Photographer Steve Mattson Considers Himself a Jack of All Trades

Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography

Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography

Steve Mattson is owner of  Zenith City Photography. Facebook profile photo.

Steve Mattson’s photographic portfolio – published under the name Zenith City Photography - boasts a wide variety of images, including wedding photos, landscapes, graduation portraits, real estate images, concert shots, and wildlife. So, his niche isn’t easily defined.

“It’s hard to put me in a box,” he explained. “I’m always working to improve and refine my skillset across all genres. I consider myself more of a jack of all trades than a master of anything, which affords flexibility but, most importantly, gives me the opportunity to continually learn the craft.”

Interestingly, the phrase "Jack of all trades" dates back to 1390 and is often not quoted completely. The full quote goes like this: “Jack of all trades master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one.”

An Aurora is seen dancing over Duluth’s Lakeside Neighborhood, March 2023. Photo by Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography.

While Mattson was surrounded by photography his entire life (his parents loved capturing family moments on film), the moment he was inspired to take photos himself remains crystal clear.

“I remember seeing that National Geographic cover photo of the Afghani woman with the beautiful green eyes,” he noted. “I wondered how that image was crafted, but also, I wondered how the photographer, Steve McCurry, pulled that emotion out of the woman and out of the viewer.”

Initially, Mattson considered himself a “purist” and developed film in his own darkroom. But ultimately, he crossed over to the digital world, and hasn’t looked back. In both formats, he is 100% self-taught.

A beautiful evening on Park Point provided an excellent backdrop for a recent graduation photo session. Photo by Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography.

Born and Raised Here

Mattson is a native Duluthian. But, both he and his brother, Dave, “couldn’t wait to get out of Duluth.” So, he left for a while. But as many of us know, this beautiful city has a way of luring us back. More on that later.

Mattson met his future wife, Jenna, when they were in their teens working at the Miller Hill Mall. “I worked at Hal’s Sportswear, and Jenna worked at McDonald’s,” he explained with a chuckle. They had their first date in October 1993 and married in 1998.

Education and Career

When it came time for college, initially, Mattson was a pre-med student. However, after factoring in all the years of schooling, he decided to change his major.

He graduated from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities with a bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory science. He later returned to school, earning his MBA from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The Mattsons lived in Rochester, Minnesota for eight years. There, Steve got a job at Mayo Clinic, with an interesting side hustle - as a radio DJ on Saturday nights. The couple’s two children, Elaina (21) and Saige (19) were both born in Rochester.

The Mattson family enjoying a recent vacation on Maui. (L to R: Jenna, Saige, Elaina, Steve). Photo submitted.

But Duluth was calling them home. “Ever since we moved away from Duluth, we always had that finger tapping on our shoulder, and that finger was from Duluth,” he noted. “We felt this strong pull back home. I suppose it didn’t help that there were no natural lakes where we lived, in Olmsted County.”

The couple returned home in 2005. Mattson was hired at the former SMDC (now Essentia) as the hematology technical supervisor. He remains with Essentia today, and his current title is senior process expert.

Jenna is an orchestra teacher at Superior Middle School. She also plays violin for the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra (DSSO).

A lone skater making a move along the shore of a frozen Lake Superior, March 2022. Photo by Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography.


As noted, Mattson was deeply touched by that National Geographic photo. He decided to pursue photography and the science of developing film and built a darkroom in his basement.

“I declared myself a purist right when digital was making its move,” he noted with a chuckle. He started out with a basic camera, the Canon AE-1.

But when 9/11 happened, it became impossible to source the chemicals he needed. So, he was forced to pivot to the digital world. He transitioned to using a Nikon DSLR, which he used until about three years ago.

The Philip R. Clarke appears to be floating above the sea smoke rising from Lake Superior on a frigid afternoon in December 2017. Photo by Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography.

Today, he uses the Nikon Z line of cameras, including the Z8 mirrorless camera (a good all-around camera with a high mega-pixel count and high speed), and the ZF, which is similar to the Z8, but features more of a retro design. He pairs these camera bodies with Z-compatible lenses.

He also uses a drone on occasion – the DJI Mini 3 Pro. Mattson is a FAA Part 107 licensed drone pilot.


Mattson’s photographic “muses” span many genres, as noted. He started out taking landscape photos, including Duluth sunrises and wildlife images at the Sax-Zim Bog. Later, he took some family photos for friends. “You really have to step out of your comfort zone when you start taking photos of people,” he explained.

Then, he got into weddings for a time. Today, his favorite types of photos include graduation portraiture and concert photos. His portfolio contains some amazing, close-up images of his favorite artists, including Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger.

One of Steve’s favorite live music images: Paul McCartney & Neil Young sharing a mic in Oct. 2016. Photo by Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography.

Mattson is also the official photographer for the DSSO. Additionally, he has a side gig as a real estate photographer.

But he’ll take shots of anything, really. “I think there’s beauty in everything,” he said. “Whether it’s a car, person, building, or bird. There’s a way to convey that beauty to your viewer if you’re passionate about it.”


And, speaking of Duluth, he said, “Around here, there’s no shortage of beauty. I love shooting at Ely’s Peak, Hawk Ridge, Canal Park, and Bean and Bear Lakes in Silver Bay.

An aerial shot taken of the St. Louis River, 2022.

“Aside from the inherent natural beauty we have, the community itself is so unique. As a photographer in Duluth, you can change your vibe on a dime. There’s a certain magic about this place. Those of us who know, know.”

Mattson has been a Destination Duluth photographer since 2017. In 2023, he was honored with a certificate recognizing over 1 million views on the platform.


The Mattsons – including their dog, Beaumont - make their home in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood. In his spare time, Mattson enjoys running (he’ll run his 15th Grandma’s Half Marathon this year), curling, music, live concerts, and traveling.

The Mattson family dog, Beaumont, posing along Amity Creek/7-Bridges Road. Photo by Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography.

Steve and Jenna are also deeply committed to their faith, and worship at the Coppertop Church. There, Steve has served on a variety of committees, and was the drummer for the church band for 17 years. He was recently appointed to serve on the church’s Administrative Council.


Regarding advice for new photographers, Mattson had this to say.

“Do not get GAS - gear acquisition syndrome. You do not need the most expensive camera or the most high-performance lens.

“In fact, you don’t need any of that stuff to become a photographer,” he added. “I would say just find a cheapo camera and shoot as much as you can, whenever you can.  And, most importantly, find and cultivate joy by making images that inspire you.”

To view or purchase Steve’s images, please


Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications, and has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.




Back to Top
Next Post:

Shedding Light On Illuminating The Aerial Lift Bridge

Previous Post:

Magical “Snow White” Ballet Delights Children and Adults

Website Brought To You By:

  • Essentia Health
  • City of Duluth Minnesota
Other Supporting Partners
© 2024 Destination Duluth