Interview with Toby Mitchell
We met Bath-based photographer Toby Mitchell on an Insta photographers meet one cold and blustering morning in London. Ever since, we knew we had to feature Toby and his simple, crisp work on Finlay Stories. He used to work for Cereal magazine, now a full-time freelancer and all-round lovely bloke. Here's our interview with the man himself. Planning a trip to Bath? Toby tells us his favourite spots...
Where is home for you?
Bath is home. I’ve lived in Bath my whole life and I still find myself in total awe of the richness that it holds. I absolutely love living here and have no plans to move anytime soon!
Each time I roll back into the station after a manic day in London, I always feel totally rested as soon as I’m off the train. I was actually saying to a friend the other day that I have never felt emotionally connected with a place before. Bath has that peace and beauty that creatively energises me everyday. I also don't like the hustle of busy cities everyday so it's nice to be back and forth between Bath and London; the balance is nice.
Your top three spots for coffee, breakfast and dinner in Bath?
Coffee: This is tough because Bath pioneers speciality coffee. There is a coffee shop on every corner here. I would say my favourite to sit in is Society Cafe (The corridor one - there are two locations in Bath). But my favourite spot for the coffee itself, is without a doubt, Colonna & Smalls. It's the best coffee in Bath and the owner Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood has won many international coffee awards. It’s legit.
Breakfast: The Darling Deli. This place is the one that no one knows about because its slightly out of town. The breakfasts are incredible. However, if I’m in town, I always enjoy a quick breakfast at Forum Coffee House.
Dinner: I rarely go here because it's pricy but The Herd does an incredible steak dinner. The onion rings are just...man...so good. Lovely space too. A couple of other favourites would be Grillstock, Jamie’s Italian and Wagamama (You can never go wrong with a Wagamama).
Did you study photography?
I did. Only at sixth form though. I went for a year and flunked everything par Photography which I did really well in. I had a really great teacher who saw the fascination I had at the time and he really pushed me. I moved to another sixth form college after failing my first year and re-took my a-levels and did really well. Doing subjects which I was passionate about the second time round meant I actually really enjoyed A-levels. I finished my photography A-level and did Graphic Comms, Music Production and English Language; which all really help with my career now.
I went against University despite the kind encouragement I had to give it a go. I think you know when something isn't right and it was very obvious to me that starting as a full-time freelancer straight out of college was the way forward.
What does the act of taking pictures mean to you?
I quickly realised that taking pictures was not just my job. It’s my lifestyle. Its how I exhale my opinion. I’m not a words kind of guy, and to me, my mind clocks through visuals to build a story, idea or objective. The way I feel people would understand what I do best is by looking at what I create. I always struggle when I get asked ‘Oh so, what kind of photography do you do?’ Because to honest, I don't think I have a ‘genre’ of photography. I don't like the prospect of being boxed into a category; visuals are how someone can communicate with me most powerfully because my response to image and film are emotional; it goes straight to my heart. So I think that when you can do that through pictures or film, that's pretty powerful. Creativity was never meant to be categorised. I think you can develop style and direct yourself into certain directions, but personally, it gets boring and religious when put yourself in a box because you restrain your mind as well as yourself.
When I go to find time to just take pictures just because I love taking pictures, I feel alive. There is a battle for me to not call my job work because for me that sometimes takes the fun out of it. I get too strict on myself. Creative block is also a common response to getting wound up about a project because I’m worried that my work isn't worth what I’m being paid or that I'm not good enough. When in-fact I’m employed to be in that place of going back to the start of why I started photography in the first place; The rush of excitement of pushing that trigger and feeling the camera shudder in your hands, all the way to the final export from the computer. I’m employed because people love the things I did when I wasn't thinking about any sort of expectations. So when I’m doing ‘work’ with that mindset, I often create the best things.
How have you ended up where you are today in terms of your career?
You know what...I have no idea. I’m a follower of Jesus and I put everything down to that. My logo represents God as in Father, Spirit, Son. A lot of people think it’s photography, design and video... which is a valid interpretation. But the whole mandate of what I do is to bring glory to God. I guess to a lot of people that sounds strange, but to me that makes a lot of sense. I absolutely love what I do and I’m so honoured to practise photography and filmmaking as my full-time job.
Aside from that, I’ve worked hard. You have to. To work in photography you’re always networking and seeking out new opportunities. The opportunity at Cereal Magazine was incredible, it originated with me wanting to contribute to the magazine because I loved it so much. I just went to their door and gave them my portfolio. Personal impression will always be more impactful than an email. They welcomed me in for six months as their intern. It rocked.
What does your kit bag include and which lens could you not live without?
Camera gear is SO expensive. I have a small setup which works really well for where I’m at right now. Currently I shoot on a Canon 6D & Sony A7Rmkii. I have two lenses, both Canon, which are a 50mm and 24-70mm. As well as all the relevant flashes, mics, instant camera, steadycam/tripod, cables and a case to carry on planes/trains etc. I also carry an emergency packet of McColls Cheese and Onion crisps. You never know when you might need them!
How has your style evolved over the years? What has inspired you?
My style has evolved with time as I've found my feet and which styles of photography I like the most. I’m a massive fan of Visual Supply Co. and the products they provide for photographers. I brought a whole bunch of filter packs for Lightroom and found a few that I absolutely loved. I then adjusted a load of settings to create a look that was original and unique to me; It’s important to me that I have my own ‘look’; For a photographer it’s like a signature. Generally style is and always will be evolving for me. I’m still developing certain looks and I think that's the way it should be; always moving forward.
My initial inspirations for photography came when I started studying in Sixth Form. I was first inspired by fashion photographers which then quickly moved to fine art wedding photographers. James Green was the first guy that I was hugely inspired by. His work is outstanding and proved to me that you can create ‘out of this world’ art through a camera. This was around the time when I transitioned into wedding photography.
Today I get inspiration from walking whilst listening to music, sitting in coffee shops and scribbling down ideas as they come and showers are a place where I get some of my best ideas. Apparently it’s been proven that as rain drops hit your head it provokes creative ideas in your brain! Which makes a whole lot of sense for singers who get that lyrics/line they have been searching for in the shower.
What do you think makes a great wedding?
Victoria sponge and a solid cheese board. Jelly Beans at the table is always a bonus.
From a photographer's point of view a great wedding is made by thoughtful backdrops and locations, a couple who have employed you to do what you do best and be creative. Great venues and people. That’s all from a visual angle though.
From a heart angle, for me, it’s when everyone at the wedding understands the significance of what is happening. Two people are making a life long covenant in the presence of God and beautifully giving themselves to each other for ever. Thats huge. I love the joy and celebration that weddings carry which are perhaps not so present in other events of celebration. I just flippin love weddings. I always cry at the speeches too. I love speeches. Even if I have no idea who the clients family are.
Your top 3 favourite people to follow on Instagram for inspiration?
Follow Toby on Instagram - @_tobymitchell
Favourite Finlay frames?