Leon Neal is a press photographer who works for Agence France-Presse. He is based in London and has been lucky enough to be right in the centre of some great news stories. He has photographed Tim Henman, Barak Obama and managed to capture the infamous Royal wedding kiss of Kate and William. We lent him the brand new Petzval lens and sent him out on the streets to capture the action.
Hello Leon, tell us a bit about yourself, as a press photographer what does your job involve?
Responding to the unique requirements that the day can bring. This can involve anything from fashion to sport, politics to features, business to international assignments. As a staff photographer at one of the world’s largest news agencies, Agence France-Presse, I am trusted to get the shots that are required with a creative eye but also as quickly as possible. It can sometimes be quite a testing combination!
Have you had any scary moments on the job?
Yeah, quite a few. Unlike some of my colleagues, I have only covered conflict once, in Libya, but it’s not something that I’m rushing to do again. When you’re healthy and (relatively) young with a girlfriend and child at home, sheltering from incoming fire behind the engine block of a Land Rover isn’t much fun. Having said that, I was probably in a worse state of stress during the Royal Wedding, waiting for the balcony kiss!
What has been your most memorable photographic moment so far?
I thoroughly enjoyed covering the story of the MSC Napoli, a ship that ran aground off the Devon coast. What was at first just an interesting story became incredible when the cargo of BMW motorbikes started washing up on the beach.
If you could photograph any major event in time, which would you choose?
That’s a tricky one as, from a news photographer’s point of view, the big news is usually the grim stuff so it’s not very cool to say you wish you’d been there! However, on a personal level, I’m a big fan of Frank Zappa so would love to have taken his portrait or even shot a concert.
Did you enjoy shooting with the petzval lens?
Yes, it’s a fascinating lens and one that certainly makes you think differently. The craftsmanship of the construction is beautiful and I’d only had it mounted on my Nikon D4 for a minute before I was approached by two separate strangers asking for information. The brass-finish Petzval is certainly not the lens to use if you’re trying to remain inconspicuous! The focus is smooth with the results having a distinct bokeh that’s refreshing to get from a lens, rather than any dodgy camera phone filter. Coming from my usual background of photography, it takes a little getting used to the areas of soft focus on the final frame but once you’ve smacked yourself out of the modern obsession with “everything must be razor sharp” and adopted a more relaxed approach, the lens comes into it’s own.
What’s your next adventure?
Sochi, Russia in February for the 2014 Winter Games. It’s my second winter Olympics so I’ve an idea on what’s ahead. It should be fun!
Thanks for taking part Leon!