I love it when young photographers email with there work. They are often the nicest emails I get and in most cases their work is pretty good. Sam in a fine example of that and he is also proving that top of the range gear isn’t required to make great imagery.
Tell us a little about yourself?
Greetings! I’m Sam Leathers. I’m a 17 year old high school junior in Memphis, Tennessee, and photography has quickly consumed my life. I’ve never been too keen on things like sports, but artistic things always caught my attention. I play drums in bands and I go to shows, which makes music a huge part of my life. I’m listening to it almost constantly. Concerts are pretty much my entire social life, and I’ve nearly all of my friends at some sort of music event. Other than that, I’m your pretty average teen. I’m a complete dork, and I just like to goof around with my friends and play music.
What made you get into photography?
I was always interested in artistic and creative activities growing up. When I picked up playing drums in 8th grade, I started looking more at pictures of my favorite artists. After a while, I started to really look at the pictures themselves, not the artists in them. I really wanted to be able to get inspiring live concert shots like I was seeing all over the internet, so I picked up my first DSLR in June 2010.
How did you get started?
I’ve only been shooting for a year, so I guess you could say I’m still getting started, haha.
Last summer I started telling my parents I was interested in getting into photography. I got my first camera, a Nikon D5000, for my birthday on June 28, 2010. I started like most kids, shooting random things around my backyard, my dogs, and my friends. That camera didn’t leave my side for a couple of months. I started taking it to all the concerts I was going to, local and national acts. That means I was getting a ton of practice every weekend, not including all the shots I was taking after school during the week. It really helped me out in the long run.
After a couple of months, a good school friend of mine said she liked the shots I was getting. She introduced me to her older brother, Zach Breaux, who’s a really great photographer out of Baton Rouge and Memphis. Zach showed me a lot of tips and tricks, and before we knew it we were shooting events together!
What sort of photography do you mainly do?
I mainly shoot concerts and other live music. Local shows, big-name touring acts, acoustic shows, you name it. I try hard to make it to every show I am able to attend. I just love the feeling of getting compelling shots from the artists I listen to all the time. When a band I really like comes to town, I’ve found myself becoming more excited about the pictures I’m going to get rather than the actual show, haha.
I would really like to get more into portraiture as well. I love shooting people, I just never end up doing it as much as I would like to.
What gear are you using?
Nikon D5000 w/ grip (pretty basic, but I manage)
Nikon 50mm f/1.4
Nikon 35mm f/1.8
Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 (kit lens)
Nikon SB-600 flash
a generic-brand white umbrella/stand
..and a mini softbox I used once
Canon AE-1 Program
usually Kodak Portra 400 or Fuji 200 film
Whats your favourite lens and why?
My favorite lens is definitely my 50mm f/1.4, the Nifty Fifty. It’s my baby. I’ve actually only had it for around 3 weeks after a long time of saving up, and ohhhh man was it worth the wait. It makes my 35mm 1.8 feel rather toy-like (still a great lens though, I’ve shot every concert with it). The 50’s bokeh is just so pretty, and the wide aperture works great for all the dimly lit concerts I shoot.
But man would I love a Canon 85mm f/1.2…..I can dream can’t I?
How are you marketing yourself?
I use Facebook (well, the internet in general) way more than I should, but it’s really worked out well for me. I started getting my name out there by posting my pictures to my personal profile last year, and a lot of people from school saw them. Word of mouth spread around school, and soon almost everyone knew I took pictures. When people from all the concerts I was attending saw my live shots, bands began asking me to come shoot their set almost every weekend.
In March, I created a ‘fan page’ on Facebook solely for my pictures, and that has worked out tremendously. It’s gotten way more fans than I expected it to so quickly.
Social media really is a great way to get yourself out there these days. I got the opportunity to shoot promotional shots for a band called Listener last month, and they used my picture as their default on Facebook. They have over 15,000 subscribers, so that was a huge help in getting my name out there. (It’s still being used if you want to check it out!)
Whats your favourite photo you have taken?
Geez, that’s such a tough question. I’m usually not happy with most of my pictures a couple days after I post them, and I always find myself improving. I can’t think of one spanning all of my work, so I’ll pick three that I’m still proud of.
1.) This is a really recent photo I took at a concert/rave called Black & Neon two weeks ago. Zach Breaux and I shoot these events together, and this was a fun night. I like this shot of the rapper Total Savage because the colors just pop! It was my first time shooting a show with my 50mm f/1.4, and it was a blast. The bright ray of stage light coming from the left, and the bokeh from the crowd caught my eye with this one. The picture captures the vibrant, fun atmosphere of the night.
2.) This one of my friend Kayla is another recent shot. She moved away to Connecticut last year, and while she was up there she picked up a job as an agency model in NYC! Of course, I wanted to do some shooting with her when she came to visit, so we went downtown and took some portraits for our portfolios. I really liked the way this one turned out. It was my first time really shooting a model, even if it was for our own benefit.
3.) This third one is of my buddy Holt. We took this while exploring the park near the Zoo. I really love the bokeh from the trees, and the greens area so vibrant!
Advice for new photographers looking to go pro?
Practice, practice, then practice some more. That’s the best way to get better. Try out different kinds of pictures you wouldn’t normally take to figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are, and work to improve them. Develop a style that is unique to you that others will recognize.
Get yourself out there as much as possible. Make as many connections as you can. You will be surprised at how many people you know also know others who can help you get ahead. Observe other photographers’ strategies, but definitely do not rip-off or undercut them. Always be personable with people, and definitely make sure your attitude is in check. Don’t get a big ego before you’re ready to step into the world of photographers. Be humble, but confident at the same time. It shows through the art when a photographer takes pride in their work.
Online social media is always a great source for exposure these days, but meeting people in person is a must as well. Find local photographers whose work inspires you, and see if they’ll give you any advice! Ask to assist or even just observe one of their shoots, it really helps a lot.
Thanks for reading, everyone!