Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Focus On: LeSophie

Our journey in this life has twists and kinks and stops along the way. We are a product of the decisions we make; we are a product of the opportunities we encounter. Often, we need to make sure we see all the opportunities before us, and at the same time, we need to trust our innermost feelings -- our gut instincts. Leslie Sophia Lindell is one of those artists who grabs all that life has to offer and joyously gives back to the world what her eye sees. She's a professional photographer clearly NOT jaded by what she does for a living. Her use of color, light and composition shows an enthusiasm for all aspects of her life.

Ann: How did you find Etsy?

Leslie: I had been an Etsy shopper for quite awhile, and I'm just in love with the fact that, as artists and art/handcraft lovers, we can reach out to one another and support small business. Another bonus is the access to the most fantastic and unique handcrafted items of ALL kinds. When I did make the decision to offer some sort of my personal work for sale, it was a natural and easy choice for me to use Etsy as my venue.

A: I see from one of your blog posts you've been taking pictures since you were a teenage. Has your photographic journey been a consistent one? Can you describe your life history as a photographer?

L: I did first get a glimmer of the photo bug when I was in a high school photography class but didn't receive much encouragement at the time. It was a few years later when I was working as an assistant in the art department of A&M Records that one of my lovely bosses opened the refrigerator one day to reveal stacks and stacks of film. He looked at me and said, "Go for it." This is where I really caught the bug. I only shot black & white, pushing the film as hard and grainy as I could and developing my own prints in the lab. I had incredible freedom and didn't mind too much how I might screw up or not. But at that time in my life I still had the "it's only a hobby" attitude toward photography. Not to mention, when I moved away from Los Angeles, I moved away from that refrigerator full of free film! It would be quite a few years before I picked up the camera again. This time it would be digital. The whole world of photography had completely changed, but I found a similar freedom in being able to just shoot like crazy. There was a hook to instantly be able to see what I was getting in that little viewfinder, and to be able to load them into the computer, and "develop" them further in a new version of the print lab -- Photoshop. I was blogging and getting some reaction to some of my shots, and I started to take this feedback more and more seriously. Then the most pivotal moment of my photographic career came: I have wonderful friends and family who think I'm a great photographer, and some of them happen to be graphic/creative/art directors. Their opinions held an exciting weight and the very real possibility of making this a career. I took the leap and never looked back. I have now shot everything from a pin-up style calendar to the harvesting of olives.

A: I love how you had such a great opportunity to get into photography. This is kind of a chicken-and-egg question: Do you think the support of your artistic friends helped build your confidence, or do you think your own sense of your ability and accomplishment made your friends sit up and notice what you were doing?

L: Well, of course the easy answer is both, but if you dig deeper you get more into my belief system and the way I have always chosen to live my life. I truly believe we --as artists, yes -- but even more as human beings need to learn to trust our inner voice. Call it gut feeling, instinct, essential self, sixth sense -- whatever works best for you -- and learn to listen to it. Then, stare at any fear you may have right in the eye and try not to think of things as black/white (pardon the pun) good/bad, success/failure as they play out. I really believe taking a leap of faith gets you closer to who and what you are meant to be in this life. When you have external support it become that much easier to go for it. For me it was the final tipping point. Photography has altered my path in such an exciting way, and I could never have pursued this path without a boisterous chorus of support -- from my people and from my own self.

A: Do you mostly do commercial photography, or do you do a lot of portraiture work?

L: I have shot a myriad of things since I formally began my photography career, and nearly all commercial. Professionally, I am focusing on food and travel because, well, I love to cook, eat and see the world! I do really love to shoot people but find my passion and forte often tug me right back to the former. Besides, cupcakes don't mind how they look in the final edit! And then, of course, my Etsy shop is filled with a selection of my personal work which holds its own kind of you and satisfaction.

A: What advice would you give to an Etsy artist who must post great photographs of their work? Any good tricks and tips that haven't been discussed in the Etsy forums?

L: Gosh, this is the hardest question for me to answer so far! I am certain I cannot think of anything which hasn't already been addressed in the truly wonderful forums on Etsy. What I will say is that one should NEVER underestimate the huge importance of the quality of your photos in an online marketplace. In this case, the old idiom "pictures speak louder than words" is true a thousand times over. Pick your favorite shops, ask yourself how their shop set-up and approach to selling appeal to you. Ask someone whose eye you trust to help you select your photos. Pay attention to which items are selling the best to gauge the market. And, of course, trust your gut!

