16 Questions about One Photo with Matt Katzenberger

Aurora Above the Tree

1. Please introduce yourself. Who are you? What do you do? 

I’m Matt, though my friends call me Kat! I’m a huge photographer, and a bit of a dork…or is it the other way around?

2. How long have you been into photography, and what drew you to it?

I’ve been taking photos since 2009! Since I first picked up a “real” camera, I’ve become obsessed with capturing images of the world around us that are often overlooked, or not that easy to perceive in the first place!

3. In one sentence, please describe what you captured in this shot.

The aurora borealis, over a large cottonwood tree in south-central Kansas.

4. What style of photography would you describe this as, and do you typically take photographs in this style? 

It’s probably some intersection of landscape and astrophotography. While landscape photography is far from the only style of photography I dabble in, I have been doing a series of photos of this particular tree, so I guess you could say that this is a typical photograph for me.

5. When and where was this photo taken?

This photo was taken on the night of April 23rd, 2023. In this case, the specific date and time is incredibly relevant, as the otherwise very “Northern” Lights are almost never perceptible this far south, which is roughly 15 miles north of the Kansas-Oklahoma state line.

6. Was anyone with you when you took this photo? 


7. What equipment (hardware and software) did you use? 

I used a Canon EOS R5 with the 50 mm f1.2 lens, a tripod, and a shutter remote. I did all my post-processing in Adobe Lightroom.

8. What drew you to take this photo? 

I’ve been trying to capture the northern lights in a photograph since I first began to explore photography in 2009. At that point in time, I lived in Michigan, and the prospect seemed a lot more reasonable then. That said, when I heard about a major geomagnetic storm on Sunday night, I went outside with my camera and figured I’d take a chance.

As for why the photo is over the tree? My longest ongoing photography project is to collect photos of this large solitary cottonwood tree that looms over the field visible from my backyard. Being able to add the aurora borealis to that collection is something I never thought I’d be able to do! It’s basically a once-in-a-lifetime combination!

9. How many attempts did it take to get this shot? How long did it take you to get one that you were satisfied with? 

That’s actually a more complicated question than it seems? Do we count all the times I went out of the city in search of the northern lights in search of a good photo, only to catch not even a glimpse of the phenomena? If so, then this would be my fourth viewing attempt, I think. Or, are we talking about how many photos I shot of this specific scene? If so, it’s just a bit over 100.

10. Did you edit (or do any post-processing/production on) this photo?

Yes! I don’t shy away from editing a photo in order to bring my vision for it to life. In this case, the biggest contribution to the vivid visibility of the aurora borealis in the final image was a pretty liberal application of Lightroom’s dehaze tool, which helped cut through considerable light pollution and a bit of foggy cloud cover in order to reveal what was otherwise difficult for the eye to see! Beyond that I employed some advanced noise reduction, tweaked the contrast and white-balance to my liking, and played up the saturation a little.

11. What encouraged you to share this photo online and with others?

I love sharing my photos online! This one is no exception. Any time someone enjoys a photo I’ve taken, I consider that a big personal win!

12. Did you learn anything in the process of taking, editing, or sharing this photo?

I learned that my camera is a lot better at seeing in the dark than I am. I also learned how powerful the dehaze tool can be!

13. Do you remember what you had for breakfast (or lunch or dinner) the day you took this photo? 

I’m not a big breakfast person. I believe I had a chicken broccoli bake for dinner though, and given that this photo was taken in the middle of the night, that’s sort of like breakfast, right?

14. What would you like people to take away from this photo? 

That the world has a lot of beauty in it, but sometimes you really have to look for it. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s really true. It’s probably the most important thing I’ve learned from photography.

15. Is there any feedback that you’d like to get on this shot?

Honestly, this is probably going to sound really arrogant, but not really. Don’t get me wrong! There’s a lot I would change about this photo, and a lot of things I wish were different. There are a lot of things I wish I was better at. At the end of the day, this was a once-in-a-lifetime sort of opportunity, and I was there for it. I was able to capture something. And that means the world to me!

16. How can anyone reading this support your work?

I would appreciate any support anyone is willing to give! It always means the world to me when someone wants to support me doing what I love most! I sell prints of my photos on my website, https://art.katzmatt.com.  I’m also part of Flickr’s Print Shop pilot, so a selection of my photos are also available for purchase as prints right on Flickr.

I also have a KoFi and PayPal if that’s more your thing.

About Matt Katzenberger
Matt Katzenberger is a visual artist and photographer living in Winfield, Kansas. Matt has been practicing photography since 2009, when they purchased their first DSLR camera.