I have been actively involved with photography and art for more than 35 years now. When I’m not taking photos in the field or in my home studio, I am either learning some new technique in photography or Photoshop, drawing or painting, fishing, building a custom fishing rod, or bowling. I love reading and watching tutorials in order to advance my skills in the areas that interest me. As I get older, the more I learn and realize that there is still so much more to learn. My education is ongoing. I am published with I.U. Press / Quarry Books (seven books), Brown Trout Publishers, Tide-Mark Press, Shutterbug, Digital Photographer, Photoshop User, Sun Day Greetings, Pro Nature Photographer, destination guides as well as having photos hanging in restaurants, hospitals, nature centers, and various other outlets. Five of my books are co-authored with my wife.
My style, even though it’s digital today, has its roots firmly planted in darkroom techniques based on my many years as a custom darkroom printer, almost a lifetime in fact. I find the “wet lab” techniques are still my favorite look and way to go. I prefer photos that don't look over worked, over saturated etc., but rather have an overall nice balance to them. In the days of film, contrast used to be selected by the type of film you shot then paired to the grade of paper you printed on. This was done no matter the type of film you used. Then time was spent burning and dodging, even burning and dodging with filters when needed when you made a custom print. I personally still like this look to this day. I also believe my art training and background helps to bring out the depth in my photos, defining shapes, contour, lighting, nuances, etc. I feel It gives my photos a subtle depth and character that many people pick up but can’t quite put their finger on, but they know it's there. My art style and techniques are also evident in my processing, it’s just a different medium today is all.
Photography, for me at least, started out as a hobby that quickly ignited into a fiery passion, then into a lifelong career. I am strictly self taught in that I have had to figure things out for myself until much, much later in life. I had no one to show me how or to ask advice of in my photography beginnings. I have taken photo’s with many different kinds of cameras through the years, some being as basic as you can imagine, while others have been quite sophisticated. I joined the school newspaper and yearbook my freshman year. There I worked as a staff photographer as well as a black and white darkroom technician and stuck with it all four years. The photo training there was about as informal as it gets, and on a Yashica Twin Lens at that! I was simply handed a twin lens camera, a hand held meter and told to go take photos without any further instruction other than how to load the camera. I learned from trial and error, lots of errors, and soon realized that there is no better way to learn, hence being truly self taught. My darkroom training here was pretty much the same. That same year I bought a second hand Minolta Hi Matic E 35mm range finder. I was headed to Canada for the first time and felt I needed to create paper memories of the trip. I was quickly hooked and couldn't get enough! The next year my parents bought me the first 35mm SLR I would use for the remainder of my teenage years. The year after that I got my first job and bought my first darkroom from that same employer. Looking back, I realize now that this had to be more than a coincidence. Little did I know that I was only beginning into a passionate lifelong love affair with all things photography, and there would be no turning back. It really is a creative outlet for me, a passion, and a way of life. It’s mostly the only work life I have ever known, as I have done little else outside of this field.
At some time or another, I have owned and shot with every film format up to 8x10, and let me tell you, lugging around an 8x10 is either crazy or dedicated. I’m pretty sure I prefer to be labeled dedicated. However, each camera I have owned and the many different formats I have shot have all taught me various technical lessons about photography. I feel I have taken my love of photography a bit further than most others. I went the extra mile by building and shooting my very own 4x5 field camera, which I named the Leman’s View. This camera is a woodworking masterpiece in its own right, and even has a rotating back. I can’t articulate what it is like to take great photos, let alone great photos with a camera you made with your own hands! Simply amazing! It’s a chance to get inside of a camera, design and build it from the ground up just to see what makes it tick. It translates into a much better understanding of what’s going on inside and a greater appreciation of cameras and photography in general. Many of the images on this web site were taken with this camera.
I spent two years at IUPUI Herron School of Art getting accredited in watercolor while still in high school (AP). I did this on a full scholarship granted from the Arsenal Technical High School Art Department. However, I never pursued a career in art after school. I simply do not like to sell my original paintings, and I have almost every one I have ever done to this day. So, my early career was in sign shops which for me personally was unfulfilling and lackluster to say the least. Soon after, within 3 or 4 years, I decided to change direction and pursue a career I was quite a bit more passionate about and what I felt was more in alignment with my life’s purpose. It was an easy choice once I realized photography was my own personal passion that couldn’t be contained. It is certainly more fulfilling. I took a risk and made the leap into a Kodak and Fuji certified commercial pro photo lab. Since then, I have worked in a certified commercial pro photo lab almost my entire working life, and still do. Now that things are digital, my job description has changed a bit from darkroom technician to graphic designer simply because it's the closest job description that fits... albeit a bit inaccurate in my mind.
I spent many years as a custom darkroom technician and was quickly promoted to production manager due to my attention to detail, quality, and perfection. Even though I was the manager, I still worked in the darkrooms alongside other top notch printers. No way a title going to keep me out of one! I’m a digital image manager to this day, overseeing hundreds of images and files per week in my day job. In this role, I have used Photoshop since its' initial release as it quickly became a job requirement, and in the early days of digital some retouching software only select people have even heard of. I became an expert in hand printing, film development, and even Photoshop over the last 25 years. I have worked on Durst, Beseler, HK, Ilford, and Chromega enlargers to name a few. I have spent many years developing all types of films, printing everything from B/W, RA-4, Type R, Cibachrome, photo paper and even inks on about every type of substrate that exists. At one time or another, I have printed on almost every kind of printing device that exists. I did copy work professionally for years, shot in the studio using a Sinar 4x5 camera, then onto a Dicomed and Phase One 4x5 digital back when they first became available. I have done copy trans, dupes, pin registration, and even drum scanning on an ICG scanner, etc. Needless to say, I have been around the block in the world of photography.
This career has allowed me to be on both sides of the camera pretty much non stop and allowed me to personally know many of the local professionals while also allowing me to talk with them one on one for years. This insight has been invaluable to me and has also allowed me to see first hand how different pros handle different lighting and different photographic situations. My many years of shooting coupled with my years as a professional darkroom printer, (more than 25 years professionally), gives me a very broad understanding of both sides of the camera and photography business. My personal feeling is this has given me a unique perspective into how I think a shot, my shots, should be taken. I understand what works and what doesn't in print, how certain colors will reproduce and the realistic expectations and limitations of a given printing device and substrate. Therefore, I feel I have a broader understanding of how I want to compose and shoot my photos because I know what works best for final printing.
I understand and see color very well and have even attended classes on G7 color methods and color management taught by none other than Don Hutchinson. I served as a technical adviser / consultant to the Indianapolis Career Education Center on a volunteer basis for many years, and was their keynote speaker twice. Currently, I travel around the mid-west, looking for exciting landscape images to capture, sometimes creating excitement from the blah or mundane. When I’m not doing that, I’m looking for things to shoot in my home studio. I have photographed many different types and styles of photography over the years, but landscape photography will always be my first photo love with studio work being a very close second. You can see my work published in books, calendars, magazines, destination guides, greeting cards, hanging in restaurants, hospitals, nature centers, and many other outlets as well. It has been a very fulfilling career to say the least, and it isn't even close to being over!
My Landscape Gear
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*All images within this photo collection are the exclusive property of Lee Mandrell / Leman's Studios and are protected and registered under the United States and International Copyright laws. The images may not be reproduced, copied, transmitted or manipulated without prior written permission. Use of any image as the basis for another photographic concept or illustration (digital, artist rendering or alike) is a violation of the United States and International Copyright laws. All images are copyrighted © Lee Mandrell / Leman's Studios.