A: So you love food and travel. I think that's the perfect combination (along with a little wine for good measure). How do you make this happen? Can you describe a Leslie-food-and-travel shooting day?

L: Ah yes, of course the wine as well! I definitely agree! It certainly doesn't hurt to live right in the middle of one of the best areas for food in the world. Not to mention what an excellent travel destination it is. San Francisco is a stellar city; Mount Tamalpais/Muir Woods is a coveted hiking destination; the varied and stunning Northern California beaches, and let's not forget the Sonoma and Napa wine country. My clients, for the most part, live here, too. It's a natural fit! A typical shooting day can vary widely depending on the clients' needs, but what is nearly always the same is my approach. I shoot natural light almost exclusively. I pack as little as I can in my Crumpler bag, and I like to stay under the radar. No big lighting rigs and crews for me. You might find me tucked into the corner of a busy restaurant shooting away or perhaps leaning into a plate for tight, shallow depth-of-field shots in my very own kitchen. Perhaps I'm even shooting through a frosted margarita glass on the beaches of Mexico. Now I'm ready for some clients to fly me to The Maldives or Bulgaria or Argentina, yes? Got to put your dreams out there!

A: I notice you've done some work in the Napa Valley. How wonderful is that? Please give us some details!

L: Yes, Napa is only 40 minutes north of San Francisco, but the wine country feels worlds away. My most recent shoot in the area was for an olive oil producer, Stone Edge. The best story about this shoot is: my client was to meet me at the property at a set time. I arrived early to see how things were going, and the foreman told me the last of the olives would be stripped from the trees within 30 minutes! I had been told I'd have hours to get the shots, and had I not turned up early, I would have missed the harvest altogether. I had a moment of panic, and then I just tossed all my things to the ground and started shooting like crazy. I climbed the ladders between the workers, jumped under the trees as the last of the olives were coming down just saying, "Excuse me," and "Don't mind me," and I ended up getting some of my best work! Perhaps the adrenaline rush had something to do with it! The client showed up as the last of the olives were being loaded and hauled away. He ended up very happy.

A: Describe how you see yourself in five years. What are your goals?

L: Wow! I guess at this point in my life I should never be surprised about synchronicity again, but sometimes I am still so surprised! This very morning I went for a hike with my friend, Sam, and we had a long discussion about this exact topic -- where things will be five years from now! Actually, rather than a specific set of goals I choose to envision a potential outcome so there is room for other possibilities which may be in store for me. So let's say in five years I'd love to own a sweet little dream home here in Mill Valley, California. My friends will always be welcome. They will know where the extra key is hidden, and the refrigerator will always be full. That little nest will be the perfect place for me to base myself while I travel and shoot all over the world for six months of the year. This sounds absolutely ideal to me. But who knows? Perhaps the Universe has something altogether more fabulous in store for me! We'll just have to wait and see...

cuidame (take care of me)

Thank you Leslie!

A world traveler and self-taught photographer, look for Ann wandering around city streets and tromping through woods and hiking trails with her camera. After owning an international transportation business for many years, Ann has found her creative spirit again through the lens. See more at Ann's shop and her website, and say hello to her on her blog too.


jenny downer said...


UrbanJunkies/zuppaartista said...

ann, you always ask the best interview questions! i so love your posts!
lesophie's pics are fabulous! i am super hungry now after seeing that cupcake!! *drooool*

---oh and you are right! we should plan an POE excursion! :p

jennifer rabbitt said...

Esh, you write JUST like you shoot. Scrumptious and from the heart and OH SO NICELY crafted for the reader's consumption... Makes us scribblers look like a bunch of hacks.

word verification of the day: varwingi. I love it, just add excalmation point.

LeS said...

ann, i cannot thank you enough for your truly FANTASTIC interviewing skills. you really put in an extra time and effort to make your subjects feel special :)

thanks jenny, urbanjunkies and my lovely jennifer (esh is one of my nicknames :) for these lovely coments as well - VARWINGI!