We met with lifestyle, wedding, and travel photographer Rachel Leiner at Bluestone Lane in Manhattan to discuss travel, family, and photographing happiness.
At twenty, Rachel Leiner combines the enthusiasm and joyousness of her age with the skill and savvy of someone much older. She started her business in Long Island five years ago as a way to get out of the suburbs. “I really wanted to go on this trip with [youth tour operator] Rustic Pathways,” she says. Her parents, while supportive, insisted that she pay for it herself. “Basically I had gotten the camera the year before, and was like, ‘I think I can try to do photography’ [as a way to make money]. I tend to have that kind of mindset.”
For Leiner, her trip to Southeast Asia was a turning point. By her own description, her hometown is a microcosm of the problem she sees in the country at large. “People in the States just think that if anyone had the opportunity to come to the United States they would. Like everybody wants to live here. When you travel to all these other places […] and see that people are happy where they are, it gives a whole new perspective.” Now, Leiner combines her love for travel with “the umbrella of happiness and optimism” to produce radiant images for her clients.
And word is spreading. Leiner recently returned from a trip to Spain working with influencers. Next summer, she’s covering a wedding in Italy.
With a warm, gregarious personality, Leiner naturally brings out the best in her clients, especially at wedding and engagement shoots. But it’s not all spontaneity. It’s also knowing how to act, what to say and when. “One of them is always nervous,” she says. “I tell them that their whole job is to look at her [or] look at him and make sure they’re smiling. Don’t look at the camera because I’m pretty irrelevant.” Another trick is to pretend to test the lighting at a distance. When they think she’s otherwise occupied, Leiner asks the couple to hold hands and walk toward her as if they’re “really drunk.”
Raised in a devoted family, Leiner certainly understands how her opportunity and privilege contribute to success as a photographer. “My dad is really supportive, my biggest fan. My mom too,” she says. Her first experience with photography was with her father’s camera on a cruise to Puerto Rico. When they docked in San Juan, her father asked if she wanted to wake up early to take pictures of the streets. She captured a beautiful image of a cat crossing the cobblestone street. “I took that picture and looked down into the viewfinder, and I was like ‘I think I like this, this is fun.’”
A Nikon user, her reliable D610 just died last week. “It made it to a shutter count of about 190,000, and the expected shutter count is 150,000. We made it a long way,” she says. Now onto the D750, she chose the lighter DSLR to accommodate travel. She plans to upgrade again after graduation.
For now, however, there’s still a lot to consider. “I have all the resources, so what is my next step? I’ve thought a lot about it,” she says. She’s young, so there’s plenty of time to figure it out. If she doesn’t go into corporate advertising, Leiner would love to become a full time photographer with a variety of clients. “As long as it’s all under the encompassing idea of travel, adventure, happiness and working with people that I like, then I’m happy.”