Interviewing Jens Lennartsson: Shooting Naturally and Photography Zen

Jens Lennartsson is a lifestyle and travel commercial photographer based in Sweden who worked for brands like IKEA, Vagabond, Monocle, Visit Barbados, Swedish Match, and so on during his career. Jens managed to become a professional and globally recognized photographer through self-teaching. He believes that photography should be natural and raw, with little extra equipment and editing used, to be able to capture the true expression of people and the world around us. You can download his free e-book about street and travel photography here.

KeepSnap: Hi Jens! It’s a pleasure to have you with us on KeepSnap blog. How are you? Let’s start with the basics. How did it all happen? When did you begin to get interested in photography and was there anything that helped you understand that you should do photography for life?

Jens Lennartsson: Thanks for having me! It was my grandfather who got me into photography. He was a journalist and photographer at a local newspaper where I was born and he showed me how to develop photos in his basement. But it wasn’t until I bought my first digital camera, a Nikon D100, that I started to take real interest in photography. Since then, this was in the beginning of the new millennium, and it’s been a constant change. I’ve gone from different genres and tried to figure out why I want to photograph. I think I’m starting to get it now…

KeepSnap: You are a travel photographer and we bet that so many of our readers would just love to travel and work at the same time. What did appear in your life first, passion for traveling or passion for photography? And do your passions have anything to do with your interest in people?

Jens Lennartsson: I started to travel pretty late in my life. I made my own solo trip in 2006, to Albania. And after that, I was pretty much in love. In love with traveling alone and in love with meeting people and listening to their stories. Interacting with other humans is the most important thing for us to do. We are forgetting that though, with all apps and social media. I’m trying to include people as much as possible in everything I do.

KeepSnap: It’s a real joy to look at your photos. It seems that they are filled with happiness and something so subtly natural but so present that you just can’t stop looking. What did help you to find your style and was there someone who helped you shape your style?

Jens Lennartsson: After shooting a few years, to create a portfolio I booked a meeting with the travel magazine that I really wanted to work with. I went to Stockholm, stepped into their office and showed my portfolio. They really liked it and told me that the photos reminded a lot of the ones of one of the photographers that had been working a lot for that magazine. I just hummed a little surprised and we continued the meeting. The truth is that the particular photographer had been an inspiration for me for years and I had tried to mimic his style for a long time. In the beginning, it is just copying someone else but then you continue to mimic another photographer, and another. In the end, you’ve kept small pieces from all of them and that becomes your own style.

The light is always very important in my work. I usually look for the light first, and when I find a spot with great light, I just stay there and wait for someone to step into the scene.

It is very important to be patient. To have time to wait. That is why I like to travel alone, no one will be there, stressing you to keep on going. You do whatever you want, talk to whoever you feel like.

KeepSnap: What was your first camera that you used to take a professional photo? Have you got a favorite camera that is somewhat sacral to you? What camera and lens do you use now?

Jens Lennartsson: My Nikon D100 was my very first digital camera, and also the first one I used to do an assignment. I still have it. I’ve upgraded it three times and now I shoot with a D800. Recently I bought a Fujifilm X100T, which I completely love! I’ve shot complete magazine assignments with just that camera. Travelling with as little as possible in the baggage is one of my goals.

KeepSnap: Did you have any photo that became the tipping point in your popularity and let you start working with such big brands like Swedish Match, IKEA, and Vagabond?

Jens Lennartsson: I wouldn’t say it was any one particular photo. When I started to focus on Documercial photography (self-coined), I realised that more and more companies appreciated the mix of documentary - giving a feeling of truthfulness - and the commercial part - being able to shape the shots the way you want. More and more companies want to have photos that feel less stock-photo and more like a bunch of friends having a fun time. But still in a professional way.

KeepSnap: You said that you are a self-taught photographer. More to it, you believe that making awesome photos is not about fancy equipment and I can see by looking at your shots that you are right. If not a special education and expensive tools, what is really important for a beginner photographer to become a professional?

