Degree: Graphic Design
Year of graduation: 1983
How photographer Tim Leyes transcends the lens
From actors to athletes, musicians to CEOs, chances are photographer Tim Leyes has had them in his sights at some point in his career. Key to all of those experiences is the connection Leyes makes with his subjects, giving each portrait the power of personality.
“Whenever I take someone’s portrait, I book a 90-minute meeting. Half of the time we’re talking about things in the world and life in general,” Leyes says. “You have to direct [to the subject] emotionally and make them feel that, at that moment, they’re the best thing in the world — and you can end up with some really beautiful moments."
Leyes’ tactile approach means many of his shoots can take place outside a traditional studio. He remembers a particularly warm day shooting GoDaddy executive, Scott Wagner in the middle of a football field.
“The temperature was around 115 F, since it was August in Arizona,” he says. Leyes’ willingness to do whatever it takes to get the shot, and his ability to put people at ease, has made him a popular portrait photographer amongst actors such as Michael Cera, Rachel McAdams, Alfie Allen, Jimmi Simpson, Ryan Gosling and Sandra Oh.
“Some subjects are fearless and look through the camera lens like it’s not even there — it’s scorching.”
Originally from Windsor, Ont., Leyes spent his childhood moving around Michigan with his parents and four older siblings. When his family settled down in Guelph in 1974, Leyes was able to start exploring his artistic side, buoyed by his grandfather’s interest in photography as well as his father and grandmother’s love of art.
At the time, Leyes couldn’t afford a camera to indulge his budding photographic sensibilities. It wasn’t until he attended Sheridan, nurturing his creativity by pursuing a diploma in Graphic Design, that he was able to work with his first camera. “As soon as I could sign a camera out — a Pentax K1000 — I went crazy taking all sorts of photos,” he says. “It was a freedom — a way to start playing with tools I had never had before.”
In addition to exploring what Leyes found behind the lens, he also discovered newfound freedom in talking with his subjects, which helped ameliorate the stutter that had affected him since childhood.
After graduating from Sheridan, Leyes took a series of odd jobs while living in Toronto. “I learned to photograph babies, holding them in one hand and the camera in the other,” he laughs. Gradually, he started shooting product for Irwin Toy in 1986, and assisted a series of renowned photographers, including Tony Hauser, before striking out on his own.
Now, Leyes works in his own style, establishing connections with his subjects to share their stories in his own unique way. “There’s a lot of beautiful stories and emotions behind these pics. I allow each subject to open up, like an actor on film. You give them the opportunity — put the camera there and wait,” says Leyes. “That place in front of the camera can be a place of fear or vulnerability, without a script or character. Some subjects are fearless and look through the camera lens like it’s not even there — it’s scorching.”