In the summer of 2014, I was selected to be a part of the Pittsburgh group of the Young Photographers Alliance Mentoring Program. This was my first opportunity to work with professional photographers and receive gradual feedback of a project from start to finish in a one-on-one setting. This process taught me that different perspectives ultimately push a project forward and elevate the concepts behind it.
Following the YPA Gallery at the Art Directors Club in New York City, I was inspired to work more in the form of series and collaborate with other artists. “Out of the Fog” became my next large scaled personal project, working with makeup artists and hair stylists, released on my website in January of 2015. This personal project presents two portraits of ten different models. The photos were created after interviewing each model and designed to symbolically show the hidden truths and perception of self-worth. Through creative, metaphoric photographs, the goal of the project was to make positive self-worth evident. It is my hope that viewers will be motivated to explore their own self-worth by examining the value instilled presently in their lives. This mission continues to be sewn into each image I create today.
With a heart for serving, I was given an urge to share what I had learned about photography since I picked up a camera. I began planning, organizing, and leading beginner to advanced workshops for all ages. “Lessons with Leah” workshops of cameras and also Adobe Photoshop lessons began in 2014. While finishing courses at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, I was truly honored to hold an Internship with Pittsburgh fashion photographer Kaela Speicher.
With months of one-on-one training in technical and post-production skills, online presence, and maintaining organization and communication while developing personal projects, I was able to integrate what I had learned in the past several years with real life experience. Shortly after, in June of 2015, I graduated with my Bachelor of Science degree in Photography from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. In the following months, I achieved a position as Contract Retoucher for American Eagle Outfitters and provided other freelance work for clients in the form of editorial portraits, head shots, and digitally restoring antique photographs.
On January 1, 2016 I moved to Los Angeles, California as I was offered a live-in nanny job. I moved across the country, almost on a whim, because I knew this opportunity was a way to branch out and explore if my interest in the film industry was something I wanted to pursue with photography. The time that I have been in Los Angeles, I’ve been given amazing opportunities to travel to places such as Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and all around Southern California.
As far as photography opportunities, some freelance work I am proud to have been a part of is behind the scenes photos with Director Evan Kaufmann and an editorial shoot with actress, dancer, and singer, Alyson Stoner. Since the YPA Mentoring Program, it has been reinforced that networking is everything. Every chance I have been given within photography has been because of connections I had made in the past, often times by helping others make connections by taking a little time out of my personal schedule.
So what’s next? I plan to continue learning more in-depth retouching and creative compositing techniques, which I will use in future shoots. I also have another personal project up my sleeve, and hope to start creating very soon. Another thing that has been on my heart recently is the urge travel to Switzerland, where my great-great-great grandma and grandpa Schonauer came from. I hope to encourage others to have faith that anything is possible with God and to live through their passions, as He will take you across the street, across the country, and maybe just across the world.
Top photo: Portrait of photographer Leah Schonauer in front of the Golden Gate Bridge before biking across. She traveled to San Francisco in February 2016 after moving to Southern California.