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.

Taken during Rian Flynn workshop

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!

Photo by Peter Boden

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.

Photo by Chris Thompson from the World Wide Photowalk that I led this year. This girl won best image from the walk.

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.

You can see more of Matt’s work at, and keep up with him on Google+, Twitter, and on Facebook (personal and fan page)

  1. Interesting post, Matt, thank you! I’d be interested to hear more about how you got that first commercial gig at 14! How did they find you?

    Thanks again for your insight!

      1. Thanks for the reply! You’ve done a great job of seizing an opportunity and making the best of it! Keep going!

  2. Thanks for the great story! I just got into photography but a little later than you did (I’m 38). Your drive at a young age gives me hope that I can take great pictures like yours! I hope I can pass along your drive and inspiration to my son who likes to take pictures with my old point and shoot! Thanks again!!!

  3. Great post Matt! I wish today’s digital technology was around when I was 14! I got my first digital camera back in 2000 when I graduated high school. It was a Sony Cybershot 1.3 megapixel brick, but I loved it. Congrats on the commercial shoots, as everyone here has said, keep up the good work and you’ll go far!


  4. Terrific guest blog today, Matt. I love that the little girl won your WWPW “best image” contest. Can you post a link to it?

    I also love the whole mentoring message. I’ve helped my son with his photography, and I can see that he’s developing his own style already. It’s a proud feeling, indeed.

    Thanks for sharing!


  5. I hate to be the meanie but at least one of Matt’s posted shots (the archer) was from a workshop. Kind of ironic given the recent bruhaha at Kelby concerning the use of workshop pics in a portfolio. What is particularly troubling in this case is that he didn’t even bother to tip his hat to Rian Flynn, who was the workshop instructor. Instead he mentions a long list of more recognized industry gurus. It also makes me wonder how many of the other pics were from workshops.

    I realize that Matt is young and he apparently has some talent and some ambition. Makes it even more important that this is a “coaching moment” for him regarding ethics and attribution.

    1. Hey Daniel,

      At first I didn’t realize attribution was needed since I did light the photo myself, shoot it myself, and do the Photoshop myself. However, you make a great point and I should have done that in the first place (stupid me). Thanks for pointing this out, I have submitted the changes to Brad.


    2. Hey Daniel – I’ve updated the blog at Matt’s request. I will say this in his defense though…

      When this topic was discussed on The Grid, the point was that photographers who don’t have the ability to re-create images they’ve shot at workshops (where everything is done for them) shouldn’t include those shots in their portfolio because it’s a misrepresentation of their abilities. I don’t think that’s the case with Matt as his portfolio shows consistency in his ability to light, shoot, and process his images.

      1. Brad, you certainly know very well that that was NOT the only point being made in The Grid episode. In fact, one of the examples in that episode was Scott’s image taken at a Joe McNally workshop. Scott is not exactly a hack when it comes to photography but even he felt uncomfortable using a shot where Joe put together the model, setup, and so on. The concept for the archer shot was created by Rian Flynn (and an original concept shot can be seen on his Flickr stream). Rian also presumably provided the model, the props, and the techniques. Whether Matt could, in theory, have created the image on his own is really beside the point and begs the question of why he attended the workshop in the first place if that was the case.

        Anyway, I am glad Matt owned up and added the clarification to the image. I am less impressed with Brad’s attempt at a defense, which smells of a double-standard in the Kelby organization.

      2. Daniel thank you so much for being our watchdog… you have discovered our conspiracy…

    3. Daniel,quit hating, those are Matt’s images, and by definition the owner of said images is he who closes the shutter. Whether or not he set anything up is irrelevant, where are your photos? Where’s you blog post? Hater. Don’t be jealous of a nineteen year old, give the kid his due, what were you doing at nineteen? Workshop or not who cares, seriously, do you have nothing better to do? The blog post wasn’t even about that image, he probably just took it and was excited to show it, haven’t you ever done that? I have all the time, then two weeks later, I don’t show it anymore, I call it the photographic circle of life. Pick on me if you want but leave Matt alone, he finally gets a chance at something special and you try and poop on it, shame on you, he did put up eight other images.

    4. Healthy debates and critiques and a good thing when offered up in an appropriate manner. I think that was the goal for this thread, but somewhere along the way the tone soured a bit. Perhaps to the fault of no one, it’s sometimes tough to infer tone from the written word. As comedian Arj Barker has said they need more tone specific fonts like Sarcastica and Good Times Roman. However, I do think the true measure of any professional includes how they handle the interaction with and mentoring of others. Let’s all keep a high standard. In other words, let’s get Big Electric Cat on here to sing “Why can’t we be friends?” and then let’s return to friendly banter with lots of jokes about Scott.

      Nice post, Matt. Keep shooting.

  6. OMG!
    You are amazing!!
    I’m 14 years old and i’m from sweden.
    I will live in usa when i grow up, and then…. I’ll be like you…. maybe little better ;)
    But, all i want to say is that you are incredible and I read your book, it’s really good!
    Have a nice day!

      1. It’s first time i’m on this webpage, and i not find anywhere to write to scott so i write as a comment. And that i understand now xD, and my english is not the best, but i hope you’ll understand ;)
        But, yes.. This comment should be to scott, but it goes wrong xD

        And, i think your pictures are very nice to! Pictures should make people happy and it’s what they do! Amazing!
        And i think i have many questions but i don’t know how to say everything in english. But i can say that my dream is to come to usa and live there and be a rich woman ;)

  7. Matt is an awesome young talent and I really enjoy looking at his work and I’m proud that my neighbor has had the opportunity to be a guest blogger here. Keep up the great work and great attitude Matt and you’ll go far.

  8. Great job Matt! When I first saw your work I was very impressed, then when I saw that you were a high school student I could hardly believe it. I am excited to see what your photographic future has in store!

    PS. Maybe the 6 year old that won the Coeur d’Alene photo walk will someday write about her start at 6 years old and how Matt Leitholt influenced her!

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