This week’s Questions with a Pro features, Leah Overstreet.
For two decades, Leah Overstreet has specialized in portrait, lifestyle, and documentary photography for editorial and commercial clients. She has worked as an assistant photographer, a photo editor for magazines and a photo director for television. Here, Leah details her experience as Photo Director for MTV and how she got there, the steps it took to open up her Frontrunner Gallery in TriBeCa, and her strategies for overcoming creative block.
We asked: Please describe your path to Photo Director for MTV. What was this experience like, and how did it impact your photography career?
Leah said: I began my career as an assistant photographer at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Three years later I packed up my bags and moved to NYC not knowing a soul. I was fortunate enough to make some connections in DC that got me in the door for an interview at Conde Nast. My first job was working as an assistant for the Creative Director at GQ. From there, I went on to do freelance photo editing at Vogue and then worked as a photo editor at Men’s Journal Magazine. After working in editorial, I moved onto television and work as a Photo Director for MTV Networks for 6 years.
Working as a photo editor and director was extremely valuable for my career as a photographer. I learned both sides of the business and how important it is for a photographer to make the life of the editor easy because editors are juggling so much. As an editor and director, I worked with some amazing photographers and learned the value of being a flexible photographer who gets the job done.
I also learned how important it is for a photographer to send promos and to tailor their work to the type of work the client they are reaching out to shoots. I had a huge bulletin board in my office with promos that I liked and would reference it often when looking to assign the next shoot.
We asked: What are some of the key steps you had to take before opening the Frontrunner Gallery in TriBeCa? Please explain.
Leah said: Some friends and I decided to get our own space. The space started out as a photo studio, painting studio, and editing space. We wanted to build a community where artists could interact. It was hard to find a place for up and coming artists to show their work in the city, so we decided to also make it a gallery space where we could show our own work and that of other emerging artists.
We asked: What do you think is the most important risk you have taken in your photography career? How did it pay off?
Leah said: I left NYC after 10 years and decided to go out on my own as a photographer and step away from the full time corporate position I had held as a photo director. It was scary, but worth it. I learned so much and really had to push myself to get out of my comfort zone and to make connections, get assignments and shoot lots of personal work.
We asked: What is your strategy for overcoming creative block? Do you find yourself needing to turn to this frequently?
Leah said: I look at other’s work that inspires me. I do lots of research before a shoot regarding the subject and concept, so that I have ideas and backup ideas in my head if everything goes out the window (which it often does).
We asked: What is one goal you have for yourself that keeps you motivated?
Leah said: Personal work is exciting for me to shoot and I also find editors love this. I love photographing with my Hasselblad film camera. I tend to take photos of strangers and on the street. When I approach someone with this big film camera, folks are curious and it’s a great way to start a conversation. I love having to wait for the photos to come back from the lab. It makes it super exciting, like in the old days.
Find more of Leah’s work on her website.