We welcome Valerie Michelle to our Behind the Lens series. She is just beginning her photography venture. Valerie did start with photography in a classroom setting using an "old-fashioned" film camera and developing her photos in a dark room. Since then she has expanded her on-the-job training as a school portrait photographer and has discovered her own unique style. We look forward to following Valerie as she grows her business and shares her work with us. Welcome!
Your Name: Valerie Mitchell
Your studio/business name: Val Mitchell Photography
Location: Kingston, Ontario, Canada
In 50 words or less, how would your clients describe your photography?
Personal, fun, sweet, detailed, and real. Actual insights into who my clients are.
Are you self-taught or classroom trained?
Actually, a mixture of both. I began years ago just taking an old-school photography class that even had me develop my own film in a darkroom. I worked as a school portrait photographer, which included training on how to set up mobile lighting and backdrops. Since then I have found the style of photography that appeals to me the most. I enjoy capturing people in a way that truly reflects who they are in a more natural environment. For that, I have been more self-taught exploring different locations and lighting and non-posed styles of work.
How many years have you been a professional photographer?
I am just starting to build my business.
Where do you want to take your photography business in 5 years?
The sky is the limit! I am working on a photography bucket list, and hopefully in 5 years a lot of those things will be crossed off. I want to grow my client base and be able to explore new techniques and styles. I want to be successful at running the business end of things and build my website. I would love to shoot a wedding and perhaps look into achieving a natural-light, home based studio.
Is there a photographer who inspires your style? Who would that be?
I find so many photographers inspiring that it would be impossible for me to name one. I admire people who can beautifully capture light, and those photographers that can capture the love, connection and details of the people in their photos. I also admire and respect artists that take risks by trying new things, and are always trying to grow creatively.
Favorite location to take photos?
I love natural light so I always prefer to shoot outdoors on-location. I love locations that offer different backdrops and textures where you can get a variety of different looks. We have a park by the water here that is close to Lake Ontario, as well as different art-sculptures, stone buildings, park benches and gazebos. You can get a lot of different options without making people move around too much.
Favorite vacation spot?
Probably the place I haven’t been yet. I love to explore new cultures and places. I have visited some amazing countries but there are still so many to see. I think that Greece would be next on my list.
What was the pivotal moment when you decided to become a photographer?
Have you heard the expression “if you do what you love you will never really work a day in your life”? I love taking photos. I love that people and families will have those memories to hold onto. Time moves so quickly and having photos to look back and reflect on these brief moments in time is such an amazing thing.
What’s the best marketing tip that has worked for you?
Referrals, word of mouth and social media (like Facebook) are probably the strongest method. My page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Val-Mitchell-Photography/315588068457542) is where I am able to post my most recent work, add status updates to let people know what I am going to be doing in the future, and have them get to know me better.
What’s the most surprising thing a customer has asked you?
Nothing too wild yet!
Favorite print lab?
I have found that the truest color prints come from White House Custom Color (WHCC)
Are you Canon or Nikon (or – gasp--“other”):
The great divide. Honestly, I tried out both and in the end I wound up with a Nikon D5100. For me it came down to how it felt in my hand, the warranties on the product, and their wide range of lenses.
If you could only have one lens on a photo shoot, what would it be?
You create photos. Context matters more than technology, and you often don’t need the most expensive or fancy lens to capture incredible images. In fact, you can accomplish a lot with your iPhone, or even with a small handheld. Find what appeals to you artistically, learn your camera settings, and work with that.
What brand bag do you carry your camera in?
A Lowepro gear bag
What gear would we find in your camera bag?
My lens hood, fog-wipes, lens cleaner, extra batteries, a remote, also, sometimes, extra memory cards
Are you a natural light fan or strobe fan?
I am natural light all the way! You can achieve such beauty in the different effects that natural light offers. You can have the chance to play with silhouettes, sun flares and, open shade to create some beautiful looks.
Are you PC or Mac?
I’m a Mac :)
Your Tips and Tricks
What post processing tools do you use?
I use Lightroom 3 & Photoshop Elements 10
Do you shoot in Raw or Jpeg?
Best advice you would give your 20-year old self?
Do it now! Don’t be afraid and don’t wait. Learn as much as you can now and then go out and explore more.
Best advice you would give a new photographer?
Don’t be overwhelmed or intimidated. Read your camera manual and learn how to use it. Practice and take inspiration from things around you. You don’t have to learn it all at once so take your time & trust what you think is beautiful and what you like. Everyone sees beauty differently so try not to compare but practice, practice, practice and learn from it as you go!
What site do you use for your photography and why?
Right now I just have my Facebook page. I am working at diversifying my portfolio in order to build my own website.
What Else Should We Know?
What was your worst photography experience?
A brother and sister wanted to do some fun shots for their parents. They were jumping off a bench when the brother playfully pushed his sister over. She fell…into a pile of dog poo. Poor girl! Thankfully it was our last shot and she was laughing about it.
What would surprise people most about you, whether it is photography related or not?
Hmmm…I can only think of silly little things. I strongly believe that toilet paper should roll off the top of the roll and not come from underneath. If I see it that way I usually switch it around. Is that surprising? Probably just strange.
Tell us something else you’d like us to know:
My philosophy is that time is fleeting and what we have to hold on to is our memories. If you look at the photos around your home – hung on walls, framed on bookshelves, or organized in electronic photo albums – I bet ninety percent of those images will have people in them. Images are a large part of how we are able to reflect on our past, and often they are snapshots of our happiest times. I find that being able to contribute to someone’s history in this way so inspiring and it pushes me to capture people in their truest form.
And just because we want to know you, fill in the blanks
Three things I can’t live without….
My husband & kids, my family and my friends…in the end that’s what it’s all about.
I wish I had more….
Hours in the day, sleep at night and the ability to freeze time so that my kids would be little forever. I guess this all just adds up to more time.
The best thing about being a photographer is…
Seeing clients reactions to their photos
The most important lesson I ever learned was….
Believe in yourself
My favorite time of day is…
For photography, just at dusk, about an hour after the sun rises or an hour before the sun sets in the spring, summer or fall. In life, in the morning when my two kids climb into bed with me for early morning snuggles or when they go to bed at night, equally :)