Making something you love into your work is the goal, but that rarely happens, and in this economy, it's harder than every to pursue your passions. Aerial Aspect Photography's Brian Matz will tell you it can be rough, but the man has taken his love of flying and talent for photography and combined the two into a job most people would envy.
Matz's work has recently gone viral on Facebook -- you've probably seen his night shot of Terminal Tower in your newsfeed more than a few times this past December. In this economic climate, it's refreshing to see someone successfully pursuing their dreams and seeing Cleveland through fresh eyes. Matz took some time to tell us how he does it.
Were you always interested in flying?
Matz: I was. I grew up in Richmond Heights, which has an airport. I used to ride my bike down there and hang on the fence and try to catch plane rides. These pilots would see a small kid there and be like, 'Do you want to go for a ride?' That's how I got the flying bug.
Where does photography fit in?
Matz: I always played around with photography. I was on the high school paper in Richmond Heights. I took pictures and did some darkroom stuff there. I wasn't hugely into photography. It was just kind of something I toyed around with.
You didn't go to school for photography?
Matz: No, I went to Ohio University for engineering because my dad was an engineer and I thought that was something I had to do, but I really wasn't hugely into it. The farther I got into it, I realized it wasn't what I wanted to do. I decided I wanted to fly... So I ended up instructing part time out of the airport in Richmond Heights, and then my friend's dad who owned a computer company. He knew I was looking for a job doing something to try to make some money and he offered me a job there, so I worked on computers for the next 16 years there and flew on the side as kind of a hobby. I spent all that time in the computer business and then I had a consulting job and the money was a lot better than flying, so I stayed with that company until it closed in 2009 and then I decided now was the time to do what I wanted to do.
Who are your primary clients?
Matz: I do a lot of work with construction companies, like monthly aerials of big projects. It helps them keep track of what's going on, to track progress, partial reality. Residential reality sometimes. Sometimes if someone just wants a picture of their house or their business. I do a lot of work with the Cleveland Clinic, the people in their construction office. Just a lot of different clients. That's what's so cool about it. It's never the same thing.
Do you want to do more artistic photographs?
Matz: That's what I'm trying to push. I've built up this portfolio of artsy-type shots, so I just opened up an online photo store that's just got stock imagery. Things kind of slow down at this time of year, so I'm trying to take advantage of that.
What kind of plane do you fly?
Matz: My plane is a 1946 Aeronca Chief. It's a real simple two-seat plane. But it's great for aerial photography because it flies slow and it's easy to shoot out of. It's really maneuverable. The other stuff I do when I have another pilot is a single-engine, 4-seat airplane and they're slow enough that they're easy to shoot out of and you can open the windows while flying. I keep it in Alliance. There's an airport out here. It's a little far, but it's a neat grass strip and there is a guy there who is familiar with older planes and does all the maintenance for me.
Do you only use digital photography?
Matz: I started out with film for the first 6 months and then the really nice digital cameras started coming out, so I made that shift and never looked back. The film camera I use is a medium format, so it has good sized negatives, so it was better than the first round of digital cameras that came out, but now I have a 36 mega pixel camera that's just amazing.
We were supposed to meet a few days ago, but something happened to your plane. Can you talk about what happened?
Matz: Engines last a certain number of hours and you need to take it apart and check for any kind of wear or cracks. Replace anything that needs to be replaced and put it all back together. So it basically has a whole new engine. After that there is a certain procedure you need to do to break it in, so that's what I was doing on Friday. It's kind of like getting a new engine. It's good for 1800 hours, which lasts a long time.
How do you market yourself to the community?
Matz: A lot of referrals. Word of mouth. Cold calls every once in a while. Try to get the word out on Facebook and LinkedIn. [Facebook] is a little better now that I've increased the Likes on the page. I've actually gotten some business recently from there. It's hard though because they keep changing it. I used to think that if you posted something on there, it would go to everyone who liked it and now I know you have to spend some money to promote it, which I've done. If I find a picture I like, I'll tag a bunch of people around Cleveland to promote it. Try to get shout outs on there. It seems to be working.
Do you have a favorite project?
Matz: My favorite projects are the residential ones. They are usually doing them for someone else. Like I did one for a woman whose husband built the house and he was just diagnosed with cancer so she wanted to do something nice for him. People like that, I meet in a place like this and they're crying. You feel like you're doing some good. People really appreciate it. The construction stuff is good, but they just use them in reports. I don't get them to cry.
Is it your goal to make them cry?
Matz: Oh yeah (laughs)