Jeff Mitchel Press emailed us at The Bokeh Pot a month or two ago, attached some images, and stated his interest in being featured on our blog. After looking through his images (all taken with the lens baby), I knew he would need a special feature about bokeh. After all, that’s what our blog is named for!
Jeff is an architectural and fine art wedding photographer who loves his Lens Baby G3. He started making custom apertures for it a while ago and always carries a few blanks with him in case he finds a situation that begs for something new. He shoots with the Nikon D300 and D700, but thinks Canon makes excellent copiers;) JK. He shoots RAW with is right eye (occasionally RAW+JPEG), and shoots 50% manual mode, 40% aperture or time value mode, and 10% program mode. He likes Kubota and TRA actions, The Photography Instructor’s Starbucks B&W conversion action, and occassionally will use Kubota lightroom presets.
We asked Jeff to answer a few questions about his work with the lens baby (many of his images have been used at B&H workshops), as well as to answer the regular questionnaire. He also submitted a few images of his non-lensbaby work!
When did you first become interested in creating your own bokeh shapes?
In August 2008, I decided it was time to learn to see. I started to force myself to carry a single lens and figure out how to best express ideas or images using only that lens (outside of paid & contracted works) for a month. October was Lens Baby month for me. I carried it everywhere and used it often. I had the Creative Aperture Kit sitting on my shelf since I first bought a Lens Baby a year earlier and finally got around to using the included star and heart shapes. When I actually saw the results, in my own images, I knew I needed to start making my own disks. I have made an umbrella, an angel, lightening bolt, snowflake a maple leaf and others. I made them using inexpensive dies purchased at craft stores like Michaels.
Why are you so interested in the lens baby and customized bokeh and what role do you think either/or will play in the future of photography?
I think the Lens Baby is an amazing way to help focus the viewer’s eye on your message, not just literally, but by using the out of focus areas to support the message with color theory and the shape of the bokeh. Both tools need to be subtle for most images, unless the message itself is about not being subtle. For example, the image featuring an out of focus Texas restaurant’s holiday lights brings bokeh to the point of the image. The bokeh is the only thing in focus. And it is in the shape of Texas, colorful, unexpected and BIG. Having been in Texas only a few weeks when I shot it, that was my first impression of Texas., and it’s people.
Are there any special tricks for making bokeh shapes and/or exposing for them?
There are three I can think of. Positive space, Negative space and holes. Positive space would be carving a specific shape into an aperture disk. Negative would be carving the opposite of that shape, useful for complex shapes. Holes are just drilling holes in a disk to a pattern or to outline a complex shape. One of the things that works best with the LensBaby is to use it in a dark area with lots of bright colors. The out of focus areas really saturate and smear the colors to amazing effect.
There seems to be a lot of confusion about bokeh… can you sum it up in a quick easy to understand definition?
I understand bokeh to be the quality of the out of focus areas within an image. I think that bokeh is more than a technical aspect of how round, creamy or diffused an out of focus area is, but rather is how those features harmonize or create tension within an image and to what result.
Describe the moment you decided it was time to pursue this as a career?
My own wedding, a few years ago. I had an amazing photographer (Agaton Strom) who sparked my interest. Then during the day I started seeing the shots in my minds eye and helping Agaton capture my vision. I found that I could “see”, but did not have the technical knowledge to shoot. Learning the tech side is the easier part.
What is one thing you’ve learned so far that has proven most valuable?
Be able to effectively practice at least 75% of what you can learn in a book, video, class, etc, before you go out and buy another one. It is very easy to have an impressive library. It is impressive to be able to demonstrate you have the knowledge within yourself.
What makes you different from everyone else?
I treat weddings as art. I take the time to learn who a couple is on a personality level and have their images reflect that. The motions of a wedding may be similar, but the images shouldn’t be.
Who is your one favorite up-and-coming photographer?
Ahmet Ze. But he has no idea I think that. I constantly look at his work and try to learn from it. We meet up with other local metro NYC photographers every once in a while to talk shop and shoot on the streets. You can see his work at http://www.ahmetze.com/
One item you can’t live without?
Lens Baby. It constantly teaches me new ways to look at things and how to focus and showcase your subject. Those lessons translate to any other lens.
