“Photography is so subjective. What I like, someone else might not like,” said Leah Hennel, a photojournalist and a staff photographer/videographer for the Calgary Herald and Sun.
Hennel interest in photography started to develop at a young age. Her parents always had National Geographic magazine’s at home, which encouraged her first photography dream of working for National Geographic’s.
In high school, Hennel took an extra credit course with the Calgary Sun’s photo department, helping in their lab with developing photo prints.
“I just fell in love with photography at that point.”
Hennel attended the photojournalism program at SAIT, graduating in 1998.
In second year, Hennel did her practicum in Florida with a Sports Illustrator photographer, Bill Frakes.
While Hennel shoots a variety of different types of photography, she said she enjoys taking documentary photos of ranches and western life most.
“Some of them are my favourite, not because the photos were any good, but because of the people I meet.”
One reason behind her love for western life photography is the fact that most of the work on the ranches hasn’t changed in 100 years.
Hennel admits that she has always wanted to be a rancher, and by taking their photos, she feels like she lives vicariously through them.
A documentary photo shoot that sticks out to Hennel is when she followed a homeless lady for a year, by the name of Barbi Harris.
Throughout the process of Hennel documenting her, Harris got cancer and died.
“That one hit me hard, I didn’t think it did at first but we became friends.”
Hennel said that it was sad when Harris died.
“I feel like I do a lot of stories where they are too sad,” said Hennel.
Last year Hennel did a documentary with a writer on physician assisted dying.
They met the patient at 9 a.m., and they were with him when he died later that day at 3:30 p.m..
“We were there with the physicians when he took his last breath.”
“It sticks with you,” said Hennel. “I think they are important stories to tell.”
Documentary photography is fantastic because you’re witnessing something that is organic, said Hennel.
“It is a true representation of life,” said Hennel.
Hennel mentioned that sometimes being a female in the industry can actually help.
It can bring you into places where men cannot go, and some people feel more comfortable with a female photographer and might even request one.
Hennel also loves to be there when history is being made.
“It’s a neat feeling when you’re documenting history that people might look at 100 years from now.”
Hennel says that “the adrenaline gets pumping,” when doing stories like that.
Hennel started out working at the Calgary Sun, then was hired at the Calgary Herald 17 years ago, and now she is back to working at the Sun.
“I’ve came full circle in my career,” said the photojournalist.
Recently Hennel started teaching photography night classes at SAIT because a former colleague of hers asked if she would be interested in doing so.
“Growing up I had a lot of mentors and people that helped me in photography, so now I feel like I’m paying it forward in helping someone else.”
Hennel has only started teaching this year and has enjoyed it so far.
One of the many tips that Hennel would give a beginner photographer is to find out what you as the photographer like to shoot, and just do it.
“Shoot for yourself, because at the end of the day, if you like what you’ve done, that says a lot.”