Meet Shoestring Triptographer and Doodler/Photographer Shani Leead

Ever tried to pass the time by doodling during a lecture or long plane ride? Meet Shani, artist and photographer extraordinaire. Shani has found a unique way to combine her passions for doodling and documenting life by adding illustrations to her photographs.

Shani grew up camping with her family, and she has always been a doodler. Her high school photography classes, the advent of the smart phone, and a friendship with an outdoor enthusiast all led her to pursue a career in photography/art, social media and web management.

I like photographing people in their element. Whether it’s rock climbing, playing guitar or just enjoying a relaxing day at the beach… documenting those passions and moments of joy brings me joy in return.

We are excited that Shani has joined the Shoestring family as a Triptographer. Learn more about Shani in the interview below and follow her on social media to see where her creative process takes her via websiteInstagramTwitter, or Facebook!

Shoestring Warrior: Shani Leead


Agoura Hills, CA

Current Location:

Agoura Hills, CA


Photographer/Artist, Social Media and Web Manager

What are your passions outside of work?

I love going on adventures with my friends to climb, surf, hike, or just spend time outdoors at a park or beach. I also love going to see live music and comedy shows (shout out to UCB where I took an improv class–scariest and best experience I’ve ever pushed myself to do!).

How would you describe your level of camping experience?


Shoestring Adventures Completed:

Joshua Tree Backpacking Adventure

Tell us about yourself!

I’m a doodling photographer with a love for the outdoors and outdoor sports. I was born and raised in the Greater Los Angeles area, as a first-generation American. I love traveling and documenting the people and places I am privileged enough to encounter. Besides photographers and illustrators, I am obsessed with comedy and funny people, musicians and performers, athletes who push the boundaries–basically I am inspired by passionate people from all genres and walks of life. This all encompassing art is a big part of my life and I hope it can continue that way until I pass it off to my children and beyond!

When did you first discover your love for the outdoors?

My family and I went on lots of trips camping, RV-ing, and just in general lots of outdoor playtime and activities. So I was always fond of the outdoors, but my busy academic life in high school and college brought me more indoors. After college I became best friends with an avid outdoorswoman and all around rad human. She introduced me to rock climbing and surfing as well as the outdoor industry, which she works in. All this brought the outdoors back to the forefront of my brain. The community of outdoor enthusiasts is a great one to be a part of. I was hooked.

When did you first discover your love for photography? What do you like to photograph?

In 9th grade I took a black and white film class. I loved it. And I hated it. Something about the class structure, getting graded on art, and my lack of experience in the craft was difficult for me. But I stuck with it and took a digital class the next year in hopes it would change how I felt. It was the same story. So I sort of distanced myself from it for a few years. Then towards the end of my college career I got my first smart phone. It had a camera and all of a sudden I was taking pictures again. I realized that it was still something I enjoyed, especially without the constraints of the classroom. I fell in love with telling the stories that surrounded me in a creative way. I went and bought myself a new DSLR and began to teach myself all over again.

I like photographing people in their element. Whether it’s rock climbing, playing guitar or just enjoying a relaxing day at the beach… documenting those passions and moments of joy brings me joy in return.  

When did you start doodling on your photos? How does doodling help you tell a story?

I’ve been doodling for as long as I can remember. I was that student who doodled all over her notebook. Not because I was bored (ok, sometimes because I was bored), but because it actually helped me focus on what was being said without getting distracted by anything else going on in the class. About a year ago or so I started combining my doodles and photos. I like to say that Walter Mitty (from the film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”) is my spirit animal because he’s a character that I relate to a lot. Like him, I find myself imagining magical and surreal happenings in my everyday life. I thought I could share that part of my imagination by adding these abstract doodles and art onto photos of real things. It’s something that I am still experimenting with, but you can follow along on my social media pages to see where the creative process takes me!

Which photographers or artists inspire you the most?

Forest Woodward is my all-time favorite photographer. His storytelling power is just amazing. I almost always know his work when I see it because it has a unique realness to it that puts you there and makes you a part of that moment. He is also a very kind individual. A few years ago I emailed him for advice and he took the time to check out my work and give me feedback and encouragement. It meant a lot. Jeremy Collins is one of my favorite illustrators. His work is stunning and incredibly detailed. I admire his mission to raise awareness and drive change surrounding the laws affecting our wild places.

What is your favorite destination you’ve traveled to on a photo assignment?

Bishop, CA for the Hey Flash Foxy women’s climbing festival. The Eastern Sierras always take my breath away. I took photos of the event and the women climbing for Caraway and Co, a sales agency representing some awesome outdoor brands. One of their brands, Outdoor Research, used my photos for a blog post written by one of their rad athletes, Jenny Abegg. I also recently went to Montana for a Collective Quarterly photography workshop. It was an incredible experience and I can’t wait to go back and explore more.

If you could pass down one camera to your grandchildren, which one would it be, and why?

Man, I can only imagine what kinds of cameras they’ll have then. I actually don’t think I would pass down any of the cameras I use right now. Instead, I would pass down the video camera that my grandfather passed down to me. It’s an old film video camera and something that I hope will be in my family for generations. To me it’s a symbol of how important it is to document your life. It passes so fast.

And even if you think you’ll never forget this or that moment, you’d be surprised how much the visual diaries can bring back even just a year from now, let alone, say, thirty.

Women’s March

What advice do you have for aspiring outdoor photographers?

Don’t get caught up in comparisons. We all compare ourselves to others, and I still struggle with comparison. Teddy Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy”. And that’s never rang more true than today with social media being a constant stream of comparisons. Go out and shoot, shoot, shoot. Shoot the way you see the world, not the way it will sell on Instagram. At the workshop I went to in Montana, one of the panelists was the director of photography for Patagonia. She said she doesn’t look for photographers on Instagram. She wants to see unique and creative long-term projects that show your investment in the artistic process.

Shoot the way you see the world, not the way it will sell on Instagram.

What is your favorite piece of camera gear to bring on the trail?

I love my 85mm 1.8 lens. It allows me to get up close and personal with the people I’m with, while not necessarily needing to be as physically close to them. Sometimes my camera can be intimidating to people who don’t love being in front of the lens. I’m able to capture more genuine moments when people don’t feel like their bubble is invaded.

Now that you have been on a Shoestring Adventure as our official Triptographer, can you tell us your favorite memory?

Our walk through the gorgeous desert oasis was unforgettable. I’d been to Joshua Tree before, but never to this incredible part. It had just rained (flash flood storms, actually!) so it was filled with streams of running water. What started off as a potentially cancelled trip due to crazy weather, ended up giving us this amazing gift of natural beauty.

Where to next?

My next big trip will be to visit family in Israel and while we’re there we’ll also be traveling to Greece! I’m already envisioning all the Mitty moments I’ll have in a place with such rich history.

The perfect s’more? (If you don’t like s’mores, what’s your favorite campfire dessert?)

Marshmallow is nice and toasty on the outside, and perfectly gooey on the inside, dark chocolate (always), and a gluten free graham cracker (do those exist?) or who even needs that when you can just have double the chocolate???

Photos © 2017 Shani Leead

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