Your favorite bokeh image and why?
An image of slide guitarist and vocalist Kenny Grohman, part of Stampede, the Todd Fritsch band. The image was shot at The Armadillo Palace, in Houston with a Lens Baby 3g on a Nikon D700. I cut a custom aperture disk in the silhouette of Texas with a box cutter at the bar while the band was warming up. The image has the traditional sharp focus points and dreamy edges you would expect, but the red amplifier light in the image took on a perfect shape of Texas. It is subtle and unexpected, but powerful, especially if you are from Texas. Texans are very passionate about their state.
Why did you want to be included on The Bokeh Pot?
The foundation of photography, as I know it, is you are always learning and you have an obligation to teach those that want to learn. This is a place I can do both.
Don’t Stop the Carnival, by Herman Wouk.
A toss up between Mr. Roberts and The African Queen. I love the oldies.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everyday life. I try to look at the ordinary and see how I can show it in a new way, but convey a common emotion.
What do you think is the most valuable aspect of your business?
The relationships. No question. The people I meet, both clients and industry insiders, are fascinating and they all bring something amazing to the party.
Do you use a second shooter?
Almost always for weddings. Rarely for architectural, but I would like to have a few people to work with.
How would you recommend that someone wanting to second shoot with you go about getting the gig?
Contact me (info is on my website) and tell me what you bring to the table and why you want to shoot with me, particularly. Do you think our styles mesh? Do you want to learn some of the techniques I use? You would not need a large body of work to show me, but be able to show me 5 images and the story behind them. Not just the tech side, but why you thought that moment was a must have. Be prepared to work hard, take instructions and behave professionally. 90% of the compensation you take home, will be knowledge. And you are getting a bargain. These are the same ideas I bring to the table when I try to second shoot today.
If you could second shoot with anyone, who would it be?
So many amazing people in the pool make that a hard question. I need to come back to that one.
Are you a member of any organizations and have you won any awards?
PPA, which is the best money you can spend. I belong to several online forums such as Open Source Photo. I have not won any awards really, but I did get an image in American Photo and Popular Photography in January 2009 as part of an MPIX contest. That is the only contest I have entered. Entering more is on my promotional and development plan for 09.
What did you have to do to actually take the leap? Did you have any hoops to jump through?
Like many photographers, I still have a full time career other than photography. I am a compliance and operations expert in the financial services field. I am coming to the game late, and at almost 40, transitioning to a different career cold turkey, in NYC, would present challenges to my financial obligations and family that are too expensive to undertake.
Do you have suggestions for others trying to make the transition?
Decide how much risk you can afford. Develop a plan, knowing it is only a guide because as soon as you start it, life will throw you a curveball. Know that photographic skills and artistic vision turn out to be only a small part of being a successful photography business.
What is the biggest or most creative thing you do/have done to draw new clients?
I draw upon the favorites, business cards for each bride with various images of their event on the back (Moo cards ROCK!), slide shows of the e-session at the reception that the couple has not seen yet and outstanding service. I guess on the creative side, I have fine art prints up in several cafes and people seem to be able to make the connection between art, and their event.
Are you for or against advertising (paid or free)? If for, who have you had the most success with?
I am not against advertising. I love Facebook. I am against paying a venue to be a “Preferred Vendor” without transparency to their clients about the compensation. Venues and vendors recommend me because I provide a strong product, excellent service and I am easy to work with. I may offer preferred pricing to their clients, but no cash under the table or other common NY dirty pool schemes.
What’s your idea of the perfect photographer networking “date”?
I had a blast setting up a photographer get together in NYC last Summer. We had 30 photographers meet at the Columbus Circle fountain, made a bar from DHL boxes and enjoyed a Heineken mini keg and h’orderves . Whole foods being across the street made that easy. After an hour of socializing and getting to know some of the new faces, we wandered through Central Park shooting two wonderful models we scheduled. You want’ to create a scene, have 30 photographers running after an attractive couple in NYC. After the sunset, we went up to a roof top terrace with views of Central Park, Lincoln Center and the NY skyline. We had ourselves a Strobist good time.
Anything else you would like to share?
Becoming a really good photographer today, is easier than ever. And that is a double edge sword, so always be learnin’.