Matt Reitinger Lets His Nature Shots ‘Do the Talking’

By JON COEN | Jul 17, 2019
Photo by: Matt Reitinger Brant Beach’s Matt Reitinger has been putting in the time behind the lens to capture the Island at its most wild. Take this photo of foxes on LBI, for example.

Brant Beach — Every few years a new photographer emerges around the LBI area. It’s someone who finds a passion for shooting the beach and the Pine Barrens, the people and the animals, the joyous summer mornings and the lonely winter sunsets.

In the past we’d see their work in art shows and galleries, print media and tourism literature. Every once in a while there would be a stellar image of the Island in a magazine showing the world some of our more magical moments. After the switch to digital photography and the information age, the photos were shared online.

Today, social media is the avenue and it allows anyone to share his or her work. And one photographer whose work is getting a lot of attention now is Matt Reitinger.

“People know LBI for summer. They come down. They go to the rental house. They go to the beach. They go to a restaurant. They get hammered at Nardi’s. And then they do it all over again the next day and the next year,” said Reitinger, laughing. “But there are natural areas here that are amazing. I hopefully try to educate them with my photos. I’m not the best with words so I just try to let the photos do the talking.”

The 33-year-old had summered on the Island his whole life. He went to school at Richard Stockton College, now Stockton University, which kept him close to the area. He’s been living in Brant Beach year ’round for 10 years. He works full time for a local carpenter.

It was during Hurricane Irene in 2011 that his photography got noticed. He chose not to evacuate the Island and his photos of the storm kept people interested in what was happening while they were off LBI. He started a page on Facebook called Stay Above the Weather, which today has some 5,000 followers.

“I was really into those thunderstorms that came rolling across the bay, and then hurricanes and blizzards. I have always surfed so when I picked up a camera I wanted to take pics of waves as well and then sunsets like everyone else,” said Reitinger.

He used a GoPro for a time, which he now looks back on as “awful,” and then upgraded to a digital single lens reflex camera. He has become technically sound and today is most focused on wildlife

“I really got into shooting the snowy owls during the winter of 2017. Any time I wasn’t working, I was hiking the beach,” he said.

Reitinger doesn’t have a beach buggy. When the Edwin B. Forsythe Refuge in Holgate is open in the winter, he does the trek by foot, a 7-plus-mile hike if he goes to the end and back. He actually prefers the coldest days of winter because it cuts down the number of other photographers. The winter before last, he did it 72 times. And to get out there before anyone in a truck, he often had to start the hike an hour before sunrise. Last winter he threw walks in Barnegat Light into the mix to avoid times when there are a lot of birders in Holgate.

He noted that the new area on the beach that was cleared for piping plovers displaced a lot of rodents who’d lived in the dunes. He watched one snowy owl fly in Island Beach during the winter on a regular basis to hunt.

“The owls are most active during the early morning and evening. They fly from perch to perch, hunt and interact. They mostly sleep during the day. You can get shots of them, but they’re pretty boring,” he explained.

Reitinger’s goal is to get in, get close and get his shots without harassing the wildlife. He has seen many photogs get too close and scare the animal away. The resulting shot is the backside of the perturbed animal as it retreats from the humans.

He’s also worked on what local photographers consider a Holy Grail, a shot of a snowy owl with Barnegat Lighthouse in the background. “The lighthouse is just tangible to people,” he explained.

He has shot bald eagles, peregrine falcons and osprey and has come to the philosophy that you go out and shoot whatever presents itself that day, rather than searching around for a specific species or animal.

Reitinger was shooting in Barnegat Light when he stumbled onto a fox kit (juvenile fox). “I started going up there after work. I figured out where the den hole was and found a safe distance where I could shoot when they would come out to play,” he recalled.

The foxes tended to be pretty friendly and he found there were actually five kits. The mother would come down the beach with a squirrel in her mouth and get so close to Reitinger that his camera wouldn’t even focus.

Photography has prompted his interest in wildlife as he’s begun to more accurately identify species and then learn about them. During the warmer months he takes a kayak into the bay and shoots around the sedge islands.

He continues to shoot surf, but is always looking for new angles. He doesn’t like repetition. These days, he’ll usually shoot for a bit before he surfs himself.

He will sometimes go out with friends and fellow shooter Kevin Knutson. He considers “Northside” Jim Vernhagen a mentor. “I think Jim has a great following among the wildlife community. My audience tends to be a bit broader. Jim is really good at storytelling on his blog.”

He has recently started shooting video as well, specifically because it comes out better than photos when the light starts to fade.

This month, Reitinger has been fairly consumed with shooting the piping plover chicks that recently hatched in Barnegat Light.

Reitinger’s work hung in the “Wild_Life Photography” show at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences in Loveladies last winter, his first show experience.

“When Matt first really started to attract people, he had provided an honest and personal look into what creates LBI. Now, it’s like an inside look of LBI year ’round. I think that is what really captures his viewers and followers. It lets them feel like they aren’t missing anything; they are still part of this place. He shows what most don’t see – the most fire-blazing winter sunset over a frozen bay, a seal on the beach during sunrise, even white-out conditions with a snowy owl in the distance. Those who don’t live here year ’round can now have this sneak peek to what they are missing. Matt provides a personal connection to this island that resonates with those who know his work,” says Rebecca Phillips, gallery coordinator at the Foundation.

“His dedication is to the wildlife that live here. He provides a voice for these animals by experiencing these conditions with them and wanting to spend time in any type of weather. No matter the weather – rain, shine, hurricane, blizzard – he’s out there, and that is true love to this island and to the wildlife that calls this place home.”

Reitinger was recently informed that one of his photos has been selected among top 100 of  the prestigious Audubon Photography Awards, and one of his photos is a finalist.

He plans to get a water housing to shoot in the surf, but says they run from $1,000 to $1,800. He’d like to be doing photography full time, which would mean expanding his portrait business, but that’s been a slow process. “It takes time to set up a business, but I’d rather be out shooting. And then there’s so much editing to do,” he noted.

In addition to his Facebook page, his photos can be found at @Stayabovetheweather on Instagram.

“You can watch these nature docs on Nat Geo or the BBC,” he explained, “but I’d rather go out and see it myself. There’s so much right here.”

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