Member Spotlight: Leah Fasten


Member Spotlight - Leah Fasten

[ September 29th, 2009 ]  

How did you get your start in photography? Did you always know you wanted to shoot for a living?
My dad was (and still is) an amateur photographer and my grandmother was a painter. Art and creative expression have always been an important part of my life. But it wasn't until after college, while working in finance, that I realized how important a creative life was for me. In my corporate days, I analyzed consumer demand at an airline and would use my flight benefits on weekends to travel and photograph. Then I'd spend all week processing and printing the images I made.

While filling out applications for an MBA, I realized how much I really wanted to be shooting every day. I figured I'd put off business school for a couple years while I played with photography. That was ten years ago.

The first five years I was in school part time and working in news media at various newspapers. Five years ago when I felt I had a body of work truly my own, I put a portfolio together (light blue ultrasuede!) and started showing my work to local designers, art directors and editors whose work I admired.

What about these days? You're based in Massachusetts?
I am. Many contacts are here, and the amount of design talent in Boston alone is remarkable for such a small market. Having said that, I'm only four hours from New York City, so I do quite a bit of work there too.

Your photos feel really spontaneous and at the same time, very honest. How do you keep that energy on location?
People work with me because they like that energy. They're looking for something authentic and a bit surprising. We like to talk about that from the beginning stages of planning a shoot. My background is photojournalism and documentary. I'm kind of a decisive-moment junkie.

How do you make that happen?
Hmmm. That's hard to say. I like to keep everyone moving around. We stand up, sit down, look over here, move over there. Even in photos where someone is sitting down they probably haven't been sitting for very long. I use mostly Q flashes for lighting, so we're able to move everything with our subjects.

Really, we're just having fun working very much 'in the moment' and following our hearts. Most of the people I photograph at work have some level or expertise in their field. We tune in and capture that. Someone who works with robots obviously loves robots, so we'll hang out with robots! Or a CFO who works for a gaming company will demonstrate the games for us.

How do you make the colors in your photographs so rich? They almost shimmer.
Well thanks! I've been writing my own Photoshop actions forever. In school, when people were slaving away in the darkroom I was scanning film and then working though Photoshop to desaturate greens, play with contrasts, saturations etc. I almost feel like I'm cheating a bit now in Lightroom.

Sixteen-bit color is really important to me when shooting digital. I didn't make the switch fully from film until Imacon came out with a back for my 503CW body that was a true 16-bit chip. Then Canon brought out the 14-bit chip with the 1DSIII. Those are my two primary bodies.

Color theory was, hands down, my favorite art class. All those color studies with the colored paper? I couldn't get enough of them.

Your portfolio spans a range of subjects. People working, kids playing, portraits... Where do you get your inspiration?
I'm a working mom. It's really common for me wake up for a sunrise portrait of a CEO or professor, and still make it back to pick up my kids from school. My memory cards at the end of day are a mix of people at work, a business portrait, a few shots of my kids and their friends, what we eat for dinner, etc. It can make for some interesting pairings.

I've always just photographed what I find interesting, and then figured out from there which direction to take things. Street photography lead to photojournalism, which put me in front of intriguing people for portraits. That pushed me into bigger editorial portrait jobs, which took me to new and interesting locations to document, which lead to all the commercial library work.

And kids, well, they're everywhere in my life. About two years ago I realized that all these images I take in my day-to-day life are their own body of work.

So you shoot a lot when you're not "working?"
You could say that. Basically, I just shoot a lot. Working, not working...It's how I organize my world, how I make sense of it. There's this underlying need to record things. On my website, if you look at the "working" portfolio and then the "Hillcrest" portfolio, you can get a pretty good idea of what my life feels like on any given day.

Does your approach vary depending on the subject matter?
What's consistent is the process I use for creating. Whether we're creating a library of images for an annual report, highlighting a research scientist for an editorial portrait, or shooting tests for my "kids" portfolio, my process is pretty much the same. The subject matter varies, and that keeps things interesting. But if you look at the way I shoot its pretty consistent across portfolios. It's the only way I really know how to work.

What was your favorite job you had that didn't involve photography?
I taught group fitness classes for 10 years. I've been known to ask subjects to do a few jumping jacks or pushups if I they're kind of stiff.

Thanks so much for spending a few minutes with us today. We're thrilled to have you as part of the Altpick family!
Well, thank you! It's a great family to be a part of.

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