Jens Lennartsson: Know that it will take time. A lot of time. There is no way that will make you a successful photographer overnight; it’ll take years. As soon as possible you should sit down and write down your goals, decide what you want to shoot and more importantly why. Do you want to be a fashion photographer because you want to be seen with all these cool models? Or do you actually have something to say, that you think everyone else should know about? Is that why you feel like becoming a documentary photographer? Know what you want to do and why, then there’s never any question about where you are heading. Now you just need to make sure every step you take, every job you do is helping you on your way there.

KeepSnap: You have several personal projects and almost all of them are quite socially-angled and about people. How do you view photography? I can see that for you it’s more than your job. Do you think it can help make the world better? Tell us about your philosophy.

Jens Lennartsson: It´s definitely more than just my job, I don’t divide my life into work/private, then I would sometimes have to work when I don't really want to. Photography is a part of who I am. In the beginning of my career, I had to do work that might not be the funniest, but that was necessary to get cash. Nowadays my goal is to stop doing everything that I do for others and only focus on the parts that I do because I want to do it. If people then like it or even pay me to do it, so be it. I don’t believe in working for someone else or for a goal that isn’t your personal.

KeepSnap: People and lifestyle are the leitmotifs of your work, whilst most of our readers are portrait, event, and wedding photographers. What qualities a good photographer that works with people needs to have and what does it take to capture a candid portrait shot? What challenges can a photographer be faced with and how they can overcome these challenges?

Jens Lennartsson: A good photographer knows that only a tiny bit of the result comes from the camera. You need to be able to connect with all kinds of people pretty quickly. You need to be likeable and outgoing. You need to be able to make people understand that you are no threat even though you have a camera, the photos won’t end up any place that would put them in a bad light. First and foremost, a great photographer have enormous respect for the subjects they are shooting.

KeepSnap: You travelled so much and got to know so many people. And usually it’s people who make places interesting and not the other way around. Were there any stories that touched you, made you happy, and drew you a sincere smile that you happened to live during your career as a photographer? Please tell us one.

Jens Lennartsson: During my first trip alone, to Albania. I met this 72-year old man who was watching his friends playing chess in the park. He invited me for coffee in the café next door and he told me about his kids, his former job, his life. Then he picked up his tiny moped and we went around the entire city and it’s surroundings with my large bag with us all the time. He showed me around and we had lunch together. We spend several hours together and became very good friends. The interesting part of this story is that Skender didn’t speak a word of English and I surely didn’t speak any Albanian before we met. We talked to each other with sign language, by drawings and gestures. As long as you have time, you don’t need to speak the same language to interact.

KeepSnap: What do you do now and what plans do you have?

Jens Lennartsson: At the moment, I’m working a lot on the blog and on the book publishing company that I co-own. I’m also working on an educational platform for learning more about the human way of photographing. And I’m writing several e-books being released soon.

KeepSnap: You keep several blogs and one of them is Zen Photography? Why Zen?

Jens Lennartsson: I realised that all the photoblogs were about settings and equipment. Photography for me is not the camera, it is the whole process. If I could, I would love to be able to take a photo with just my eye, to get rid of the camera. No one was writing about the human part of photography, the interactions and how you manage to build a relation with your subjects.

Zen is about being present, about not having more than you need. That is very much how I see photography.

KeepSnap: Can you give our photographers who want to start their blog some tips on how they should keep it and make it interesting?

Jens Lennartsson: Most important: be very clear what it is about and what makes it different from all the other blogs out there. That way, it is easier for you to decide which posts to write and much easier for your readers to understand just by a quick look.

KeepSnap: What professional literature can you recommend to our readers?

Jens Lennartsson: Read interviews with photographers. Try to find out how they think and work.

KeepSnap: And the last thing. What do you think about KeepSnap’s idea and what tips can you give to our photographers so that they don’t look for clients anymore but make clients find them themselves?

Jens Lennartsson: It is never fun to spend hours on marketing or phone calls. Anything that will help you spend more time meeting people and photographing is a great thing!

KeepSnap: Thanks so much for your time and interesting answers, Jens! It was a great experience to talk with you. Thanks once more and good luck!

Jens Lennartsson: See you!

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