Norfolks Voice

From Crisis to Creativity

Folk Features talks to Joe Lenton, Photographer

Photographer Joe Lenton decided to learn all about Computer Generated Imagery in the first lockdown – with award-winning results. Here he explains how this is not exactly the first time that a new creative direction has been born out of a crisis

Nearly 10 years ago, nerve problems diagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis saw the end of my career as a musician but the beginning of a new creative path as a photographer. Out of a bleak time came a new era of creativity that led to a new business and a rapidly growing collection of accolades for my images. When the first lockdown struck, like for so many, my work was suddenly taken away (again).

UEA Ziggurat – long exposure

I had been steadily growing my business around three key pillars and two of those were now no longer viable. Teaching photography to small groups was clearly not possible during a pandemic. This, coupled with the horrific months that hospitality businesses were facing, meant that I had to find new ways to enable my business to flourish with product photography. Although it had long been a part of the business, it would now have to take centre stage. While thinking about how to position my work, I realised that now was a good time to consider what the future might be in the world of advertising and product photography and find ways to offer my clients something new despite lockdown restrictions.

During the quieter moments of lockdown, I started to learn CGI. It meant that not being able to visit locations and the difficulties of shopping for props could be overcome by building scenes digitally. As my first commission showed, it was also possible to create digital images of products that don’t actually exist yet! Despite being a familiar aspect of movies and TV productions, CGI is a new avenue for photographers. The software and render capabilities mean that highly photorealistic environments can be created virtually. It has the added environmental bonus of reducing the amount of waste from set building.

Product photo on CGI

It was a steep learning curve. I needed to learn how to construct 3D models, add materials to them, light scenes and create renders. But soon, excited by the creative possibilities, I was hooked and creating work I was proud of and others wanted to commission. I broke new ground, winning awards for images that were composites of product photos on CGI backgrounds. It meant that the business could offer something fresh and different to other photographers with wider creative options and even the possibility of progressing to simple product animations.

Chocolates – CGI

From initially feeling rather despondent about the future, I had turned the corner and found a new passion by learning a new skill. Not only did it help keep away boredom, and the blues, it also has already helped to bring in contracts with various businesses, including a large international brand. When Slendertone came knocking I was delighted to work with them on a new range of product images. How had they found me? Through my CGI work online.

The award-winning image

Strategic up-skilling can be powerful for your business. Challenges throw opportunities our way to find new ways forward. I have found this to be profoundly true, not just once but twice in a very big way. Learning CGI brought fun, creativity, a distraction from a dire situation and a way for a business to find a route forward out of the crisis.