Those guys that are always trying something new. The folks who try something just to see what happens. That’s Eric James Leffler. Scroll on down and you’ll take notice of the almost-magical double exposures that pop up often on the Indie Film Lab instagram feed (we dig them!) Since 2010, Eric, a Walnut Creek, Ca. resident, has worked professionally as a wedding and portrait photographer in the San Francisco area. A year abroad in Australia with camera in hand supplied his initial interest in photography. The adventurous spirit of film photography won him back. An element of surprise, both in double exposures and the process of shooting film overall, has become an evident part of his work. Trying something unique, picking up a different body, etc.—it’s clear he’s having a blast. Thanks for taking us along for the ride, Eric!
Y’all follow along this week as Eric teaches more about how he works, and plays.
IFL: How did photography become a part of your life?
EJ: I always enjoyed art growing up—pencil sketching as a kid, graphic design in high school. I definitely get my artistic side from my mom, who is still painting, creating and inspiring me to this day. Photography for me came later. I spent a year abroad living in Australia, and before I left, my uncle handed me down an old 35mm Minolta X-700 SLR and some lenses. I spent most of that year taking travel photos, learning how to use the kit and really appreciating photography for the first time. I remember how inspired I was, and the rush of dropping film off at the generic one-hour-photo labs in Sydney and seeing the 4×6 prints the next day. When I returned home, time went by, I got caught up in the day jobs, I didn’t pick up a camera or do anything creative for years, I played soccer, I enjoyed a social life, paid my bills, life went on until I took a family cruise to Alaska in 2008. My dad had picked up a Nikon CoolPix P80 for the family to use, which I happily commandeered. That little fella was the fanciest thing I’d seen with 10mp, manual control and an 18x zoom. The excitement of taking pictures and creating something came flooding back. A passion I didn’t know I still had was reigniting. The following year he helped me finally invest in my first DSLR, a Nikon D90 kit. Without his help, I may still be holding out for my first DSLR and who knows what I would be doing today.
IFL: Why film?
EJ: The number one reason for me is pretty simple—it’s flat out FUN! As someone who shoots digital for the majority of my paid work (30-40 weddings a year and many portrait sessions in between), DSLR’s are necessary tools for what I do. They are work horses. But for me, they all start to feel the same after a while.
Today, I am very much a hybrid shooter in every sense, shooting primarily digital for my paid work and film for all of my personal work. With my personal work and photography at it’s core for me is most often simply about creating something. It is an artistic endeavor, a creative pursuit, a visual pleasure. The simple need to create something new is what drives me.
After several years of shooting nothing but digital, I felt a growing need to switch things up and shake myself out of my comfort zone. I am constantly thinking of what to do next, ways to try something different, to make something original, to do something unique. Shooting with film was one way to satisfy this. There are so many unique elements to the film world of which I knew little to nothing about two years ago: 6×7’s, 645’s, rangefinders, Land cameras, waist level viewfinders, eye-level prisms, C-41, E6, film backs, dark slides, incident meters, pushing film, rating film, AIS lenses, APO lenses, vintage Russian lenses, A-76 batteries, 2CR5 batteries, the list goes on. Shooting film opened up a whole new world to me in many ways. One I am still exploring.
Another reason is the change of pace and process it provides. The entire process is more involved, from choosing which film stock to buy, finding space in your fridge to store it, choosing which to use on a given day, switching the film spools, loading the film, thinking about every exposure and working with limitations. Making notes, keeping the exposed film somewhere safe, packing up the USPS box, dropping it in the mail, waiting a few weeks for the scans, and finally…experiencing the joy of seeing my photos for the first time. This all makes me value these photos that much more. This change of pace and process helps me. It fuels me and balances me from my digital work.
All of this would fly out the window if the end results weren’t also spectacular. It has been said by many, film has soul. It has character. It has a depth to it that is hard to describe at times. No offense to the one-hour photo labs in Sydney, but the “look” of film is something I didn’t fully appreciate until I received my first scans from Indie Film Lab in 2014. I’ve been hooked ever since.
IFL: Do you travel often for work? What does your everyday look like when not traveling?
EJ: I love to travel. I was blessed to get some great opportunities during my first few years of business shooting weddings in Hawaii, Mexico, Oregon, New Orleans and Florence, Italy. Most of my weddings and portrait sessions are in and around the San Francisco Bay Area which I can never complain about. I am very grateful to call this beautiful area home and to visit different parts of it every week.
IFL: Do you have a favorite geographical place to shoot?
EJ: My go to spot is a local hilltop—a nice open space up the road from my house. It’s great for Golden Hour, which is really more like Golden 10 minutes. But oh, those 10 minutes.
IFL: What’s your favorite film stock?
EJ: I’ve come to really like Kodak Gold 200 and Max 400 for warmer golden hour shots. I like Portra 800 for cooler indoor window light settings. Usually HP5 for B/W. Ilford 3200 on 120. Kodak Pro-Image 100 is nice, but not made anymore I don’t think (can still be found on Ebay.) Would love to shoot more with CineStill.
IFL: What other art forms or artists are you drawn to? What/who/where gets you inspired?
EJ: There are so many talented photographers I have drawn and continue to draw inspiration from. Too many to list. I am working on finding more inspiration from other art forms outside of photography, like cinema and music.
In many ways, it’s the film gear itself that fires me up more than anything. I just find these older cameras and lenses so much fun to use. They all have their unique character and personality and inspire me constantly to put them to use.
IFL: Any gear secrets you’re up for sharing?
EJ: I’ve become a bit of a film camera collector these past couple years. I like trading in gear for something different every now and then. For me, cameras are a lot like cities—I kind of want to visit the best ones and my favorites I’ll keep returning to. I completely agree with Ryan Brenizer, who acknowledges that while “owning extra gear is a novelty, it is also a great way to avoid one of the biggest challenges for a full time photographer: avoiding burnout.”
The film cameras I keep going back to the most are probably the Nikon FM3A (once my FE2 stopped working) and Leica M6. The Contax T2 or Olympus Stylus usually go in my pocket when I head to the bar or to the game with friends. I take along my Nikon F6 for when I visit my brother and his family since auto-focus is quite handy with two little nieces and three pets running around. The Voigtlander Bessaflex might be my dark horse favorite for portraits. It’s so simple and smooth and great for when I want to use older 42mm screw mount lens like the Jupiter-9, Helios 44-2, or my new favorite, the Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm 2.4.
I’ve recently been experimenting with older uncoated lenses to have fun with sun flare, many of them under $100 on Ebay.
The Hold Fast Money Maker straps (especially the new skinny versions) are the best option I’ve found for carrying 2-3 cameras around by far, and the cloth pouch they come in works great as a film pouch.
Can you handle skinny jeans?
I’m not sure skinny jeans could handle me.
What makes you dance?
I wouldn’t say I dance often but the mood can certainly strike at a moment’s notice. I learned I could dance at a George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic concert in 2003. I had no idea.
When I am not listening to the ballgame on AM radio or Howard Stern on Sirius, I usually have it tuned to BB King’s Bluesville or Alt Nation.