It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring Matt Leitholt!
Hi, I’m Matt, I’m 19. I just started studying business at the University of Idaho and live in a small college town named Moscow. I do commercial photography and shoot dramatic portraits. I enjoy shooting photos of people because I love to tell their story in a split second of time. Most of my photos are dramatically lit because I love the intensity it creates.
I started getting serious in my photography when I was 14. I shot my first job when I was a freshman in high school. My first job was a product shoot for a European footwear company. At this point in my photography life I had just purchased a Canon 40D and 28-135mm kit lens. Being a 14 year old that just got asked to shoot all of the product shots for a startup footwear company, I was pretty excited, but nervous. I immediately started studying other shoe photos and decided I could pull it off with minimal supplies. I used a display board and ran a poster board down the back to make the background seamless. I draped a white bed sheet over the top of the board and shot two work lights through the top to give it soft lighting.
This shoot really helped me to see how important lighting is in your photos. I began to see the lighting more and more in photos I loved. Shortly after I did this shoot, I was watching Photoshop User TV and saw that Scott Kelby was starting his Worldwide Photo Walk and I decided that sounded like a fun time and decided to participate!
I joined the Spokane walk and met many interesting people and great mentors. We started a photography group from that first walk and helped each other grow in photography. We talked about everything from lighting to Photoshop. This inspired me to explore lighting more and be more serious about my photography. I came across David Hobby’s blog, Strobist and was immediately amazed at how much there was to flash photography. I bought a Canon 430ex, an umbrella, and some “eBay” triggers and instantly fell in love with light. I was lighting nearly every shot I could, and my photography was improving because I realized how the light made me slow down and think through a shot before it was taken. Using an off-camera flash really changed my life. It added more difficulty to the shot but also added more creativity. When I would underexpose the background, it would make the shot look so interesting and I could see the direction of the light. This curiosity about light led to my style. I loved that direction and control of the light that I was able to obtain with the off-camera flash.
Fast-forward a year. I had moved up to Alien Bees for the power and the variety of modifiers. For this shot I had used two lights in the rear sides and one on a boom up front. I used a home-made beauty dish for the main light on this shot. This is all the real grass and clouds (yes the bird was drawn in). This is the difference that light can make. It adds depth, dimension, and drama to your photos.
I continued to play with light and explore it, the inspiration of Frank Doorhof (@frankdoorhof), Zack Arias (@zarias), Joey L (@joeyldotcom), Joe McNally (@joemcnallyphoto), and Rian Flynn (@rianflynn) really helped me to keep pursuing light. Through the inspiration of these people I pushed myself to learn more and be more precise about lighting. I soon found that I was tweaking lights ever so slightly to make them perfect; this could be moving the light one inch or one degree. Doing this really helped me to be more intentional about my lighting and in turn helped me to produce some really neat photographs.
It is so important to find someone that inspires you and strive to be like them. It is how I’ve come to where I am today and how I will continue to grow in the future. Another way to keep progressing is to push yourself to get out and shoot. Think of something that you would like to shoot and exactly how you want to make that photograph. Plan it out, find a model, and go shoot it. Nothing will make you better more than practice. When you are at your shoot, pay attention to all of the elements of the photo: the pose, the background, the light, and composition.
Don’t be concerned with the gear that you have, because you can make a great photo with any camera. A high-end DSLR only helps make the photo-making process easier. It will give you better image quality but a point-and-shoot can do a great job as well! Once you’ve done your shoot, post it on Flickr or a similar forum or website. Get feedback on it and listen to the constructive criticism. It will only help you get better. You can’t improve on your mistakes unless someone points them out to you. Another important step in the growing process is to find a mentor to help you grow along your way. Find someone whose work impresses you and assist for them, ask them questions, and study how they do their work. Eventually, you’ll be on your way to creating some amazing photographs and exploring life in a whole new way.