Behind The Lens With Megan Leetz

This week brings a special interview for all of us here at Stitched Sound! Former Stitched Sound photographer Megan Leetz got her start in the industry back in 2012 and since then, she has had her photographs featured in Rock SoundAlternative Press, and with Fearless Records. Opening up about the impact women have had on the industry over the years, what she hopes to achieve in 2017, and why imperfections in photographs should be embraced, Megan gives a refreshing perspective on how she balances her photography career and other passions while still maintaining her sanity in this competitive industry.

When did you first start showing an interest in photography?

I believe it was around 5th or 6th grade when I really started to get into photography. My cousin, Jade, had gotten a digital camera and was taking pictures of anything and everything and it really peaked my interest as well. (Check out her work here!) We would sit for hours on Flickr, browsing photos and brainstorming fun ideas that we would end up using each other as models for. My mom had an old digital Fujifilm point-and-shoot that I would take everywhere whether she knew it or not, then I was gifted a cute red Nikon point-and-shoot for my birthday and the hobby grew from there. I got my first job at 14 and would save up to upgrade camera bodies throughout the years, but taking photo classes never really interested me.

What was the first show you ever photographed and looking back, is there anything you would have wanted to change or wish you had done?

The first show I actually had a photo pass for, (Stitched Sound was my first outlet ever, shout out to Cynthia Lam!) was the 2012 Glamour Kills Tour with The Wonder Years, Polar Bear Club, The Story So Far, Transit and Into It Over It. It was at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago, which is a no barricade venue and I remember having an absolute blast. I wouldn’t change anything about the experience, even though the pictures are pretty crappy now, I’m still pretty proud that I was able to capture a lot of emotion in them. I think my very very first show ever “shooting” (besides friends’ bands’ shows) was The Ready Set at this little hip-hop place in a strip mall in Ft. Wayne, Indiana back in 2010. This was one I stole my mom’s camera for and even though the photos are complete garbage, they make me laugh and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

Over the years, is there a particular act you have enjoyed photographing the most? If so, who and why?

During my most active shooting years, I covered a lot of metalcore/pop punk bands since that’s really all I listened to, but although I’ve only shot them two or three times, Say Anything may be my favorite so far. I’ve grown up listening to them and their stage presence is so engaging and fun, they’ve had some pretty sweet lighting as well. I’m always pretty stoked on my photos from a show of theirs.

If we were to open up your camera bag right now, what gear and equipment would we find?

Lots of ear plugs, chapstick, some snacks… haha but for real, I shoot with a Canon 6D which has been a power house and I love it, for lenses that I regularly use I have a Sigma 35mm Art, Sigma 85mm, and a Tokina 16-28mm. I also have a cheapo external flash from Amazon that serves me very well. I also love collecting SD cards, I have 3 4gb/8gb cards from my high school video production vocational still in my case.

Your work features both live photographs and portraits. In your opinion, what elements make for a good live shot or portrait?

For portraits: Got dang I love portraits. My earliest photographer inspiration was (and still is) Rosie Hardy, she has a whimsical and magical way about her craft and it’s incredible how creative she is. Whenever she posts new photos my jaw always literally drops, I want to have that same effect with my work. While photojournalism has its respected place, I think it’s pretty boring and would rather have photoshopped feathers falling from the sky, ya know? I normally will get inspired by something really random and I’ll drag out my camera and tripod and try to make what I envisioned in my head into a tangible thing. As far as elements to make a good portrait, I think it boils down to the feeling you want to portray overall, not if it’s perfectly exposed or color corrected, feelings I say, FEELINGS!

For live photos: I freakin’ love color and movement. I think that’s one thing I really enjoy about my own photos here and there, colors are so fun to mess around with and can make a pic a lot more eye catching. With movement, I’ve recently started keeping traditionally-not-perfectly-technical photos (i.e. out of focus, motion blur) if the subject matter is cool. I snagged a photo of Knuckle Puck’s set in Milwaukee this past Warped Tour and while Nick is pretty motion-blurred, the fan’s expression in front of him is so badass. I had the mom of the fan in the photo email me asking if she could get permission to print a poster size of that to give to her daughter for her birthday. So so cool.

Out of your portfolio, if you had to pick one photograph as being your favorite, which would it be and what is the story behind it?

Holy moly that’s tough. I honestly have no idea, I’m more interested in other people picking out ones they like!

You’ve spent quite a lot of time on the road with Real Friends! What are some do’s and don’t’s you think photographers should be aware of when touring with an artist?

I’m definitely not a touring veteran by any means, I’ve only done week stints so far since I’m a big homebody and don’t like being away from my cat for too long, hehe. I got really lucky with RF, Dave and I started dating about two years ago and it was a cool opportunity to show him, the rest of the band and their management what I’m capable of photo/video wise. As for do’s and don’t’s:

DO: get in a routine of having a quick turnaround time, be friendly to everyone, be open to hanging and getting food/coffee, and listen to ideas that the band/management has.

