Photographer Spotlight: Leah Judson

Posted by: on May 18, 2021

Photographer Spotlight: Leah Judson

I would describe my style of photography as…

Photo Credit: Leah Judson

Intimate. I often receive inquiries and messages that state how my photographs are a portal to someone’s soul, that they are able to see their heart and essence. I can create an environment with anyone I’m sitting with where they open up in a way where you feel that invitation to get to know them more deeply.

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

My first camera was a Fujifilm Finepix, a little digital camera that had a fixed lens on it and an on-camera flash. I have always been artistic and curious, so it was an extension of my creativity, and it became a quick companion on every trip and every outdoor adventure with friends.

When I lived in Germany, I signed up for a yearbook class in high school. There was a small photography competition that year. I felt intimidated to apply, but decided to challenge myself with my peers. Everyone had the latest gadgets and accessories and I felt like a fool in comparison. I threw my little Finepix in my purse while other students rolled suitcase bags of equipment. Surprisingly, I took second place, and it was that small confidence booster that propelled me forward to dig into photography more deeply.

Unfortunately, my parents were not as supportive and photography became the root of our arguments. I understand their fear now as an adult: the instability of income, the risk of running your own business and not having a college degree in something that could be more foundational for me in the future. They won at the time. I went to school for Art Therapy and eventually New Media Journalism, but in the background, I kept using money that was meant for room and board to pay for a new camera. I did portrait shoots that I charged $20 for, just to get some practice in. Needless to say, they saw over time how committed I was and they’ve seen the successes I have had, and finally see that this was always my path.

Why did you want to become a photographer?

Photo Credit: Leah Judson

I still want to be a photographer. I don’t think I’ve ever truly become one knowing that there’s still so much to experience. I hope that doesn’t change either. I hope that I’m always curious and wanting to learn more, that I always find something that stumps me or makes me nervous. It’s those moments of uncertainty that might be disguised as imposter syndrome, but I see it as growth — an opportunity to feel uncomfortable and embrace a new challenge.

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

Photo Credit: Leah Judson

As everyone sprinted for cover in a storm, I found that the Taj Mahal became my playground. Women in their saris swirled into colorful tornados and small children cheered and stomped their feet in puddles. I heard thunder in the distance and quickly started counting “one-Mississippis” to guess the distance of the storm. I crouched quickly toward the Taj and found myself pressing the shutter button down at the exact moment lightning struck. I’m not a nature photographer, but I will never forget the squeal I made when I saw the back of the camera and the poor man next to me who got startled with my reaction

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

Photo Credit: Leah Judson

I decided to take a solo road trip across the Midwest to hike and spend time learning how to shoot landscapes. I felt way out of my element since I normally shoot portraits (or at least find myself gravitating more toward photographing people). One evening as I was driving through Jackson, Wyoming, I saw a field of horses and a small barn below the Teton Mountains. Sunset was about two to three hours away, and something was calling me to wait. I had missed several sunsets so far on the trip, and I knew if I didn’t take that chance now, I would lose the light sooner than I thought. I plopped down on the fence and found myself quickly shivering. Minutes felt like hours, but I knew that even if the shot didn’t come out the way I had hoped, I learned how to appreciate the patience that comes along with shooting nature. When the sun finally set, I found myself in awe of the horses trotting back and forth as they grazed. I couldn’t have felt more at peace than in that moment. As the horses galloped back to their stable, one black horse trailed behind, which is when I decided to capture my last shot of the evening. It’s the first print I’ve ever bought of my own work and it will always be an image that holds so much power to me.

My dream gig would be…

Collaborating on a documentary focused on bringing awareness to and saving children from human trafficking in the United States. I want my work to be impactful and I have a hard pull toward finding work that could support our youth. I haven’t had the opportunity yet to be on set with a crew that’s determined to bring more awareness around child slavery in the U.S., but I hope one day I get to be a part of that mission.

My favorite piece of gear is…

Bubble wrap and a broken perfume bottle! I love having little pieces of plastic or glass with me that I can use in front of my lens to create interesting textures and light refractions. I am always exploring new ways to capture my portraits uniquely and it’s always fun to see my muse’s face when they see me swaying something in front of the lens.

Do you shoot tethered?

Photo Credit: Leah Judson

I shoot tethered when I’m in the studio! It really enhances my client’s experience. It gives us an opportunity to explore new poses and expressions and the monitor acts as their mirror. It allows me to take out the guesswork and really see what’s happening during production instead of kicking myself later that I was off by a hair for focus.

What’s on your photography gear shopping list?

Mama needs a new strobe! Hoping to get my hands on a ProPhoto 10 or 11 sometime soon. I never thought I’d be shooting strobes ten years ago when I wanted to stake my claim as a “natural light photographer,” but being introduced to strobes five years ago has made me appreciate being able to control my own light.

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

To disconnect from platforms where you’re spending too much time comparing your work. I unfollowed everyone on my social media and kept it that way for some time in order to recalibrate. The freedom that came with it and the discomfort of knowing what to do next fueled my creativity. I spent less time analyzing how another person did their work and made more time to explore my mind and untouched imagination. I was frozen at first, but that “ah hah” moment came quickly when I wasn’t cluttering my day with scrolling.

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