An avid mountaineer and photographer originally from my own home town of Colorado Springs, CO, Matt Payne was an obvious choice for our Editors’ Choice program. He and his camera spend a great deal of time above timberline, but this past month he was kind enough to spend some time at his computer selecting his favorite 500px photos.

In all he selected 33 photos upon which to bestow the Editors’ Choice stamp, but below we asked him to select his 5 favorites and let us know why they made the cut. Scroll down to find out more about Payne and these photos.

500PX: What, in your opinion, are the qualities of a great photograph?

MATT PAYNE: There are several factors that I take into account when I think about what makes a great photograph.

First of all, the photograph needs to evoke powerful emotions or feelings of some kind — whether that is joy, happiness, mystery, sadness, awe, or anger. Since most of the photographs I tend to gravitate towards are landscapes, I am usually drawn towards scenes that are moody, beautiful, and possessing the essence of wilderness. I’m very emotionally connected to the outdoors, especially the wilderness, so when images help reconnect me to the experiences I’ve had in the wilderness, I am immediately attracted to those images.

Additionally, I greatly appreciate images that clearly took a great deal of effort to execute, perhaps taken from the top of a difficult mountain or at the culmination of an arduous adventure.

Lastly, I do pay a great deal of attention to technical details in an image — poor processing can really ruin an otherwise good photograph, including overly done HDR (I think we’ve all been there), ghosting, over-sharpening, etc. If it is obvious that a great deal of work went into “finalizing” the photograph, it makes it even that much more special to me, knowing the work behind the product. I think that image processing is the area of photography that I have the most room for growth in and have sensitivity to, and so I’m always attentive to these aspects when viewing others’ work.

Out of all your own photos, what is your favorite? And can you share the story behind this shot?

MATT: While many of my more popular photos are my astrophotography images, my absolute favorite photograph of all-time is “Unparalleled Dawn” — a panoramic photograph taken from the summit of a 14,000 ft. mountain at sunrise in Colorado.

MATT (continued): It is certainly not my “best” photograph nor my best technical execution; however, the image always takes me right back to the moment I took it and floods me with all of the physical and emotional feelings that were attached to that moment — thus making it a very successful image in my mind.

One of my goals in life is to climb the highest 100 mountains in Colorado, which includes the famous “Fourteeners” or “14ers.” While on this quest, I journeyed with one of my best friends, Sarah Musick, into the Chicago Basin, near Durango and Silverton, Colorado.

After a 20+ mile backpack into the basin via a lesser-known trail from Endlich Mesa, we 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, but hard to see) and enjoyed one of the most memorable sunrises in my lifetime.

This part of Colorado is filled with rugged and impressive peaks in all directions, many of which I have climbed, making it my absolute favorite place on the planet.

Matt Payne’s Favorite 500px Photographs

Now that you’ve gotten to know Matt a bit and have seen his personal favorite photo from his own collection, join him as he reveals his favorite 5 photos on 500px, and explains why they earned his admiration.

Morning Assiniboine by Ted Gore

The very moment I first saw this photo I fell in love and wanted to travel to the Canadian Rockies to witness the area with my own eyes. Any photo that makes me want to travel to a location is a success in my mind.

The composition is perfect, the light is perfect, and the processing feels quite perfect as well. I can also greatly appreciate the effort that likely was involved in getting the shot, probably some hiking and climbing in the dark and in cold conditions.

The twilight glow on Assiniboine, coupled with the stars above and the soft light below just made for a quite delicious scene. I personally do not know Ted Gore outside of social media; however, I rarely see an image posted by him that I don’t appreciate a great deal. Any photographer that has people like me wanting to replicate parts of their work should be quite proud!

Strawberries and Cream by Dylan Gehlken

This is another photo that I instantly fell in love with, wishing I had been there to take it myself. The soft hues of twilight accentuate the snowy scene and the small moon adds a nice sense of scale, making the viewer feel as though they are there.

I can feel the cool breeze and blowing snow brush over my face when I view this shot. If a photo can evoke a sense of being in a place, that is a great thing. I do not know Dylan outside of social media and I look forward to viewing more of his great work in the future!

Valley of Transition by Nate Zeman

What is not to like about this fantastic photograph? Even though this is a quite popular composition of Capitol Peak and Capitol Creek in autumn, very few images from this location do such a great job of taking me right back to that very spot than this one does.

Capitol Peak was one of my favorite and memorable mountain climbs, which obviously increases my emotional connection to photographs of that peak; however, I think Nate did such a fantastic job of blending the great glow on the peak with the aspen trees that are just beginning to transition into autumn color.

I’ve long been a huge fan of Nate Zeman‘s photographs of my favorite Colorado scenes, and so I felt as though not choosing one of his photographs for Editors’ Choice would be a crime.

Sweet Light by Kane Engelbert

Kane’s depiction of Crestone Peak, one of Colorado’s most rugged and amazing 14,000 ft. peaks, is just astounding. If I had not known about the crazy location that Kane shot this photo from, I would probably appreciate it less; however, having knowledge about the area and the difficulty in reaching this off-trail location just adds a great deal to the image, for me personally. Of course, the incredible sunset and snow make this rare view of Crestone Peak sing.

Kane has long been one of my favorite photographers from Colorado. We actually had the opportunity to photograph the Oregon Columbia River Gorge back in June together and I hope to stay in touch with him over the years, as I know I have a lot to learn from his photographic genius. He’s also a fantastic guy, which doesn’t hurt!

Awakening Torres by Artur Stanisz

I have long had a love affair with scenes from the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. When I first saw this image posted from Artur, I knew I just had to make plans to visit this location — it had
solidified my desire to go there to explore it and photograph it. I believe any photo that makes you want to visit a location that badly is a success.

The composition of this photograph is just superb — the foreground wraps around the reflection, almost as if the lake was made to frame the majestic scene. I could stare at this photo for hours. I’ve never met or even heard of Artur Stanisz before I saw his photo here on 500px, which is why I just love browsing the work posted here.

A big thanks goes out to Matt for taking the time to participate in our Editors’ Choice program and for answering our questions so thoughtfully! To see more of his work, check out his website, visit his 500px profile, or give him a follow on Facebook and Twitter.