DON’T: impose yourself during other bands’ sets, especially if they have a photog with them, have a poopy attitude — it’s totally fine to feel bummy some days and not want to do anything, I’m queen of that, just don’t make it your overall attitude –, lots of bragging about being on a tour, that’s more so a pet peeve to a lot of people, just be a nice, friendly person! It goes the longest way.

In addition to touring, you have contributed work for Fearless Records, Alternative Press Magazine, and Rock Sound, as well as created some of your own video work. Is there a particular project you have worked on in the past that you are especially proud of? If so, which is it and why?

I really enjoy doing little videos here and there, I was in a 2-year video production vocational program during high school that I loved to death. My dream job during that time was to tour and take photos/videos and it’s cool seeing that come to fruition. RF’s promos in Feb 2016 were really fun as well, we took over my mom’s house in Indiana to take those. I ended up really happy with how those turned out and they opened a bunch of doors to other music opportunities. I’m hoping for the future that I’ll be able to write/direct/edit a full music video, I have a ton of ideas but it’s hard without the proper resources. If that ever happens that might be the project I’m most proud of.

During your time on Warped Tour last summer, you did a post on your website called “Ladies of Warped Tour 2016.” In your opinion, do you feel the female population is under represented in the music and/or photography industries and do you have any advice for females out there that are having a tough time breaking into either of the industries?

The representation of women in the music/photography scenes has been a super hot topic lately and while it’s frustrating at times, it’s also very rewarding. While I never meant the “Ladies of Warped Tour 2016” to be a political statement, it was more so a personal mission to make sure these cool bands got the recognition they deserve. It was fun putting that together, even though it was pretty short since there were less than 10 bands with females in them overall during the week I was on the tour. There are a lot of badass ladies I’ve met throughout the last few years that get me more excited about this job than any other random dude I’ve come across.

Even the majority of photographers I know now are all women, my friend, Allison Lanza just recently put together a blog named WIMINsider that highlights working females in the music world which is so dang cool! There are artists, merch managers, road crew members, management, musicians, you name it that have such smart, strong women that it’s empowering to see, and it’s only going to grow from here. Also, RF’s manager, Evange Livanos is the coolest boss lady ever. As for advice, be driven and focused, be nice, you’ll face a lot of rejection and being overlooked, it sucks, but be confident in your work and DO THE DAMN THING.

As an artist who is pretty active on her social media accounts, do you feel as though social media platforms have helped your career in any way? If so, how?

Absolutely, Twitter was my social media of choice when I first started and I think it has developed into a way for people to experience people’s personalities from afar. Instagram as well, while Insta has a much more refined presence, if you have a solid sense of yourself and how you want the world to portray you, you can use social media as a tool for that. I post very much how I converse in person and I want to be seen as a real person. That definitely translates career wise as well, people are very quick to pick up on if you’re not who you seem to be online, being friendly and respectful is universal. Having some funny stuff helps too, I can’t count how many people I’ve befriended through stupid/funny stuff online. Also, Facebook is totally useless, boo Facebook.

As 2017 continues on, are there any bands you are hoping to photograph this year or projects you are working on that you can share with us?

I’m really hoping I’ll finally get to cover The 1975 this year, that’s been a goal of mine for the past few years now, maybe 2017 is the year! And so far no projects, I’m moving to Arizona in a week so I’m hoping to get some photo stuff rolling out there asap.

Is there any advice you could give to aspiring photographers out there who are looking to start building their portfolios?

This question always seems to be answered the same from what I have seen over the years, so obviously shoot and keep shooting, that is the absolute groundwork. But, remain humble and open to advice from people that you personally look up to, that goes a long way. Make friends with the people around you, I’ve made a ton while shooting in Chicago, but also there is a lot of “backstabbing” and sneaky stuff that happens as well, I’ve wasted a lot of time being upset about dumb things and it never even affected my career path, just remain a friendly and nice person. I’m going to say be friendly and nice a million times because you will 100% absolutely go farther than some guy who’s super condescending and rude.

Also, the music photography industry isn’t butterflies and rainbows, it’s very competitive and frustrating and it’s very easy for it to inflate your ego — don’t let it. It is hard, it’s hard to stay inspired and motivated, it’s easy to shoot a show and dump your photos in Lightroom, it’s hard to maintain your creative energy. You will get frustrated and want to quit, this happens to EVERYONE all the time, like literally I haven’t met a person that didn’t want to sell their camera at one point (or multiple points). It’s also totally fine to realize that your dream job of being a touring photographer isn’t actually what you want at all, and there’s no shame in finding other areas that fulfill you more. I work for a fundraising company that works exclusively with charities, it’s amazing and it’s a great balance to the photography stuff.

But lastly, don’t pigeonhole yourself. You don’t have to be only a music photographer, you will get burnt out so quickly. I enjoy doing fun portraits and wedding photography. Explore the things that really peak your interest and you’ll do just fine.

Stay connected with Megan: Twitter // Instagram // Facebook // Website

Interview by Rachael Dowd

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