Articles

Rising Light: Peter Leal’s journey from acting, dancing & acrobatics to photography

27 July, 2017

Written by: Harley Anderson

Peter Leal recently completed his final class in independent study at Orange Coast College School of Photography in Costa Mesa, CA but unlike many of his fellow students he is no way first starting out. Nor is photography his first love – in his past life he has worked as an actor, dancer, and ready for this – an acrobat, but this is a story for another day.

Peter came to still photography via an interest in cinematography. Once hooked, he immersed himself in every film format he could find including 35mm, Medium Format (with film and digital backs), and 4x5 view cameras. The way Peter sees things, you have to know and understand the basics before you hard out to open seas.

Never one to settle for minimum requirements for anything, once he completed all of the required classes he needed for a Certificate in Photography, he continued to take every other OCC photo-related course he could squeeze into his work schedule along with countless hours in the darkroom and digital labs mastering the printmaking part of the equation.

Unsurprisingly, Peter quickly grasped the importance of lighting technique and began making good use of the school's Profoto lighting arsenal. During his time at OCC Peter has mastered a number of studio flash tools including Profoto D4 2400 Air US power packs, Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flash monolights, and all of the light modifiers that go sailing with them.

"When traveling or shooting outdoors, I carry my Profoto B1 Kit with two B1's, Profoto Air Remotes and a Profoto Beauty Dish, both of which I was able to obtain with my EDU Student Discount. Since then I've added some modifiers to my arsenal such as the Profoto OCF colors gels, Profoto Grids and Profoto OCF softboxes. If I need more power, I rent from Pro Photo Connection in Irvine, California, Samy's in OC/LA or most recently Aperture Studios in Miami."

Leal was fortunate in that was able to earn money as a photographer early on. Starting with weddings (and a lot of assisting), he quickly expanded his repertoire to include music festivals including Lightning in a Bottle, Burning Man and Coachella.

Most recently he photographed an international campaign for the Ultra Angels, a company of world-class dancers representing all the countries the Ultra Music Festival takes on during its tour. His final fashion photography assignment at OCC under the tutelage of his instructor Agatha Ibranossian went on to become a full spread feature in Dark Beauty Magazine.

Leal also had the good fortune of receiving a Rick Malmin Memorial Scholarship from OCC, which he used to produce a solo exhibition on campus highlighting some of his theatrical work with the Lucent Dossier Circus in Los Angeles. "Working on this solo exhibition made me realize that shooting what I know and love within the theatrical world is where I was coming full circle within the craft. Some people may call that a style, although I like to take risks and try different things whenever I can."

Peter has since been applying the theatrical lighting techniques he has mastered to portraits of performers, musicians, artists and in his fashion and commercial work.

Peter Leal counts the late photographer Herb Ritts as a major influence of his work. "God rest his soul. He left way to soon and behind a lasting legacy. As a young boy I remember collecting postcards of his work. Christy Turlington, Madonna, Johnny Depp and Clint Eastwood. He was a master of tonality within his black and white portraits of faces we've all come to love over the years and somehow still managed to make us feel connected to them because of the rare level of intimacy he captured. He was able to connect with his subjects. They trusted him."

As for where he sees himself professionally five years down the line, Peter Leal is pretty clear on his mission in life and how he's going go obtain his goals. "

"If I can keep meeting new people every day I work and delivering our concepts into a visual experience that is emotionally palpable while continuing to travel the world on bigger and more challenging assignments ... that would keep me very happy. There is immense power in pre-visualization in photography and in life. If you keep doing something every day to get to that image in your mind, you will get there. And before you know it, you're already on your way to the next image." When asked to describe his dream assignment Peter already had a goal in mind - "Photographing portraits of all the Academy Award Nominees for Vanity Fair."

More of Peter Leal's work can be found on his website and on Instagram.

Peter Leal's Lighting Toolbox:

• Profoto D4 2400 Air US Power packs
• Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flash
• Profoto Air Remotes
• Profoto Beauty Dishes
• Profoto OCF Softboxes
• Profoto OFC Color Gels
• Profoto Grids

Written by: Harley Anderson