June 24, 2021 | Awards

An Interview With Neil Lennon — Runner-Up, Commercial Photographer of the Year 2021

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The IPPVA sat down with commercial photographer, Neil Lennon, to talk about his second-place award in the Commercial Category of the annual IPPVA awards, 2021. Neil previously claimed first place in the highly competitive category in 2019.

product photography of three designer watches
Neil Lennon — Silver Award, Commercial Category

Would you share with us a little bit of background on the awarded work?
The watch photos I submitted to the IPPVA award competition were part of a speculative campaign shoot for a longstanding catalogue photography client. Unfortunately, they ran into some kind of production setback and that range of watches got shelved.

Peer recognition and indeed awards have made my parents very proud of me. I myself am chuffed!

We know a lot of our readers will love to hear more about gear, equipment and post-treatment. Tell us more.
I’ve used all formats of camera, from 35mm to 8×10 inch, and deployed all brands of studio lighting, both continuous and flash. My current kit for still-life is:

  • Cambo Ultima with Cognisys focus stacking motor
  • Schneider Kreuznach 120mm Apo Digitar Macro
  • Canon Eos 5DSR
  • Foba Asaba
  • Profoto D4
  • Apple Mac
  • Eizo monitor

Retouching is outsourced to Emma Jacks in Mullingar.

I’m beginning to look elsewhere for a sensor and lights, have my heart set on a Phase One 100-150 MP trichromatic back and Broncolor.

silver chainmail jewelry with golden rings on a black, reflective surface
Neil Lennon — Jewelry Photography

What are you working on at the moment? Any personal projects or commissions you want to share with us?
I’m doing a website banner and campaign imagery for Holos Skincare to keep it lit, technical experimentation to keep me curious. I’m currently playing with mirrors, projections, and shadows. I finally gave up on phone photography and treated myself to a Lumix pocket camera with a Leica lens for some of the gorgeous light around me from time to time in my rural setting. I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner. I regret selling my Makina 67 a few years ago.

I would love to have the luxury of exploring the landscape genre. I believe I will truly be a photographer the day I can afford 2-meter prints at my expense.

single designer watch facing left with lots of negative space on the left
Neil Lennon — Bronze Award, Commercial Category

Is there a particular image or artist that has inspired/moved you?
Nick Ut’s “The Napalm Girl” (Kim Phuc) was the centerpiece of my early 80s teenage collage poster (that was a thing back then). My Dad had an absolute fit when he saw it – he assumed I was glorifying violence. I explained how the power of that picture moved me. He then cocked his chin, slanted his head, and looked me straight in the eye. That must have been the day I realised the power of photography. Dad fell speechless. A picture truly is worth a thousand words.

Among the many photographers I admire are the following faves:

George Hoyningen-Huene
Erwin Blumenfeld
Lillian Bassman
Richard Avedon
Mario Sorrenti
Guido Mocafico
Michael Kenna

gols and silver necklaces and earrings  with jewels
Neil Lennon — Andrea Mears Jewelry

Have you had any other professions before becoming a photographer? Did you study photography or are you self-taught?
I was turned on to photography by a cousin who took a wonderful candid of myself and his sister, aged around 5. I remember the moment well, but seeing the enlarged print he made stunned me! I realised photos were more than just decapitated pyjama portraits in front of Christmas trees. When my Nana passed on, I received a cheque which I traded for a Minolta XG-1 and 45mm at age 13-14. So it began.

gold and silver necklaces on a black reflective surface
Neil Lennon — Andrea Mears Jewelry

During my philosophy degree studies, I saw an exhibition by Sebastio Salgado and knew right there I would never be a professional philosopher. I was hanging around with French filmmakers in those days and planned to move to Paris with them after my degree and study to be a DOP at the world-renowned film school, FEMIS. The advanced mathematics and applied chemistry prep school requirements cooled my heels, however!

I ended up teaching business English to bankers for a spell, then became the world’s worst waiter for a short time (I think there are diners somewhere in Paris who are still waiting for a basket of bread rolls) and finally got a start as a photographer’s assistant in a fashion studio. A few months later, I was working in a major rental studio assisting Vogue photographers, eventually traveling the world with some of them.

two designer watches
Neil Lennon — Silver Award, Commercial Category

What would be your 3 main tips for a photographer with a strong portfolio of personal work wanting to start a business?
Well, the best way to Carnegie Hall is “practice, practice, practice”!
Seriously though, in the digital age of the proliferation of phone-cameras and smart fridges (I guess will finally find out who finished the milk), one really has to stand out from the crowd more than ever. Individual, unique style is however the pillar of success in photography.

I assume style would be apparent from a strong portfolio but I’ve come to the realisation that the actual science of business skills should not be overlooked. One tip I learned from the various start-your-own-business courses I took which really stands out in my mind is that “people buy from people”. In the photo market that means showing the personality behind the visual style. Producing top-notch pictures as efficiently as possible having seduced magazine editors and art directors through extensive networking and hob-nobbing just isn’t enough!

One of my masters told me each shoot was more like showbiz than just nailing 15 shots in 10 hours. His studios were bedecked with scented candles, bouquets of flowers, and cocktails at 4… Who the heck wants to be cooped up in a dimly lit studio for 14 hours with a grump with awful taste in music – even if the resulting photos shine?

skincare products on a clean pink background
Neil Lennon — Holos Skincare

What would you most love to photograph right now if Covid restrictions weren’t a reality? What do you miss the most?
I mostly do still-life and work alone but I’m planning to up my game through agency work. I would love to collaborate with creative directors, art directors, and stylists again.

I’m beginning to miss the craic of the old days of fashion and beauty photography which I abandoned with the advent of digital interference from well-intentioned, self-appointed experts: hair, make-up, and wardrobe really should step back away from the camera – they spoil the essential intimacy of the photographer/model relationship.

To get around that, I’m resurrecting my old 4×5 and trusty Schneider 150mm, now Kodak has ramped up emulsion production again, and crucially, New55 is back on the scene with an eye-watering €15 per shot instant film. Bring it on!


Find out more about Neil Lennon

I always loved photography and finally got a job as an assistant in a Parisian studio in 1994. I worked my way up the ladder to become second and first assistant to world-famous photographers doing editorial and campaign around the world's hotspots. ...

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