With her work featured in the pages of British Vogue and sold in retail stores like Urban Outfitters and Nordstrom, there's no questioning the fact that Leah Flores has turned her passion for photography and illustration into a successful career. Though not initially starting out in a creative field–getting her BA in Psychology and Humanities–she couldn’t stifle her need for an outlet from the stresses of social work, leaning on creativity as her support system. She eventually turned her art into a thriving business, pairing stunning visuals with insightful quotes we can all relate to.
Having spent her early days immersed in the beauty of nature, her love of the outdoors is apparent in every beautiful piece. Each creation boasts a style that evolved over time from designs for her own personal motivation, to help inspire her to continue leading a life of adventure with a wildly vivid imagination. Leah’s work inspires the viewer to get up, get out, and get living.
We were grateful to be able to catch up with Leah for a Behind The Lens look into her journey.
Tell us a bit about your journey into photography and illustration.
I had the amazing opportunity to spend my childhood in National Parks in the Western United States. My father works for Federal Highway and I would travel and live with him as he was stationed in some amazing places. We lived for several years right in the middle of Yellowstone National Park. I was homeschooled as we had to move so frequently, but I loved it. I would hike into the woods with an armload of books, drawing pads, a Kodak disposable camera, and spend the day getting lost in my imagination.
However, I didn't know that it was possible to support myself through art (starving artist is a frequently heard term) so I started on a different career path in mental health. I worked for several years in the field, but spent my free time taking photos and illustrating as a creative outlet.
One day I stumbled across the websites Society6 and RedBubble that allow users to upload their designs onto products like phone cases, art prints, pillows, and more. I posted a few designs on a whim and that's where everything started!
If you could define your style, what would you call it?
'Adventure Inspiration.' I created this style of work as a form of personal motivation. I grew up (and still am) a tomboy and spent nearly every waking hour climbing trees, hiking, and exploring the great outdoors. When I started college and then entered the workforce as a social worker I noticed myself getting increasingly stressed, anxious, and generally depressed. I contributed it to all of the life changes I was going through – moving, challenging academics, playing collegiate soccer, new job… but after a spring break camping trip with friends I realized how disconnected I had become with the natural world and that I needed time outside to recharge and to be my best self. I made posters for my dorm room with photography from hikes and wrote inspiring quotes over the top of them with a sharpie. Those dorm room posters evolved into the style that I have today. It is bright, colorful, encouraging, and hopefully inspiring to the viewers to take the time to have their own adventures.
What’s a must have in your gear bag?
I take the Moment Wide Lens with me everywhere. Depending on where I am hiking, camping, and adventuring I do not want to take all of my heavy gear with me so I bring along my Moment Lens! It easily attaches to my iPhone and creates beautiful wide angled shots with no distortion. Many of my current designs were shot with the Moment Wide Lens!
Where do you call home?
I have lived all over Washington and Oregon and I am currently living way, way up in Northern Washington exploring North Cascades National Park, the Hoh Rainforest, and other wildly beautiful places. Next summer I will most likely be making my permanent residence in Seattle, Washington!
Take us through a typical day of shooting.
Most of my shoots aren't pre-conceived, but are organically woven into my life. I love being outside and exploring. I just take my camera along with me and photograph whatever catches my eye! I might take one image during a hike or a thousand depending on what inspires me.
What keeps you inspired?
Spending time with other creatively minded people whether they are authors, photographers, makeup artists, illustrators, or any other individual that thinks outside the box inspires me. I spent last weekend at a photography conference watching my friend and wildly talented photographer, Rob Woodcox, give a workshop on creativity and ever since my mind has been spinning out with ideas and collaborations! I believe that it is important to surround yourself with a community that lifts you up, challenges you, and inspires you to be your best self.
What was the first piece you created that made you proud?
My design, 'Great Adventure,' will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first of my pieces that I felt really represented what I had been envisioning for my work. The image isn't perfect. It was shot with some old, cheap point and shoot camera that I had and I didn't know what half of the buttons did, but it felt right. 'Great Adventure' was also one of my first designs to also get picked up by a major publication! It was featured in British Vogue's 2013 June issue, which still blows my mind.
What challenges have you faced while creating?
My biggest challenge is creating structure for myself as a full-time, self-employed artist. I have difficulty balancing the business side of being an artist and the creative side. I don't set aside enough time to step away from the emails, contracts, etc and go take more pictures, come up with new project ideas, or to work on new illustration. I am working on setting a schedule for myself!
How much post processing goes into a completed piece?
I shoot in RAW, cull in Photo Mechanic, edit in Lightroom, and then bring some of my favorite shots into Photoshop or Alien Skin for more fine-tuning. Then, based on the image, I brainstorm a quote or illustration that I feel would enhance the design.
What is your favorite shooting location?
Anywhere in the Pacific Northwest! I have lived here my entire life and can't imagine being anywhere else. I have mountains, forests, deserts, waterfalls, beaches, and countless gorgeous landscapes in my backyard. It is a wonderland. My favorite type of scenery depends on the day, my mood, my project… so many choices.
What would be your dream location?
My dream is to travel to Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska. My favorite landscapes to shoot are rugged mountains and woodlands. The park has no roads or trails and you have to access it by plane! The thought of exploring such a beautiful place that is so untouched by civilization… that is still wild… inspires me so much.
What are your plans for the future?
I am going to start teaching photography workshops in 2016! I am excited to share what I have learned about not only the technical aspects of photography, but finding your style, licensing your work, writing contracts, and being a successful artist.
I am also learning how to code and I am excited to be able to further control design elements in my work!
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Find your style. Follow your passion and create work that you are excited about. Everyone has a unique voice, but I see too many young artists never step outside the box and only create uninspired, inferior copies of their influences.
What is going to make you successful is your originality. You are made of so many unique experiences, thoughts, and dreams that make up your distinct style as an artist. Grow into yourself and your own inventiveness.
Are you a photographer? Would you like to be interviewed for our Behind The Lens series? Leave your website in the comments below!