Ask Jim Lennon for the key to his success as a commercial and fine art photographer for over 40 years and the answer is clear: lighting.
Whether it’s capturing a dramatic spectacle, putting sky on the beach down the road from his home in Flanders – where he has lived since 1983 – or leading a team of 20 on site at Jones Beach or Montauk for a nationwide ad campaign, or to create a product photo that makes you say “I want it now,” Lennon knows the power of lighting.
“Lighting is really about understanding and being comfortable knowing how to use and manipulate lighting and not being afraid to experiment,” says Lennon. “One of the things that I love the most and people will tell me is that they don’t think I am lighting things… I am lighting everything. And if I don’t have to turn it on, it’s because I’ve calculated when I need to be there for the right light.
Lennon also has a good eye, has learned his craft and has paid his dues, exuding an infectious passion for life, the environment, his work and the process of working with clients.
“I love my job – I’m not a slave to it, but I still work… you set a goal, you build it and everyone is passionate about it,” he says.
A self-described “human person” who loves the landscape, Lennon has photographed thousands of people, places and products, both in the studio and on location. Her corporate clients and commercial work range from portrait photography to major regional and national advertising campaigns.
When COVID first hit, he used the unknown downtime to produce a stunning self-published book of his personal photography titled The shore, with 196 pages of coastal scenes he took along the shores of Manhattan to Montauk.
It’s hard to imagine Jim Lennon living too far from any shore.
Born in Oceanside, his family came east when he was young, first to a summer house, then moving to Flanders in 1978. Lennon says he quickly “gravitated towards people from” here and the place itself “through new friendships that felt more down to earth.
“We had water, we had beaches… you were allowed to walk around the waist of Rhode Island… horses, mini-bikes, go-karts, bows and arrows, guns – that sort of thing. didn’t even exist in Oceanside, ”he said. adds.
It seems Lennon was always meant to record and preserve exquisite moments.
“I won a national Kodak (for a landscape) award in high school in 1975, but who the hell thought you could make a living from it?” Says Lennon, who currently works in a 2,500 square foot commercial studio in Hauppauge that he calls his creative “dream space.” This is now his fifth studio on Long Island.
Lennon still keeps the “fun little Kodak 126 camera” his father gave him as a child in his studio, fondly remembering the pivotal day his father introduced him to Daily News photographer Danny Farrell, famous for his photo of a young John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting at his father’s funeral in 1963.
“After I showed interest in photography, my dad asked Danny to give me some assignments, and he taught me and gave me some direction,” Lennon says. Something clicked.
“That’s when I thought, ‘People can make a living with this,’” Lennon recalls, with a smile in his voice. He filed the thought away.
When it came time to enter college, Lennon did the basics: enroll in Adelphi University to study accounting and business management. Ninety credits in, when the time came to choose an elective course, he naturally chose photography. And the rest clicked, for real, in place.
“I got all the answers and the professor said, ‘How does the accountant know the answers? And I said, ‘I read the book.’ And he said, ‘It’s a photograph, nobody reads the book.’ Then when the guy who ran the lab there left, the professor told the rest of the (photography) department, “I have a guy in my class, we should hire him. He read the book. ‘ And that was it – there was no turning back. It was the start of my full-time job, since 1977, only in photography.
Lennon worked at Adelphi for three years as head of the lab (he returned many years later to teach advanced and studio photography there for 17 semesters). After a year and a half as a featured photographer at The Suffolk Timeshe began to take opportunities to help friends who were New York-based photographers.
He found himself working for large accounts like Seagram’s and the American Stock Exchange, honing his technical skills as well as “learning by osmosis how to act and what customers expect of you on the job.” It paid off.
“When I got my first big annual report through a representative around 1985, the North Fork Bank, it was $ 15,000 work, which was huge at the time,” Lennon says, adding: “I didn’t hesitate, I was ready. “
Today Jim Lennon seems as busy as he wants, between his business clients and his personal work. We met him by phone to talk about his profession, his new book and his advice to novice photographers.
Let’s talk about equipment: what do you use?
My cameras are Hasselblad and Nikon digital cameras. I have about 50 electronic flashes in different configurations – drums, remote studio systems. I have a lot more lights than I need.
Lighting can intimidate people. Why is this so important?
Lighting is a science. … It’s all about ratios and proportions and once you learn that then the confidence in knowing what to do with your gear kind of sets in… and you know how to apply what you’re good at. I tell people, “If you’re nervous at work, you’re not ready to do it. You don’t want a nervous guy to brake your car. You don’t want to walk away and the guy says, “Hope they work! “
What does the business landscape look like today?
We’ve become such a visual society… pictures use faster, news sooner, and (my clients) need them to look a little better than the person next door. I do a lot of product photography and I work for restaurants, and you can eat really good food, but if you have crap photos of good food, it looks like crap food.
What types of jobs are you working on?
Last month we had five new customers – I don’t know how – and the range goes from rebranding an x-ray company to these packages that are going to be on soda machines that are going to be through. the country. A lot of the people I work for in this company are supercharged in communicating with people, so they’ll be walking as many miles as possible in different mediums, spots, and spaces that can actually use the visual.
Preferred jobs? What do you like to photograph the most?
It’s so hard to tell. I love the job I do all the time, and it’s hard not to be excited when my clients are. I always like to photograph people… it’s all about character. And people don’t understand that this character is much more impressive than everything else in them. You look at a picture of someone – whether handsome or not – and you’re like, “Dude, I would really like to get to know this person.”
Why did you self-publish The shore?
I went to see three editors in total, two of them answered me and said, “Yes, we’re interested, but here’s what you need to do to change it. … They wanted more headlights, more ducks – and I didn’t want to do that – so I decided to self-publish. And there is nothing in it that I would change.
I decided to focus only on the coastline… I literally did it for myself. I sold 450 prints framed and mounted on plexiglass (from The shore photographs) to customers and salespeople and thought, “What a great way to wrap up a theme… and (create) a vehicle through which other people could view these photographs.”
Favorite places in the East to shoot?
My neighborhood (Flanders) is amazing. I put entire calendars just for my neighborhood. … The whole of the East End… it’s just beautiful. Every favorite place I’ve ever had is probably the last place I really found a good photo – and you find them here.
Any advice for someone starting out in the business?
Be good before you do anything, and good doesn’t happen in a year. You have to watch and listen to the people who can deny you, because if they don’t deny you, then you have something. If they refuse you, there is a reason.
A lot of people will just try to do things that appease their friends, boost their egos, get lots of likes on Facebook, and if you are just starting out the first thing you need to do is really reach out to the people who are going to stop you. if you’re underperforming – and you learn fast.
What drives you? What do you like the most about what you do?
I love the scenery. … There are a dozen places in my head that are usually close to where I am, and if I see light things starting to happen, I know I’m going to gravitate to one of those places. end the day and get something over there that’s going to be different.
What I find really interesting about this is that… you’re a conservative. You can record those things that will never be in one place in space or time again, in that light, and you can preserve them, record them, and transmit them.
Jim Lennon to give a talk on self-publishing The shore in January at the Alex Ferrone gallery (25425 Main Road, Cutchogue). To see more of his work, visit jimlennonphotography.com.