Photographer Spotlight: Justin Van Leeuwen

Posted by: on Sep 07, 2018

Photographer Spotlight: Justin Van Leeuwen
Bio: Justin Van Leeuwen is an Ottawa based commercial photographer, specializing in Portraits, Editorial, Event and Interior photography. Instagram: @jvlphoto Twitter: @justinvl Facebook: @jvlphoto  Website:

I would describe my style of photography as… 

I’m a corporate commercial photographer, so a lot of my work is fairly technical or shooting to the specifications of the client. While I still consider myself a creative, it’s the technical challenge of photography that keeps me interested.

What was your first camera, and how’d you get started in photography?

I mean, I had a point & shoot film camera when I was a kid, but I only got into Photography in the way that it set me on my current path when a few friends and I all got Canon Rebel xt’s. I enjoyed the fact that, with a SLR, I could create images and be creative while still playing around with images in Photoshop on a computer. Soon enough I became the “guy with a camera” and people started to ask me to shoot portraits and events. It’s the same thing for how I got into Interiors. Someone saw a print I had done of an old bridge and thought I might have a good eye for Architecture. 7 years later and it’s the largest part of my business.

Why did you want to become a photographer?

I wanted to be able to interact with people, see new things every day while still being able to be my own boss. Whenever I worked in an office or in retail there would always be someone I’d have huge conflict with, they weren’t into my personality. Now, if someone doesn’t like “who” I am, they can just choose not to work with me. Best for everyone! 😊

What’s your most memorable shot or shoot, be it challenging to capture or interesting subject?

Probably this shoot I did for a charity calendar. We worked with this chef who worked hard on fighting addiction issues and used to be a street kid. I wanted to kind of capture the punk-adult him throwing him into some possibly familiar settings. I rented a room in the seediest motel in the city (they even ended up taking my security deposit for no reason), we worked a few hours on pre-lighting and, in hindsight, it was probably OVER lit. When we wrap in the room he steps outside for a smoke and he’s in the light of this warm bulb and it’s kind of perfect, I get him to stay there and we shoot a couple frames and, without anything extra, I had this perfect portrait. All that work inside and the shot that made the cut took a couple seconds and no setup at all.

What image are you most proud of from your photography portfolio?

Some of my very first editorial work was a series of environmental portraits for a local publication. I was super excited to get this magazine work and they really gave me freedom to create. My assistant and I spent hours working on each lighting setup tweaking, adjusting flagging. It was a mix of speedlights and Elinchrom Quadra’s and I haven’t really done something quite like it since. To make the shoot even more challenging, it’s a 24mm tilt-shift panoramic portrait, so there was a bit of extra Photoshop work too.

My dream gig would be…

I’d love to have a long-term environmental portrait project. Honestly, I should get off my ass and start doing it without anyone else pushing me to. I’d want to take photos of interesting people in interesting places and just add a bit of technical challenge in lighting and framing the image to give it. Stuff Leibovitz, or John Keatley, or Luke Copping who’s creating some incredible work out in Buffalo.

My favorite piece of gear is…

I’ve stopped falling absolutely in love with my equipment over the past few years, trying to look beyond the “stuff” and just finding pleasure in the work. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still a bit of a gearhead. I can’t pick just one though. From my ThinkTank Photo logistics manager (which carries my Elinchrom ELB1200 & ELB400’s), to my Really Right Stuff Tripod and Arca Swiss D4 mechanical head, to my Surface Pro & Tether Tools AeroTab… they all kind of connect and flow together to take my mind out of the stuff and keep it focused on the shoot. 

Do you shoot tethered?

Would I be here if I didn’t? Yeah, I’m shooting TetherPro USB 3.0 cable from a Surface Pro running Capture One 10, held onto a tripod by the AeroTab Universal Tablet System, from my Canon 5D Mark IV. I have a TetherBoost Pro to help power the cable and a JerkStopper Camera Support on the camera-side.

My favorite piece of Tether Tools gear is…

The AeroTab Universal Tablet System is probably it, it helped change the way I shoot since I can run the Surface Pro from a tripod I’m not taking up much space and I can move it around very easy.

What’s on your photography gear shopping list?

I think I spoiled myself this year, but I still lust after the Phase One XF cameras. There’s something amazing about the look of medium format.

The best advice I can offer a fellow photographer would be…

As Zack Arias says: Get off your ass and shoot!