Alvin Foo is a busy man. When he is not helming the Canon Imaging Academy as Principal, he demonstrates his 7 years of experience in projects with local and international companies. We find out more about his work and his journey to where he is today.
Alvin Foo is the Principal of Canon Imaging Academy and enjoys telling stories through his photography.
You are a Photojournalist and Documentary Photographer. What requirements do you think sets that role apart from a standard photographer?
As a photojournalist/documentary photographer, one has to have the passion for storytelling. Your work has to go beyond visual aesthetics and explore the story behind each individual subject.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F/1.6 | ISO 1250 | 1/40s
What aspect of this work fascinates you?
The mere presence of a camera can sometime change the dynamics of a situation. A photojournalist/documentary photographer has to constantly be on their toes and ready to react accordingly. I enjoy the spontaneity and challenge of adapting to whatever is thrown my way.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F/8 | ISO 160 | 1/200s
As a visual storyteller, what are some of your thought processes when on assignment? Do you plan things out or work spontaneously?
As a visual storyteller, I’m always looking at how can I objectively present the story through my images. I spend a lot of time doing research and looking or gaining access to suitable subjects. Even with all these preparation, one has to be ready for changes. On the field, the only constant is change.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F/2.5 | ISO 1000 | 1/2000s
And continuing the role, what are some of the most important traits a photo should have to constitute a good documentary piece to you? How does one tell a story with a photo?
It has to be coherent as a body of work. The visual should draw the viewer’s attention to your story, and to do that, one has to truly understand the subject matter.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F/3.2 | ISO 320 | 1/320s
If you had to pick one top trait in a shot that makes or break it, what would it be? E.g. composition, lighting, angle, subject, interest?
From the perspective of photojournalism/documentary photography, I would said the “subject matter”. It’s interest and relevancy to your story would affect the final success of the shot.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F/2.5 | ISO 800 | 1/1000s
What is your post-production workflow like?
As I’m shooting mainly in RAW, I work a lot with Lightroom for adjustments, like exposure & colour correction etc.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/18 | ISO 100 | 30s
Does publishing the photo on different platforms affect the way you approach the assignment or shot?
Yes. The medium will often affect my approach to the assignment. Whether it is for a photo book, print exhibition or multimedia, each has its own requirement and one has to plan ahead before commencing a project. For example, I’ll need to do voice recordings for a multimedia project, while I’ll need to decide on things like the preferred orientation for photobooks, or for an exhibition, the number of prints needed.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/4.5 | ISO 1600 | 1/1600s
Could you tell us a little about the cameras you frequently use?
I started professional photography with the Canon EOS 5D then later upgraded to the Canon EOS 5D MK II & Canon EOS 5D MK III. I have stayed with the 5D system ever since.
If there is a favourite, could you mention a little why?
The 5D system is one of my favorite full frame camera series. The simplicity of the camera layout allows users to easily control the camera without much fuss. It is also a camera built to last and that is very important for professionals working in harsh environments.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F/2.8 | ISO 1000 | 1/125s
Could you pick out three Canon lenses that every fan should try in their lifetime and why?
Canon EF50mm f/1.2L USM – An excellent lens for portraiture.
Canon EF24mm f/1.4 II USM – For photographers who love shooting with available lighting and require wide angle to capture the scene.
Canon EF35mm f/1.4 II USM– A fast and versatile lens for general walkabout.
Due to the genre of photography I specialise in, I work mainly with available light and the Canon prime lenses offer me the flexibility to do just that.
Canon EOS 5DS R | F/2.8 | ISO 1000 | 1/200s
Of your exhibitions, was there a particularly memorable one, and why?
That would be my project “The Occupied Space”. It’s about a squatting community in a disused Fire Station in central London and the project concluded with an exhibition held in the huge hall of the fire station itself. We invited the neighbors and public to the exhibition so this offers an opportunity for the community to interact with their neighbors, establishing an understanding rarely seen in the mainstream media. I particularly enjoyed it because I could see the direct impact it had on both viewer and subject.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F/1.6 | ISO 800 | 1/200s
If there is any one photographer you could meet, who would it be and why?
Don McCullin. During my studies in London, through a workshop organised by the university, I gained the privilege of meeting him. He is well-known for his Vietnam War images and his experience shared during that short meet-up has benefitted me as documentary photographer. His ethos and experience shooting in war zones really benefited me so imagine if I had a full day with him!
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F/1.8 | ISO 1250 | 1/160s
You spent some time in the UK pursuing a Master’s Degree in Photography. Can you share if, and how, that education has changed the way you looked at photography?
I started self-taught and I knew that there is only that much that I could learn on my own. The opportunity to study in London allowed me to understand photography beyond it as an aesthetic visual. More importantly, I am able to learn from experienced professionals like Peter Fraser and Ed Kashi, and network with editors from major publications like The Sunday Times. It provided a valuable opportunity for me to expand my horizon and view photography from different perspectives (from a practicing photographer to a chief editor).
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F/2.8 | ISO 400 | 1/6400s
You are the principal for CIA. On a personal basis, what is your vision for the school?
I aim to establish CIA as the leading institute for photography learning in Singapore. It’s where amateurs and professionals can come together and learn from the best in the industry.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F/1.6 | ISO 1250 | 1/400s
There’s a growing interest in photography locally. Why do you think this is so?
As equipment becomes more competitive, photography also becomes more accessible. Unlike in the past, today you can easily share your work through the various social media platforms as well and we can see a really high level of photography work from the community in Singapore.
Canon EOS M5 | F/7.1 | ISO 400 | 1/2500s
Of the topic trends, what do you see increasing in popularity and what do you think might be the reason for this?
Drone photography. There is a growing trend in drone photography as it offers photographers an opportunity to capture a perspective that was not possible in the past. However, with an influx of drone images, with no proper context, it may easily become just one of the many “fab” pictures you see on social media.
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First published: Canon EOS World