Thursday, June 14, 2007
Kevin Foley - It's In The Light
Kevin Foley wasn't just an early adopter to digital, he went all in—and it's paid off in spades
Foley is certainly gifted in his ability to set his subject at ease regardless of whether he's using film or digital. Still, from the beginning, digital gave him an advantage for the work with celebrities. If you've ever photographed someone in a studio environment, you know how difficult it can be to set the talent at ease as you go about making final adjustments to the lighting and firing off a string of Polaroids to see if everything is okay. The minutes tick by as you wait for the image to emerge. The subject fidgets. You speak to your assistant in hushed tones. The overall scene is one of stress. Now picture the same photo shoot with a digital camera. You fire off a quick series of tests. They pop up on your computer monitor instantaneously and you can bring the subject over to see how everything is looking. While he or she is looking at the images, your assistant makes the necessary tweaks to the set and you're good to go.
Perhaps the most important upshot of the whole exchange is that you and the talent can have a chat about the scene in a collaborative manner. In that first series of test images, you likely caught something that looks pretty good. Your subject sees that and immediately gets put at ease instead of being put on edge. Foley is a master at being able to take what can be an adversarial relationship and making it into a cooperative relationship. He eagerly shares the images with his subject and is happy to engage them in possible ways to get the shot perfect.
Foley was certainly an early adopter to digital. Besides giving him the ability to have a better dynamic with the subjects, he immediately saw the moneymaking potential inherent in digital. He never has to deliver a job to a client that isn't done to his satisfaction. In a film-based workflow, a photographer might deliver transparencies that will need some airbrushing and adjustment before they're done. With digital, Foley can make the images perfect before they ever leave his control. It will be up to the client if they want to make more adjustments, but Foley has the peace of mind knowing he delivered as good an image as he possibly can. Delivering perfect work invariably leads to building a reputation for perfection, which leads to more business.
When Foley began to make the switch to digital, he discovered another element that separated him from the crowd. Much of his kind of people photography was done with medium-format cameras. The larger film format gave the client freedom to make extreme enlargements and also rendered the highest possible image quality for magazine and advertising reproduction. Foley used and still uses 35mm-format cameras on a regular basis, however. The smaller, more mobile design lets him move around freely and quickly, changing compositions as an idea strikes him or as the model does something interesting. The images have a dynamic quality. 35mm-style digital cameras have on-board memory instead of relying on a tethered device for storage. The whole package naturally lends itself to fast work and on-the-fly compositional adjustments.
The early days of digital are long gone and the bandwagon of digital followers is getting ever more crowded. Still, there are plenty of industry power players who demand film for a variety of reasons. It's fair to say that those reasons are increasingly less relevant and increasingly more arbitrary, but when a client tells you they will only accept film, you deliver film. You can talk until you're blue in the face about your ability to deliver a better image if you shoot digital, but some people you just can't reach—at least until you show them. Foley stands not only as one who has avidly embraced digital, but he's also of the mind to convince his clients that going with digital is the right thing to do. When, from time to time, he runs into someone who insists on film, he more often than not tries to convince them that he should use a digital camera at least some of the time. If the client is on the set, it usually doesn't take long before Foley has won out and the film gets put away for the rest of the job.
This steadfast notion that he should be shooting all digital all the time isn't just about the workflow or the collaborative process or the ease of making changes to composition without having to take time to look at Polaroids and tweak the lights. At the very core is the image quality. Foley spearheaded the migration to digital only when he saw that the technology could deliver the goods. None of the other advantages matter if a client calls and says the images are breaking up at the size required. Image quality might have been the last block to fall into place and make digital viable for all pros. That was a few years ago. Now, for Foley, digital isn't as good as film; it exceeds film. One of the ways he convinces his clients that they should let him go digital instead of demanding film is by showing them that the quality is beyond film.
Kevin Foley continues to ride the wave he first caught more than five years ago, and it's still a great ride. As better equipment becomes available, he sees no end in sight to what's possible. Visit www.foleyphoto.com to see more of Foley's work.
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