Photographer Amanda Leigh Smith is a guru of the spontaneous look. Her travelogues and fashion portraits seem to have been magically pooled together at shutter speed. Whips of light coincide with carefree moves. Women lounge around the outdoors, playful and worthy of a rock n’ roll soundtrack.
Smith grew up at a time when film cameras still had mass appeal. This was not so long ago—Smith is fairly young considering the amount of work she’s published—and yet the story already has a nostalgic bent. At 12, she used drugstore cameras or the family 35mm for snapshots of pets, cousins, and even strangers in parking lots. Smith has not let go of film photography since. Everything in her portfolio, including commissioned work, comes from spools of negative.
What appeals to Smith constantly changes. She does not hold to one standard of beauty, so she has been open to a variety of projects. In her early twenties, she photographed bands for a Portland newspaper. The year after she started a personal series called “Domestic Things.” In these portraits of people in their homes, her eye for the unusual was already in display. Work comes to those who work—it was a busy a time for Smith. The following year, 2011, she got commissioned to do the lookbook of Sugarhigh+Lovestoned. Since then she has had a string of clients ranging from indie brands to music festivals. In 2014, she also documented a motorcycle tour of South America.
In the following interview, Smith reveals how travel and textile inspire the bohemian fantasies she has come to be known for.
What is the place of film photography in the digital world?
I think film will always have a place because it is the foundation of photography. It takes more patience and trust to work with film photographers and I think our digital world could use a little more of both.
Have you tried any Lomography camera?
I used to shoot often with a Diana F+. I had a 35mm film back and loved shooting with the flash and flash gels. I used it to photograph my friends and personal adventures.
What camera do you use for your photo projects?
I mostly shot with an Olympus OM-1 from 2007 to 2014. After I took the camera on a four-month long motorcycle adventure through South America it got pretty thrashed and stopped working well. I upgraded to a Nikon FM2 and have shot everything with that since.
Do you shape series organically or conceptually?
My process depends on the type of project I am working on, but is usually a mix of both. I usually create an overall creative direction often fueled by inspiration from a location or styling concept. I often gather visual inspiration to create a mood board for anyone I may be working with or just for myself. Then when it’s time to shoot my approach is mostly organic and decisions are made based on the light, environment and how things make me feel. It’s rare for clients to have shot lists; things are pretty loose and they usually just let me do my thing. Sometimes though I prefer to be more organized and intentional.
How do you plan for fashion shoots?
Most of the time I come up with a concept often based around a location that inspires me. Sometimes it’s a styling concept. I usually work with a stylist or the model and I will style it. Sometimes I find locations unexpectedly during normal life routines or from traveling. Even when I’m not planning for a specific shoot I always have my eyes out for interesting locations.
How do you choose your models?
Depending on who my client is I go back and forth from working with professional to non-professional models. Either way I prefer working with people with vibrant and complex spirits who are brave, confident, who have vivid imaginations and want to have fun.
What kind of lighting are you drawn to?
I try to plan shoots around the time of day when the light is not too harsh, but sometimes you have to work with what’s there and make the best of it. I’m usually drawn to warm, late-afternoon light, overcast days and dusk.
How does travel change your experience of a place?
I think travel is necessary to really experience a place and a necessity for our growth as individuals. You can’t really experience a place unless you also hear, smell, taste what it has to offer, and meet the people who live there.
What is photography to you?
Photography is a way to experience life. It’s an excuse to explore, a tool to bring life to dreams, a medium to inspire, educate and share stories. It’s my favorite way to communicate. It consumes my mind daily and I am always thinking about composition, lighting and patterns even when I don’t have a camera in hand.
To learn more about Amanda Leigh Smith, visit her online trove. Photos in this article are published with the artist’s permission.