Last Updated July 13, 2018

Leon Neal

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I can't imagine why, but I regularly get emails asking how I got started, so rather than writing out the same waffle over and over again, I thought I'd just write it all here. To save you time, if you think that this page will tell you how to glide into a staff job with a news agency, you can probably stop reading around....

My dad bought me an old Zenit SLR camera when I was about 13 from a guy he worked with, and I took great pleasure in pretending I was a real photographer (nothing changes). I used it to perfectly record the usual oh-so-deep-and-arty pictures of rusty locks and family pets.

After discovering the wonderful things that are drums, I spent about a decade playing in various bands, even managing to get on the bill at the Glastonbury festival with Sheffield-based group Elfin. Well, when I say on the bill, you'd need the extra special BIG version of the poster that not only listed every single act playing on every stage but also a magnifying glass. Still, it's nice to say "Oh yeah, we played Glasto back in the day..."

When my dreams of adding Neal to the list of Bonham, White, Colaiuta and Bozzio fizzled, I looked at what else in life I enjoyed and returned to photography. Having done a very basic NCTJ Foundation Course when I was taking my A Levels, I returned to the college eight years later to take the NCTJ's Pre-Entry course under the famous Paul Delmar. Towards the end of the course, we were all encouraged to enter "The Times/Tabasco Young Photographer of the Year" competition and, as you may have guessed from the title of this blog, I managed to win. Rather random I know but we'll see who's laughing when you have a bland plate of food in front of you and no lifetime supply of pepper sauce.

Having been able to leap straight to The Times from college, I missed a vast chunk of time that, while it's great to be able to skip, resulted in me missing out on all that experience that helps to hone and tweak a photographer's abilities. Learning your skills while working with and against the best photographers in London, with the results being put in an internationally famous newspaper, is a hell of a way to learn fast. After enjoying my prize of six months at The Times under the nurturing wonders of the then Picture Editor Paul Sanders, I managed to stay on for nearly two years before deciding to look for work with one of the news agencies. Following trials and shifts with some of them, I decided that I really wanted to work for Agence France-Presse. After working for the company on a freelance basis for a few months, I managed to get another lucky break as photographer and good friend John D McHugh left the company to pursue his own projects, leaving an open position which I thankfully managed to grab (with both hands).

After nine years with AFP, I decided a shake-up was in order and so moved to Getty Images' news team, based in London in September, 2016.

The rest of the story is still happening. I've also got both Twitter and Instagram accounts that you're welcome to subscribe to if you're into that sort of thing.

Cheers for stopping by. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Agence France-Presse (AFP) or Getty Images.