As Denver starts to grow by leaps and bounds, the world is starting to pay attention to many of the creatives that we have. We caught up with one of those creatives, famed photographer Dave Lehl, to find out what makes the man behind the camera tick.
Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?
My name is Dave Lehl and I’m an action/adventure sports photographer. I grew up in Pueblo, Colorado and went to school at the University of Colorado, Boulder where I got a degree in Fine Arts. After college I started assisting other photographers professionally and soaked up all of their knowledge. Originally I started out shooting fashion and was going to move to New York, but I decided to move to Summit County to save some money to make the move and figured out that I was better at shooting spoiled brats jumping off of things on snowboards than shooting pretty girls. After that I shot snowboarding exclusively for about 6 years. A few years ago I got burned out and started branching out into other forms of action. Today I’ll shoot pretty much anything in motion but I prefer skateboarding, bicycles, motorcycles, and running.
Stylistically, how would you describe yourself and your approach to photography?
I guess I’d say that I’m moving in a more conceptual direction. While I do like shooting documentary style and just capturing what’s there, I really like setting up a scenario that hasn’t been done to death a million times already. That’s how I came up with my light trails series. I was soooo tired of seeing and shooting snowboarding photos that were all just interchangeable with any other snowboard photo shot in the last 10 years, so I wracked my brain to try to come up with something that no one had ever seen before As far as my documentary style, I like to think of my photos as being very intimate. I really try to get in there and hopefully the viewer comes away with a feeling of what it was like to be there.
What are some of the major steps to overcome in regards to growth as a photographer?
Shooting things that are actually interesting and worthwhile to look at. There are a million photographers out there who are obsessed with gear and the technical side of shooting, but they focus so much on those two things, that their work is just sterile and lifeless. It’s like they’re just shooting things to show that they can do it too, not because they’ve actually got an interesting idea or compelling subject.
You were recently recognized by Red Bull Illume for your amazing photo of Casey Capper and Andy Orley in Utah. Could you tell us a little bit about that photo and how it came about?
Honestly it was originally just a scam to go camping in Andy’s VW Westfalia for a few nights. I didn’t really know him that well but was following him on Instagram and I kept noticing these photos of a Westfalia popping up in his feed. At first I didn’t know if he was just super into them or what, and then I started noticing him in some of the photos as well. So the gears in my brain started turning as to how I could go camping in it too because it looked like tons of fun. So I came up with the idea of a road trip/photoshoot and pitched it to him and he loved it. So he invited his friend Casey (who I barely knew at the time too) and we hit the road. We didn’t even have a schedule. We pretty much just knew that we wanted to hit the south west so we went that direction. We’d pretty much wake up and figure out over breakfast beers where we’d head next.
The morning of that photo we’d woken up at Monument Valley and were headed north to Mesa Verde. I’ve always loved that long straight stretch of road made famous in Forrest Gump, and I had an idea of two skateboarders pushing down it. We gave it a few passes but the shot looked lame because they were barely pushing. So I asked them both to come past me and push really hard for a shot. Andy hit his pushing foot on the back of his board which sent him flying. Luckily he didn’t get too busted up so after he picked himself up off of the pavement we looked at the shot and had a good laugh. I never had any idea that it’d ever get so popular. It’s got almost a half a million reblogs on Tumblr, which is insane.
What do you attribute to the success of your work?
I would say persistence as well as creativity. Trying to do something different.
Do you feel you have any limitations right now?
The only limitations I have right now are that I don’t have an unlimited travel budget to go wherever I want! Otherwise, it’s all about how much time and effort I want to put into it.
How do you feel about the overall level of support for creatives in Colorado?
There’s support? I have no idea. I don’t get any support from anyone.