world.


I got to feed this beautiful giraffe by hand.


American Flamingos


Indian Rhino enjoying a lettuce lunch


Silverback gorilla