Leire Baztarrica first came to America in 2015. She has turned a passion for photography into a career, and has worked for Will and Jaden Smith's JUST Water company.

Native of Spain, SCV resident turns photography passion into a career

Leire Baztarrica had always loved photography, but it wasn’t until she came to Los Angeles that she turned her passion into a career.

“When I first started out, I was a lot freer as an artist to shoot what I wanted, but as a professional, I take a lot of portraits and focus on making people happy, which is my favorite part of this job,” Baztarrica said.

Originally from Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, Baztarrica first came to America in 2015 when she went to Reno, Nevada, to work on a fine arts project. During that trip, she met her future husband and eventually moved stateside to Santa Clarita in 2017 — both to get married and to begin her photography career.

Baztarrica said her style of photography focuses on color and capturing her subjects while they are relaxed and in interesting positions, like while they are in motion. She primarily produces portraits and commercial photos for beauty, fashion and a variety of other companies including Will and Jaden Smith’s JUST Water company, though in the past she has worked on personal art projects, makeup tutorials, boudoir photography and music shoots.

“As a photographer, I have a lot more opportunities living here than I would have had in Spain,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to do the kind of portraits that I do in Spain and make a living out of it. In Spain it’s mostly weddings or event photography, but that’s not my field. There isn’t that same market for fashion or editorial photography that a lot of actors or the beauty industry really like.” 

Model and YouTuber Jimena Reno frequently works with Baztarrica, and said that before the photographer reached out to her, she had never felt comfortable collaborating with others but the two got along so well that she decided to give it a try. 

“Leire is very easy to work with and not only does she understand how to help make someone’s vision come true, but she also contributes her own ideas, which is really refreshing,” Reno said. “She’s so clean and professional and she shoots a lot of people who aren’t professional models, which is so hard, and everything she does is beautiful.”

A large number of Baztarrica’s bookings come from her “Model for One day in DTLA” service that she offers through Airbnb.com, where she photographs clients in various iconic Los Angeles locations for two hours. Though there were already some photographers offering up their services, she noticed that no one was offering personal one-to-one photo shoot experiences. One of her Airbnb clients was so impressed with her that he booked her for a photo shoot that was published in the Middle East editions of Esquire Magazine.

“It’s very interesting work and I get to meet a lot of people from all around the world because I do this service,” Baztarrica said. “I’m booked pretty much every week and it’s been a life saver for me, especially when I came to L.A. with no professional contacts. A lot of photographers don’t think it’s worth it to offer one-on-one sessions for a lower price, but I think it is because that means I get booked and work consistently.” 

One of the challenges that Baztarrica faces as a Los Angeles-based photographer is that she does not have a driver’s license and must rely on public transportation or the occasional rideshare to transport both herself and all her equipment to shoot locations. However, Baztarrica does not let that faze her and said she never turns down a gig due to transportation difficulties.

Transitioning from the smaller, very walkable cities of Spain to the sprawling, car-centric culture of America is just one of the culture shocks Baztarrica experienced. The American health care system and the price of apartments are some of the things that surprised Baztarrica. She also felt that people did not take her seriously because she was both a woman and a foreigner whose first language is not English. However, compared to Los Angeles, Baztarrica said she and her husband are happy to live in Santa Clarita and believe that the quality of life is much better outside the larger city.

“That fact that I am a foreigner and a young girl made me feel like clients did not take me seriously, combined with the fact that I feel like there is a slight prejudice against women in this country as opposed to the Basque culture I am used to where women are very empowered,” she said. “I get approached by guys all the time here and that never used to happen in Spain, but also I feel it’s somewhat safer because I’ve never had my equipment or phone stolen when I have had things stolen from me in Spain.”

As a fellow Spaniard, Reno said that her friendship and common background with Baztarrica is an immense comfort.

“I keep telling Leire that if it wasn’t for her life here would be much harder because it’s always hard coming to a new country where you don’t know anyone,” Reno said. “We’re friends before work partners and being around her has taught me how to be more confident and open. She started from zero and nobody knew her, but she pulled herself up to where she’s now working for companies like JUST Water.”

Besides her talent behind the camera, she also likes to work in front of the lens. Under the name Eleilady, which is a pun on her first name and the phrase “L.A. lady” which she took from the opening lines of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” Baztarrica also works as a hair model. 

“My hair styles are always changing because I get hired by all these different companies but it’s a lot of fun and it’s a lot of art and I don’t really care if my hair is cut, shaved or colored, since it’s very well paid,” she said. “I’ve done this since I was 17 and though I wish I could do it more often, I have to keep developing my photography skills. Photography I can keep doing, but at 27 I feel like I may have already hit my peak for modeling.”

Currently, Baztarrica is working on an artistic personal project with a grant from her hometown, focusing on the experiences of immigrant women, dressed as aliens to highlight the feeling of otherness. She also opened the Glow Photo Studio earlier this June with fellow Santa Clarita photographer Mindy Ruder, which will focus on glamor photography, especially for high school seniors. Baztarrica also wants to try travel photography and branch out from still photography to learn how to work in the film industry. 

Though Ruder and Baztarrica have traditionally had different styles and audiences for their photography, Ruder said she was so stricken by Baztarrica’s work and knew she would make the perfect partner.

“Her art has a European flair, so edgy and free when expressing herself through photography,” Ruder said. “Nothing stops her. She’s like, ‘No car, no problem.’ Leire is fearless”

To see more of Baztarrica’s work, visit her website at or her Instagram pages at @leirebazarrica and @eleilady. To book a session with her Airbnb Experience, click here.

Advertisement

Latest Stories