Sandra Leitch is the creative genius behind Shooting Monsters, a Toronto-based photography service that specializes in Crossfit culture and Olympic Lifting. Her work has taken her all of the world, photographing athletes of all levels and inspiring her clients to see themselves in a new light. One need only look at her work to understand her knack for capturing candid truth in these fitness environments; her photographs, sometimes in colour but often in black and white, reveal every tensed muscle, every bead of sweat – and every unmistakeable glitter of triumph in the eyes of her subjects.
We here at KHACHILIFE recently had the chance to interview her on what led her to this unique profession and how it has changed her life, as well as the lives of those around her.
When did you first become interested in photography?
High School. A friend of mine convinced me to take a photography course; it took a lot of convincing. I thought school had to be serious, that I had to study science and math. I didn’t realize school could be fun. We shot black and white film and did our own developing. I was completely hooked the first time I saw my photographs develop in the darkroom; it was magical.
Did you have a mentor who helped to shape you as a photographer or in general?
No, I didn’t. It’s not too late, right?! That would be nice, I should seek one out. Learning is a continual thing.
How did you get your start in photography that focused on Crossfit and Olympic Lifting?
I’ve been lifting weights since my teens and a couple of years ago I joined a local Crossfit gym and started to photograph some of the coaches between classes. Things evolved quickly from there. I developed a website and that’s how I started doing some magazine work – a publisher saw my work and reached out.
You travel frequently for photo shoots around the world. Do you have any personal routines/practices for staying healthy and happy while on the road?
I’m very happy when I’m travelling and shooting. I have found that packing a bunch of food (clean protein bars, jerky, nuts, etc.) to snack on while I’m shooting helps keep my energy levels up and helps keep me balanced. My secret is vitamin C powder. I put it in my water and start drinking it as soon as I get on the plane. A little something extra to help my body fight off any illness that can creep in with lack of sleep and recycled, dry airplane air. The days can be very long and good nutrition is important to me. I eat clean at home and don’t want to compromise that just because I am travelling and busy. I have found the key is packing lots of stuff to snack on when good food isn’t available.
When the shoots are done I often edit late into the night so I’ll try to go for a swim or do a quick workout before I begin to help me settle down and change gears. I am oblivious to my body when I’m shooting and find myself in awkward hunched positions for hours on end. Spending a bit of time untangling that is necessary before sitting for hours in front of a computer. Music is huge for me too. I always edit to some of my favorite bands – The Counting Crows, Mumford and Sons and Dan Mangan are top three.
Aside from working as a photographer, you run your own photography service, Shooting Monsters. How do you balance the life of an artist with the life of an entrepreneur? Do you ever find yourself having to make sacrifices in one role for the sake of the other?
Good question…! I definitely feel I am more of a creative person than a business person but I do take care of both right now. Ideally I would just love to shoot and not have to deal with the business end of things, so yes there is some sacrifice in the allotment of time.
What has been the most exciting moment of your career?
Having the opportunity to photograph some of the pros I spent years watching on Youtube. That and being published; it is an honor to be able to share my work and be a part of magazines I spent years leafing through.
How does your work affect your clients? In other words, how do your photographs change the way your clients view themselves as athletes?
The non-professional athletes, the moms and dads, people working the 9-to-5, the response I hear most often is “is that me??!!” “Do I look like that??” That will never get old.
They are all rock stars and just need to see themselves from a different perspective.
Has a client’s personal story ever inspired you in your own life?
Every person I have had the opportunity to spend a bit of one-on-one time with inspires me. Everyone has their story, their “why”; I love learning about it and sharing in some of their enthusiasm.
What’s next for you?
I don’t know the answer to that right now but I am curious to find out. It’s been a fun and surreal trip thus far. I have an incessant need to photograph and I will keep moving towards projects that are meaningful.
I love hearing what Crossfit has done for people, the struggles they have overcome, and I really enjoy spending time with them and the community in general.
I have also been working on a personal side project (The Nun Project), exploring the incredible work nuns are doing and recently visited a group of them in Peru. They fascinate me in their humility and desire to help people on the fringes of society, often putting themselves in harm’s way. I would like to do something with those images to help raise some funds for their schools and share the message of inspiration and purpose.
In the end, I’m drawn to projects/people who are choosing to be incredible, who are putting in effort and not living life passively. I want to capture some of those moments and share their stories, and that can present itself in many forms!