Interview: Jeff Zoet (Episode I)

I am excited to launch what I hope are a long line of interesting interviews with talented individuals related to the world of photography.  And I am privileged to kick it off with a good one!

Jeff Zoet (pronounced Zoot) grew up on a hog farm in Holland, Michigan.  10 years after moving to Pittsburgh for college (Art Institute of Pittsburgh), Jeff now resides in the North Side of Pittsburgh and has a studio in Shadyside.  In addition to being a talented photographer, Jeff works full-time as a Visual Effects Artist & Editor at a Post-Production company.

Might as well start with the basics Jeff…  How many years of photography experience?

I’ve dabbled in photography for years, but I really launched into portrait work during the summer of 2005, and have been going pretty steady ever since.

What kind of things do you like shooting the most? Why?

I simply shoot what inspires and motivates me the most. I’m sure that will change as years go by, and will be reflected in the type of work I do. Right now I really enjoy creative portraits. I personally get more satisfaction out of working with people than I do over landscape or still life… which could change over the years. Who knows? But unless I’m passionate about the types of shots I’m doing, then what’s the point?

I have seen a photo of your studio space which looks pretty sweet. How long have you had a physical studio?

I’ve been in this particular studio since March 2009. This would be the third space that I’ve used as a studio. I shot out of my dining room for the first year and a half, then was part of an artist community called the Creative Treehouse until fall of 2008. I took a bit of a hiatus from shooting until March (for my wedding and spending a little quality time with my wife), then I started at this studio.

Prefer in studio work or on location?

I enjoy both studio and location shooting, but would lean towards studio. Mostly because of variables I can’t control – weather, sunlight, time allowed, etc… I usually shoot in the evenings since I have a full time job, and quite often in this Pittsburgh area, it’s either getting too dark or too cold to shoot much in the evenings. But it is usually the concept that determines the location.

Your post processing of your photographic work has always really caught my attention…do you have formal training in design?

Wow. Not sure how easy it will be to answer that one. On one side, yes, I have some formal training. I have two degrees ranging from Animation to Visual Effects (but none in Photography). During that time in school we learned about color, composition, lighting, form and movement. But it definitely doesn’t stop there. It’s something that is just ingrained in me. I’ve always viewed the world from a learning perspective. I’m consistently asking myself things like – Why do things move like that? What makes the color work to achieve that feeling? Why are things arranged in that way? What about this makes me feel the way I do? It’s practically on auto pilot nowadays. I don’t even notice I’m doing it sometimes. Then some will ask what I’m think about, and I launch into all of my current observations, surprising them and even me on the types of things I was paying attention to. I am constantly analyzing everything for its reason, purpose, and lasting affect on how it alters our perception of life. Ok, I’m getting too deep. Better end it there. Haha.

How much time would you guess you spend per photo in post production?

Obviously that ranges quite a bit depending on the photo. Assuming we’re talking about photos that require more than just some simple color correction, I’d say I spend between 3-6 hours on certain photos. Hopefully I’ve planned things out enough in advance that it clicks together in post. But sometimes you need to work on it for a bit, walk away, and them come back later, or even a different day, to take a fresh look at it to make sure you like the way it’s going.

What do you like best and least about the world of photography?

I’d say the best part is finally having a way to produce a lot of the random ideas floating around in my head. I’ve always had plenty of ideas that I wanted to create in some form or another. Photography let’s me really explore those ideas. The least favorite part? I’d have to say all of the little things that make it tough, if not impossible for a photographer like me to create with a limited budget. I’ve got plenty of ideas that may never see the light of day because the location is unachievable, or there is no way to acquire a certain wardrobe. All of those real life hang ups. If I had a budget where I had location scouts, wardrobe designers, and prop masters… oh man, look out! I’d be going nuts!

Check out Part II of the interview with Jeff on Wednesday!  Jeff will be sharing his insights on social media, tips on being a better photographer, and insight into his latest projects recreating movie classics.  You don’t want to miss the second part of this interview!

Feel free to leave comments about this article or comments for Jeff.  And in the mean time, you can check out more of Jeff’s work at: