Interview with Photographer Paul Foley @lightmoods
Paul Foley is a professional photographer with over thirty years experience in his field. Based in Newcastle and Sydney he is commissioned to photograph around Australia and the world. With extensive experince in corporate, fine art, landscape and travel. His images reflect Paul's eclectic interests and observations of our world.
Firstly, can you start with a little bit about yourself and when you started your photography career?
My first attraction to photography was through the pages of 1970's surf magazines. Inspired, I saved for a Pentax, and a cheap 400mm lens then began photographing my friends surfing. I was full of teenage ambition of seeing my pictures on a magazine's page. After a week of waiting, the Kodachromes would come back from processing. Then, I would project the best on my bedroom wall, imagining them as magazine covers with mastheads and headlines.
During the mid-'70s and '80s, there was some limited publishing success. But even more fun and adventure travelling to various surf locations around the world. Travel opened my photographic soul - it encouraged me to understand my craft better. I discovered (and devoured) the images and teachings of Ansel Adams. Practical instruction came via many workshops conducted by contemporary masters of photography.
I was also very fortunate to receive mentoring from iconic Australian photographer, David Moore. This mix of 'on-page' and in-person tuition taught me to photograph with precise techniques and greater reflection. For many years I would make photographs using only large and medium format cameras.
Later, I settled into a professional photography career in Newcastle, Australia. Commissioned by local, national and international clients, I was a busy pro. All the while, though, I still made pictures for me. Everyone needs a hobby as a break from everyday work and mine was photography - despite my day job.
In 2006 I almost permanently lost my sight after eye surgery. It took several years for my eyes to recover and longer to come to terms with the associated depression it caused. Even now, I am somewhat limited by the amount of commissioned work I can comfortably undertake. The recovery period gave me more time for my 'hobby'. I used it to express how that smeared vision, in the months immediately after the surgery, filtered the world. I found myself drawn to disguising scenes and details with blur and motion in a series I call 'Wonderful Chaos'.
What equipment do you use and why did you select it?
I arrived at the Sony mirrorless system by an evolution. While I began with 35mm film, I didn't appreciate the art of photography until I started shooting with medium and large format.
I've never had any personal connection to the gear I use, and over my career, I have used every brand. Apart from my very first purchase, which was decided by the scant after school job savings, I scrounged. I always looked at what the equipment could do for my photographic goals. Then I saved hard to buy it.
When digital became viable as a professional corporate photography tool, I bought a Canon 1Ds and some lenses. I think it was 11 megapixels. I continued to shoot with Hasselblad and Sinar 4x5" film, which I scanned with an Imacon drum scanner before delivering the files to clients. Over two years, I slowly began offering digital captures mixed in with the film scans. When Canon upgraded to 16 megapixels, I was able to deliver more digital captures.
I kept using Canon exclusively until the Sony A7r was released. I loved the dynamic range the sensor provided, so I bought one for my landscape and architectural work and used my Canon lenses on it.
Now I use the Sony A7r3 and A72 bodies (with Sony and Zeiss Batis lenses) for both my corporate and fine art/landscape photography.
How do you prepare before going for a shoot?
My photography is segmented into two compartments - commissioned and self-assigned. The training and process I use for commissioned assignments are only partly applied to my self assigned work.
As a professional photographer dealing with branding, lifestyle and corporate shoots, there is a lot of pre (and post) production. I work with small and large companies as well as government bodies and regional localities. Understanding what the client wants, working to time restraints and budgets requires a lot of communication and patience. Much of this communication can occur before I am offered a job, and there are never any guarantees.
If I have a scheduled job I do the usual: equipment listing, checking and cleaning and the never-ending battery charging. As well as reformatting SD cards, I clear space on the laptop as well 3 - 4 back up SSDs and begin a new session, dedicated to the job, in Capture One Pro. Many of my jobs are multi-day, so I need to have all the lighting and accessories I might need for an entire shoot.
For my landscape and fine art photography, I check and prepare my gear, but other planning is not so diligent. I'll do some online location checks and if I'm travelling overseas will sort out vaccinations, visas and probably some initial accommodation. I like to spend time in places getting to know it as I wander around and meet people so, while it might not be efficient, I tend to plan on the road.
Early in my photographic journey, I was attracted to the icons, of course. These days of Instagram and 500px means I can see awesome pictures of all those places with the swipe of a thumb. I call my process 'Finding Pictures', and it might help explain the eclectic range of subject matter I photograph. I know I miss some locations when I find myself deciding to turn left or right, but I enjoy unstructured travel and discovery. And some of the pictures I find turn out ok - despite the many more I miss.
