You may or may not have heard of Leon Neal, but chances are you have seen his photos. I came across him from his recent series of blog posts about getting ready for the Royal Wedding, amazing read for anyone who was interested in some of the problems photographers had to solve, including the heat from the crowd. Anyway Leon shoots for AFP and when he sent me his “favourite” images and said pick one, I just decided to post them all up. Once your finished here check out his site for some other amazing work.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I got my break in photography after winning the Times/Tabasco Young Photographer for the Year scholarship at The Times newspaper in London. After working at The Times for about two years, I went freelance before deciding to push international news agency Agence France-Presse for work. After a period of freelance work for them, I secured a staff position at the London bureau in 2007. Being based in the London bureau means that I get to cover a wide variety of photographic assignments including some of the major world events that have originated from the UK.
What made you get into photography?
I always had an interest in photography and current affairs and was the photographer for the band in my previous career as a drummer. I attended the NCTJ photo-journalism course in Sheffield as a way of combining my two interests and found that it was something that I got a lot out of. Each day can be totally different and it’s rare that you’re stuck on one story for very long so you’ll always be developing (pun unintended). I guess I’m not cut out for the office life.
How did you get started?
My dad bought me an old Zenit E camera when I was about 13. I was recently looking through an old pile of negatives and found what I think was my first film. It seemed to be mainly based around our local scrapyard as the sun went down, and my friends playing football. I try to avoid the sport whenever possible but I still strive for the pretentious art shots. That first manual camera taught me the basics and then I played around for a few years before deciding that i wanted to go with it as a career. Previous toys of choice included the Canon EOS 1000FN, the Canon T90 and the Nikon D1 when I was at college.
What sort of photography do you mainly do?
I shoot for AFP so have to adapt to many different disciplines of photography, including news, sport, entertainment, travel, politics and even the odd bit of fashion. I tend to enjoy working with a little more time and a free rein but that’s probably the same for everyone. One of the nicer things about AFP is that it allows and encourages this. While others may be fighting to get the tight and bright pictures, AFP has a history of providing a healthy mixture of the expected and the unexpected shots from a job. While sometimes this isn’t possible, it’s nice to know that when it is, the picture desk will accept your ideas with an open mind.
What gear are you using?
AFP provides all of my gear so I use Nikon equipment with a variety of D3, D3s and D700 bodies and lenses ranging from 14mm to 600mm. Basically, too much for one aching back to carry. While I’m lucky enough to have a wide variety of toys to use at work, I’m currently enjoying going back to basics in my private time. I recently ventured into the world of Leica and take great pleasure in actually using it, unlike those that feel they have to be kept in bank vaults or on a shelf.
Whats your favourite lens and why?
Nikon’s 70-200mm VRII is a great bit of kit and razor sharp but the lens that I keep on my camera as I walk around town is the nifty fifty; Nikon’s 50mm f1.4G. As I wrote in rule # 16, “If all else fails, just whack it on f1.4 and make art” http://www.leonneal.com/blog/2009/06/15/the-alternative-london-knowledge-v20/
How are you marketing yourself?
Thankfully, as a staff photographer, I have a secure income so do not have to promote myself for PR, corporate and freelance work. However, being an obsessive waffler, I write a blog on my site at www.leonneal.com that has proved to be successful. Aside from the blog, I’m currently talking to a photography magazine about writing a monthly column on what I’ve been shooting or reactions to news in the photography world. It’s all in early stages but it could be interesting to do. I believe that, as a photographer, it’s important to keep your “brand” in the public eye. You never know when your circumstances will change and next week I could be out looking for work again!
Whats your favourite photo you have taken?
I hate to say it but I don’t have one. There are photos that mean a lot to me at the time and ones that I have stronger connections with but I generally move on with what I like. This is one of the reasons why I opted to focus on making my site into more of a blog than a gallery site as I can always post the pictures that I’m happiest with as and when I shoot them!
Advice for new photographers looking to go pro?
I get emails on this quite regularly through my site and I’m afraid there isn’t one definite way to get into the industry as my lucky break demonstrates. I would recommend shooting as much as you can with as much variety as possible. Push yourself to try new skills and techniques and don’t be afraid to knock on editor’s doors to show off your work.