Casey Lee keeps it about as real as it gets at his home base in Dallas, Tex. Sure, he’s a daytime mechanical design engineer and self-proclaimed math nerd (plus a husband and dad to Lola the dachshund), but some serious intensity seeps out of his work as a music and portrait photographer. His interests—good music, burritos, cycling, clean lines, and ice hockey—all look especially rad on his favorite Tri-X stock. Casey’s portraits capture eyes like few others and all have a connection to the camera that words can’t quite cover today. Though you’ll find him (and most of his killer feed) from under concert lights in nearby Austin and other towns for shows, he’s easily inclined to wonder under sunny, California skies for a change of scenery.
IFL – How did photography become a part of your life?
CL – I had been taking photos with my dad’s point and shoots for a few years through early high-school and dabbled a bit with some cameras in high school for a digital graphics and animation course. After getting into the animation portion of the class using Maya, I eventually got hung up on doing camera setups for rendering and playing with focal lengths and aperture combinations to introduce a more cinematic look through some minor background blur. This dabbling in animation pushed me to ask my parents for an older Canon Digital Rebel for Christmas and that was the start of it all.
IFL-What/who/where gets you inspired?
CL – Friends and music. I love being able to hang out with friends and photograph them and what they’re doing. Whether it’s my wife hanging out in the yard of the AirBNB we’re staying at, good friends playing a show (double whammy) or sitting on a bus or in a van going from venue to venue. Also, getting to shoot something new to me.
IFL – Why film?
CL – For me it’s a combination of things. I love the challenge shooting film in situations that aren’t considered quite ideal—live music, ice hockey—generally low-light and high-speed subjects that can be difficult to track and, in the case of live music, quirky to meter properly in traditional venues. Second, I love the look and feel, if you will, of film. It just seems like, especially with portraits, when I pull the big Pentax 67 up to my eye the subjects bring out a certain intensity in the eyes. When shooting music it just gives a feel to the image that I don’t think I generally get with a digital SLR—I’m not as patient or possibly even as observant and manage to miss moments or wind up with 18 frames of essentially the same thing. With the medium format gear the feel just can’t be matched with some of the constraints of live-music photography (space in a photo pit to get your angle, size and height of the stage, etc.) and you can get some really cinematic images thanks to the effective 35mm focal lengths of some lenses. I also love shooting with my Leica because it is so easy to just disappear and snap a quick frame without being noticed like you would shooting a big SLR.
IFL – What’s your favorite film stock?
CL – Tri-X. I love black and white, and always come back to Tri-X. It’s just so damn versatile and I love the grains and tones. I’ve dabbled with HP5 and while I like it, I don’t quite love it as much. When I do shoot color, I love the color and contrast of Portra 800 and seem to shoot it the most, at least when it isn’t too bright out. I’ve also finally started to like Portra 400 and am getting colors and contrast that I like a lot more than some early scans where I was trying to shoot it like 400H and overexposing two or more stops.
IFL – Do you have a favorite geographical place to shoot?
CL – I love to work in California. The light just always seems incredible and I often find myself inspired to try new things when I’m away from home. I also really enjoyed my 8 hours in New York this summer between my last day on Warped and flying home the next morning. I walked from my hotel over the Brooklyn Bridge into Brooklyn and just see such a cool city on foot. I wish I could have spent more time there and look forward to getting back up there soon.
IFL – What other art forms or artists are you drawn to?
CL – I’m not that well versed in a lot of art, but there are a lot of photographers who’s work I love. Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Lewis Hine, and so many more (thanks to a semester in an art history class dedicated to the history of photography).
IFL – If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be doing?
CL – This is a pretty easy one for me since my career isn’t photography-centric at all. My day job as a mechanical design engineer is something I love and that I would easily be doing with or without photography in my life because it gives me a creative outlet that, while not the same as photography, does still satisfy my desire to be creative.
IFL – Any challenges you find in being a film photographer? Or supporting yourself as an artist?
CL – Keeping the work that I like coming can be tricky, but I’ve been able to find some great editors at some online publications who are super supportive of me dropping a few rolls of film in to the middle of shoots. I think the biggest challenge is trying to keep shooting film when a quick-turn, digital product seems to check most of the boxes for so many shoots.
IFL – Favorite moment/or one of favorites you’ve ever captured.
CL – With music I love crowd interaction, especially if band members hop the barricade and get out into the crowd. The intensity from the crowd and the band seems to accrue and build so quickly and it certainly makes some rad photos with the crowd enveloping the subject. I also love the quiet moments, regardless of subject.
IFL – Any gear secrets you’re up for sharing?
CL – Shoot with the camera that feels right. I use my Pentax 67 for so many things that would make most people shake their heads, but whenever I get it out of the bag it makes me not worry as much as shooting with other cameras. Same goes with my Leica. When I have the opportunity to shoot film, those are my go-tos. They feel solid while shooting, make beautiful negatives and make me happy to shoot with. I still use 35mm SLRs, digital and film, but not as much as the Pentax and Leica. The feel just isn’t there for me. But there is always a time for those as well. I love my EOS-3 when shooting fast moving subjects that I can’t quite anticipate the movement of to pre-focus and want to shoot wide, especially with the eye controlled AF. Why Canon ever got rid of that feature is beyond me. It has saved my butt more than a few times when relying on AF to focus.
IFL – Do you travel often for work? What does your everyday look like when not traveling?
CL – Not too often. Most of my work occurs within 50 miles of home, but a couple of touring runs and a few sessions in Austin (a short 3 hr road trip away) do get me out of town a bit.
What makes you feel awesome?
Live music, riding my road bike, and playing ice hockey. They are all outlets for me and provide some often needed stress relief.
Food you love:
Tacos, sushi, vegan treats
Can you handle skinny jeans?
All I own, in the denim department at least.
Oh man, this is probably the hardest thing to explain. Genre-wise, I’m all over the place. Hip-hop, post rock, hardcore, metal, pop-punk, the occasional top 40. Bands I’ve been listening to a lot lately have been: Saosin, PVRIS, I Killed the Prom Queen, Bury Your Dead, Neck Deep, Sturgill Simpson, Explosions in the Sky, Set Your Goals, Brand New, Bring Me the Horizon, letlive, Robyn, This Wild Life, The Wonder Years and Basement.
Do your family/friends think photography is cool or nerdy?
Not really, occasionally catch some flak over some old branding materials from coworkers, but everyone is pretty supportive of what I do.