Thursday, February 25, 2016

Throwback Thursday: A Visit with Jeff Frey of CPL Imaging

"Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative act." ~Ansel Adams

I met Jeff Frey in 1987. My success in setting up an advertising program at AMSOIL that year caught the attention of a marketing VP for The Chromaline Corporation, a small manufacturing firm here in the screen printing industry. I was hired to become their in-house ad agency.

Chromaline had gone through four ad agencies in less than three years and, among other problems, their literature lacked continuity at the time. I set about to review and analyze their sales and product lit. After having been at AMSOIL, where standards were extremely high, it seemed the Chromaline lit (at this time) was shoddy at best. The product photos on these printed pieces looked especially bad and washed out, so I decided to switch the company to another pro photographer in town who I thought did decent work. First, however, I had to find the original photos that were used in the literature. Chromaline made photostencil films and emulsions in an industry where imaging is important.

Then it happened. I still remember the moment. I saw a black and white glossy, so crisp and rich it was literally eye-popping. The subject matter: a gallon container of photostencil emulsion. I knew then that the problem lay not with the photographer. I found it stunning that a boring, black container could look so dynamic.

Jeff's work has always been nothing short of astonishing. He does true magic with a camera. There are no shortcuts. His equipment is always state-of-the-art, and the outcomes always worth the effort.

Like myself, Jeff is also a New Jersey transplant to the Midwest. But high standards are what brought us together. This past week we talked about the photography business.

Ennyman: How did you get into photography as a profession?
JF: It was a hobby. Then I worked at a camera store here in Duluth, got friendly with an established commercial photographer and partnered up with him. I had pursued the hobby seriously when I was working in the camera store.

Ennyman: What have you enjoyed most about the photography business?
JF: The sales tax reports. (laughs) Writing the check to the department of revenue.

Besides that, my favorite thing to shoot is people at their jobs, because I allow them to participate in the building of the image. They tell me what is important, what they do, how they manipulate what they do. It’s a collaborative effort where the subject is helping to create the image.

Now, with digital, when I shoot to a computer, it’s very easy to get feedback and work together.

Ennyman: What are the two or three biggest mistakes that amateur photographers make?
JF: Thinking they can make money at it. (laughs)
An artist is not necessarily an entrepreneur. Just because you can satisfy customers with nice pictures does not mean you can have a successful business.

Ennyman: What about lighting… how important is that with digital?
JF: It’s every bit as important as it ever used to be. But you don’t need as much now.

You’re way better off making it right from the start. Basically I weigh the situation. After I understand that aesthetically it can happen one way or the other, I ask where it is going to take less effort. You have to know the limits of Photoshop. When it comes to light on someone’s face, there’s no way I am going to try to fix that later.

Ennyman: Do you have any secrets you’re willing to share that help turn good photos into great photos?
JF: Make sure the eyes are in focus. Also, it always makes a photo more interesting with more depth if you include a complimentary foreground element.

Ennyman: How has the digital age changed professional photography?
JF: Formerly, a Polaroid test was as much immediate feedback as we could get to check lighting, etc. The Polaroid was never the final product. You always had to then shoot the film and hope you get it right on film, like facial expression or catching the peak of a jump with a dancer. The dancers are thrilled because they don’t have to jump forty times to make sure you got it once.

I don’t have to worry about bringing different types of film, different speeds, different color balance film. Now we can white balance in the camera, can change the sensitivity on the fly.

Check out a portion of Jeff's portfolio here

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This interview was posted seven years ago today. Jeff and CPL Imaging can also be found here on Facebook

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