[ October 23rd, 2006 ] Born and raised on a ranch in the high plains of western Nebraska, photographer, Lennette Newell, was interested in the nature of animals from the very beginning. Her father, an animal veterinarian, enlisted her and her siblings in ranch and veterinarian chores that included cattle, peacocks, horses, her dog Sam, Stinky the skunk, and assorted creatures. This was the beginning of her ability to work with animals' instincts, sensibilities and personalities.
The sense of place and connection to nature of ranch life influenced her gravitation toward photography in high school. After high school, Newell continued her studies in photography at the University of Nebraska and Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, CA. During the course of her career, she paid homage to her roots and began an animal series of photographs that she has developed into a commercial market niche.
Newell, specializing in animals, kids and lifestyle photography, lives and works in the San Francisco Bay area with her daughter and husband. Current client list includes: Clorox, ColdHeat, Worldwise, Leap Frog, Shaklee, Ubisoft, Wild Planet, Discovery Toys, and Harper Collins Publishing.
What inspires you to create your images?
The grace, beauty and the unbridled joy that animals possess, is a constant source of inspiration. That is what I try to convey in my work.
What was one of your more interesting animal photo sessions?
It was a book cover assignment to photograph a King snake. The snake was quite gentle and inquisitive with me on the set, but whenever the handler approached, he became aggressive and hostile toward the handler. As it turned out the snake disliked the handler for removing him from his habitat that morning and bringing him to the studio. It was amazing how the snake made that distinction. That shoot really demonstrated that each individual animal regardless of species is truly unique. What this your first reptile photo session?
Yes, I had never shot a reptile before this assignment, so I was unsure of what to expect. Jesse, the handler, who is very experienced with many reptiles said it would be difficult to photograph the King snake because of their speed, natural instinct to hide and not easily adaptable to new environments (not a social snake.)
So, how did you handle this challenge?
The set was adapted so the snake would be contained as much as possible. Once Jesse took him out of his bag he tried to aggressively bite him and was very agitated.
I thought hmmm, this is going to be interesting. I always keep the camera to my face, so not to miss ANY shots, but now I knew it had another purpose! Jesse placed the snake on the set and I approached instinctively with correct timing to focus the snake's attention on me hoping he would calm down. I approached him in my usual cautious and assured manner. I was snapping on the way to my subject hoping he would get used to the noises I made with the camera, walking etc. All seemed calm and eerie at the same time. Snakes use their tongue to feel vibrations and taste the air. To my delight the snake was doing plenty of that! I was surprised that the reptile seemed very much like any other animal in the sense that it trusted me. He was very personable and we connected immediately. Upon my final approach I was within 5 inches of him and moving around him, not so slowly now, so he would follow with his head and coil differently to get different angles and positions. Jesse was whispering in the background, "I can't believe it!"How did the shoot turn out in the end?
Perfect! I didn't think I would get his tongue out, head raised and exact coil I wanted, but I was also able to capture many other great positions. It was an exhilarating and amazing experience!
Yes! Large animals are a bigger production as they involve more trainers, talent safety, and tighter environment control. The session is planned around the shot and behavior needed. The environment is orchestrated so that the animal will feel comfortable and excited by the task, but not distracted by the crew.
Location shoots are harder to control, but I thrive on the challenge and enjoy that there is an element of the unknown with wild animals. I'm very detailed oriented with every aspect of pre-production. I always feel comfortable with a plan. But, I also can adapt to a new direction in a heartbeat with a strong point of view and energy only a red head can possess. (okay that red head thing may be over the top) Ha! Ha!How has digital photography enhanced your work?
The ability to refine and make multiple changes in the time it used to take to process a Polaroid is really critical while photographing both animals and children. Then when everything is just right you have the image, no worries about capturing it on film. It is also very nice to have control during post production. As a successful photographer with strong imagery and technical skills, what else do you bring to the photo session?
I bring enthusiasm and high energy to a shoot, preceded by diligent planning and preparation. I strive to create situations where my subjects can reveal something special about themselves; and, of course, that a good time is had by all!
The portraits of Arnold Newman and Richard Avedon continue to stimulate me. I once asked Richard Avedon what his favorite photograph was and he replied, "The one I did yesterday!" The personal work of Howard Schatz produces year after year is very impressive. What do you think it takes to be a successful photographer?
It is important to create a singular body of work and then sustaining the vision, energy and ambition to generate new work. Photograph, photograph, photograph! So, what do you have planned for your future?
Books! My images lend themselves to book projects, which hopefully, could lead to a fine art venue. On the commercial side, a website for direct sales of my stock images in the works.
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