06.30.2020 Matthieu Paley

GFX Stories: Matthieu Paley x GFX 50S FW Ver 4.00

Matthieu Paley

Born in France, Matthieu Paley has traveled all over the world for National Geographic magazine. After 20 years of living in Asia, he has recently moved to Portugal. Focusing his efforts on regions that are misrepresented, he is especially committed to issues relating to diminishing cultures and the environment. Following a decade of relentlessly documenting the harsh, unforgiving life of Afghanistan’s Kyrgyz nomads, Matthieu shot his first National Geographic story in 2011/2012 titled “Stranded on the Roof of the World”. Since then, he has worked on over a dozen stories for National Geographic magazine and online edition, including global stories on food and human migration.

The recipient of numerous awards (more recently a 2017 World Press and a Photographer of the Year International Award), Matthieu has published several books of his work and his fine art images have been exhibited in galleries worldwide as well as in Museums. He regularly leads workshops for National Geographic Expeditions and Photocamp, more recently in Turkey, Mongolia, and India.

Over the course of his career, Matthieu has learned 6 languages, feeding his passion to connect with the people he meets and helping him to instill a sense of intimacy into his images.

You can follow him on his Instagram page @paleyphoto

Shades of blue

My name is Matthieu Paley – I have been a freelance photographer for the last 20 years and I have worked for most of the main magazines out there as well as for Non-Governmental organizations. My work has been exhibited worldwide.

I have been a Fuji user for the last 5 years. I started using the GFX 50S on assignment for National Geographic magazine, while shooting a story in Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor. We were trekking for 5 weeks at high altitude, with no access to electricity, roads etc. I was impressed by the fact that the camera could handle extreme weather, dust and how sturdy it was. I mean, before that I would have never thought it’s ever possible to take a digital medium format camera into the wilderness like this. This was a game-changer for me.

After trying different camera brands, I chose FUJIFILM because I loved the tactile aspect of their cameras and most importantly I really loved the choice and look of the color profile. I am very much influenced by colors when I photograph. I use to shoot films back in the days, and I have always longed for my images to have a “film” look. When FUJIFILM asked me to test their new software, I was especially excited about trying the new color profiles. After reading the description of the new “Eterna” look I wanted to try it right away: “Soft color and rich shadow tone suitable for a film look movie”. Soft color and rich shadows is my baseline when I retouch my images. I have always been a believer in “opening” the shadows in my images, leaving everything visible in an image, avoid excessive contrast that will hide part of the image. Why would I want to hide part of my images?


I liked the look of the images right away. It has a slight greenish/blueish tint which I love. When I thought of a place to test the new software, I wanted somewhat of a blue environment – I decided with myself that it would be a photo assignment in “blue”. I am lucky to live in Portugal, inside the Arrabida Nature park. So, we aimed for a couple of beaches that we know, looking for blue toned waters. As a family, we transformed a van into a camper van 2 years ago, and we take regular “van trips” around Portugal. My wife and I decided to take the van around Arrabida, with our two sons. I took my GFX along to test the software, and a few lenses, including the fairly new GF45-100mmF4. It’s stabilized, and I find I gain at least 1 f/stop because of that, which is really useful when my favorite lights comes in, shortly after sunset. I also took along a GF45mmF2.8 and my other a wide GF23mmF4. I am very much a people’s photographer, so with this kit, I can photograph 90% of what I need. I always take my small X100F camera as well, as back-up camera. And it has saved my life a few times! Once, I shot an entire story with it in Pakistan, it was later published in National Geographic magazine.

I started shooting in the van and during our walks along the beautiful Arrabida. I felt an improvement in the speed of the AF, especially in low-light contrast situation. And again, these are my favorite light situations, so it’s a huge improvement for me to be able to focus faster in these conditions.

First, we went fishing with my sons, and we passed a beautiful red rock formation. Against the dark blue sky, the images looked really close to my aesthetics. I have done a lot of expedition assignment and it is one of my favorite environments to work in, I love to walk when I photograph. My camera and two lenses fit in my sling bag, making it easily reachable while I walk. I also often tilt the screen display when I am photographing people. Somehow it makes people, even my boys, “see” less of the camera. The photographer is less “in your face”, and it is primordial to me: a relaxed person being photographed will open up more easily, his or her personality will reveal itself naturally, always creating a stronger image.

After a night below a lighthouse and a breakfast of pancakes, we headed to an amazing beach. It can only be reached by foot. I had never been there but my wife knew it, and she guided us to an amazing viewpoint, from the top of the cliff, a bird’s eye view into amazing different shades off blues, with small islands near the shore. It was great for landscapes shot, with the tiny dots of people helping to give a sense of scale. Finally, reaching the beach, it was time for a swim in the cold Atlantic, I took my GFX in the water for some images of my sons swimming.

I am on the road on assignment several months a year, so this was such a great opportunity to spend time with my family and gather memories with this camera. I look forward to doing this more often!