Leah Hennel is a 35 year old, award winning photojournalist for the Calgary Herald (Calgary, Canada), part of Postmedia Network Inc., Canada’s largest publisher by circulation of paid English language daily newspapers. Leah has traveled across Canada to Europe and Africa. This month, she embarks on a trip to Sochi, Russia, to cover the Paralympics. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Leah about her work and assignment:
Adam Kuzik: How did you get into and create a career for yourself in photography?
Leah Hennel: Growing up, my family always had a subscription to National Geographic Magazine. I spent a lot of time looking at the photos and dreaming of some day visiting those places – and making a living with a camera. For a while, though, I thought I’d end up being a veterinarian.
In high school, I entered the work-experience program at the Calgary Sun Newspaper. While working there, I met staff photographers such as Mike Drew and Jim Wells and others who inspired me.
Kuzik: As a woman, what kind of perspective do you bring to your work?
Hennel: Looking at an image, I don’t believe you can tell whether a man or woman took it. That being said, sometimes being a woman can help to get better access with different cultures. Frequently, female subjects feel more comfortable having a woman photograph them. Then again – and for whatever reason – photojournalism seems to still be a male-dominated field.
Kuzik: What has been your most rewarding moment as a photojournalist?
Hennel: The most rewarding thing is to be able to make a living at something I am very passionate about. Some days, if not most days, I can’t believe I get paid to take pictures! It’s a privilege to do what I do – getting to capture moments in history. It’s impossible to single out one moment.
Kuzik: As a woman, are there any frustrations you experience in this career?
Hennel: When I returned to work after my maternity leave, there was an opportunity to travel to Guatemala to document the operation of a small hospital. An editor, at the time, wasn’t going to give me the trip because I had a child and he didn’t think I would want to go. That made me really mad. I told him, “It’s my job. Why wouldn’t I want to go?” So I left my son in the care of my dad, who was thrilled to take him, and went to Guatemala for ten days. I missed him horribly, but I couldn’t let being a mom be used against me. Had I been a man, I doubt any of those concerns with the editor would have come up.
Kuzik: What kind of gear will you be taking to Sochi?
- Cameras: Canon 1DX and Canon 5D Mark III
- Lenses: Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM II; Canon 35mm f/1.4; Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM; Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM
- Accessories: Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT, Tripod and Slider for video
- Bags: Think Tank Airport International rolling camera bag; Think Tank Shape Shifter backpack; Newswear Chestvest
- Computer/Software: MacBook Pro; Adobe Photoshop; Photo Mechanic; Final Cut 10
Kuzik: Do you have a favorite, must-have piece of kit? Why do you love it and must always have it with you?
Hennel: My Canon 5D Mark III camera body, because the low-light capability is outstanding. Also, my Canon 35mm f/1.4 because this lens and the 5D Mk III are great for street photography and my day-to-day duties.
Kuzik: How else are you preparing for your Sochi assignment? Are you learning some Russian?
Hennel: I’ve taken Russian courses at the University of Calgary at night. Also, I drive around with my learn-Russian CDs. I have language books, too.
Plus, because it’s always intrigued me, I know a lot of Russian history. Fourteen years ago, I traveled to Russia – and one day I’ll get to Siberia.
Kuzik: Will you be looking for other stories than the games and athletes?
Hennel: Yes. Time will be tight because I’m there to do a job for Postmedia – and that’s my first priority. But in any free time, I’ll be searching out other stories. I have two days — immediately before my return trip — to visit Moscow. I’m looking forward to checking out Red Square and seeing Lenin’s tomb.
Kuzik: What advice would you give young women looking at a career in photography?
Hennel: If you’re passionate about it – and have thick skin – go for it!