What do you enjoy most about Landscape and Fine Art Photography?
I love the technical side of photography - capturing highlights and rendering shadow detail in remarkable landscapes and challenging light. I don't blend multiple exposures, but the Sony sensors have so much dynamic range that I often don't need to. The combination of this and Capture One processing gives me all I need. The joy for me is finding locations, compositions and stories that I can apply those skills to and hopefully create memorable pictures.
I believe photography isn't real until you touch it. As a 21st century photographer, I share my work on Instagram and view it on monitors, but my film roots mean a print is very special to me. I call it 'holding the pixels'. Ansel Adams said, "The negative is the equivalent of the composer's score, and the print the performance." Replace 'negative' with 'raw file' and his philosophy is just as apt today.
How has photography shaped the person you are today?
Photography has made me the person I am today for sure - for better or worse. It has helped me engage with humanity, customs, locations and lifestyles. Making me more empathetic and excited to experience the differences that make humankind and the landscapes they inhabit.
It can be a lonely existence at times, as well. Travelling and meeting people from all over is fantastic, but I need to travel alone to photograph the way I see these places and people. Sharing those experiences with the ones I love is not so easy if I am out and about finding pictures. I need to go back later, leave my camera (or at least my tripod) at home and experience it with someone close.
Which photographers have inspired you?
My two faves are Ansel Adams and David Moore, but there are many, many others - Bill Henson, Albert Watson, Imogen Cunningham. I love visiting galleries when photographers are on show and discovering new work. I also get lost on Instagram checking out young photographers who often don't seem to know the photographic and compositional 'rules' they are brilliantly breaking.
What has been your proudest body of work to date?
I will always have great emotion for a series I shot many years ago. It featured students with disabilities (some quite severe) who went to school across the street from I studio I had in Newcastle, Australia.
I'm thrilled with the Wonderful Chaos series I made after the eye surgery that went the wrong episode. There are not many images but making them was very cathartic.
More recently, the work I created on an extended trip to Vietnam and Mongolia in 2018 and images from a very recent ten-week stay on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia.
What has been your most memorable location to photograph?
It has to be North-West Mongolia.
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
The most important advice is to work out what kind of photographer you want to be. If you're going to make money, maybe try commercial and corporate photography. Bear in mind, though, that less than 1% of those calling themselves professional make a full-time wage from photography.
Maybe another approach is finding a job that pays a reasonable rate and using all of your spare time making pictures you love. My most enjoyable photography happens when I'm not being paid to take pictures. I'm still serious and even more passionate about the photographs I find but selling a print does not define my enjoyment. Still, the email from my website telling me a print has sold does feel pretty good as well :-)
Finally, what is the most challenging aspect of being a photographer today?
In my mind, you don't have to be 'Professional' to be a photographer. In other words, you don't have to earn money to be considered a photographer. Every age of photography has had aspiring photographers do work for free or cheaply. It's the nature of the beast. Before digital, the technical side of making pictures weeded many 'wannabes' out pretty quickly.
Clients understood and appreciated the skill required to deliver prints and transparencies that would reproduce in magazines and brochures. When those skills matched with a creative eye, some could make a good living from professional photography.
Today's professional photography is mostly shot digitally and viewed on screens. Often small screens. This advance in technology means mistakes are fewer, or easily fixed, and most frequently, the average viewer doesn't notice anyway. Therefore, when aspiring photographers are making amazing images for free or cheaply, there is less opportunity to charge more when that photographer becomes better known. There is always a large, fresh crop of newbies working for free or cheaply. And, to be frank, they're making compelling images. The digital age is incredible for photography and photographers. There are many more ways to make money from photography; however, only a few will make enough to live off.
I don't consider myself a dinosaur, but I have been making pictures for a long time. Younger photographers understand they need to have a broader skillset and be very entrepreneurial to succeed. Being a 'photographer' is already different from ten years ago. Who knows what it will be in 5 or 10 years? I guess that it will mostly be only part of someone. It won't define a person as it does me.
Perhaps the future photographer will not make a lot of money from their passion. I have no doubt, though, they will make amazing images that tell stories, excite and touch so many more people in every part of the world. These photographers will work at other things to fund their travel and photography adventures.
Other 'photographers' who do make money won't just make still images. Their skills will encompass video, timelapse, drone and POV as well. They will be visual artists and creators packaging emotion and experiences for both commercial clients and fine art collectors.
Bring it on!