GRAND RAPIDS — Imagine having the confidence and authority to tell the third-most powerful man in the country that within the next 90 seconds you are going to take the best photograph of him — ever.
That is how the first meeting between David DeJonge, owner of DeJonge Studio Inc., and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich went.
And from there a career was launched.
“I was told I only had 90 seconds and so I shot six photographs and Mr. Gingrich laughed when I told him my goal,” said DeJonge. “But when the photographs were finished I chose one that looked good, framed it and sent it to him.”
That photograph then became Gingrich’s “official” photograph and toured the country with him for a year.
“After that experience I realized portraiture work was what I really wanted to get into and I started building my career in a different direction from that point,” DeJonge said.
Before the momentous Gingrich job, DeJonge ran what he termed a “regular” studio where he would do the package of photos for a family, possibly a seasonal photograph of their child or of the entire family. After a year and a half he sold the business and moved into a temporary office in Hudsonville.
“I had business both in Holland and Grand Rapids so I figured Hudsonville was a middle location,” said DeJonge. “Eventually the Grand Rapids customers outgrew the Holland customers and I decided to make the move into Grand Rapids.”
A move like that needed only one thing: a location.
“Before I had been kind of a traveling photographer. I had an office where I would work from but not a studio. I would shoot on location and bring any frames or proofs with me in the car. Now I have a central location where I can do everything by just walking into the next room,” DeJonge added.
The new location, inside the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, has been completely renovated from its original intention as a second check-in for the hotel. DeJonge said a desk and wet bar already were in place when he looked to rent the space. “We re-renovated in six months to be what it is today,” he said. The studio opened its doors on April 1.
DeJonge said he put a lot of thought into his location based on the types of clients he serves. Almost all of them will at one time or another be in the hotel, whether it be for a meeting, a stay or passing through downtown.
As technology invades the photography world, DeJonge said he works hard to stay on the cutting edge and use all resources to his advantage. The studio has now moved into digital imaging, which DeJonge says changes the way he does business.
Digital imaging will allow him to photograph a member of Grand Rapids Rotary, for example, before the Rotarian attends a scheduled meeting in the hotel. During the meeting DeJonge and his staff could ready the image for the computer, touch it up, develop it and have it ready for the customer by the time he returned from the meeting.
The benefit of this process is obviously time, but also quality and durability. “I did some research and found that the life of a Kodak print is 14 years, the life of a Fuji print is 60 years. With the process we use, the life of one of our prints is 200 years,” DeJonge said.
The process is called pigment-based die print, and DeJonge Studios uses it along with digital imaging to keep 90 percent of the work in-house. The reason for the need to eventually have 100 percent of the work in-house is for privacy and security reasons for the studios’ clients.
“Many studios go through four to five sets of proofs and test prints before the correct photograph is chosen. The proofs are all thrown in the trash, which goes in the Dumpster out back, which then is there for anyone to look through. With the Internet today and the things people can do with pictures, we need to be able to process the pictures here, proof them here and produce them all here. This way no one is getting their hands on the picture of someone’s family or child and using that picture in an incorrect manner,” explained DeJonge.
Other aspects of digital processing that DeJonge is able to offer his clients is almost immediate viewing capability. Within 20 minutes DeJonge is able to project the photo, any size, shape and cut, on the wall to demonstrate for the client what they will be getting in a printed version.
The photo then may be placed in a “digital” frame and a more realistic view can even be obtained through a superimposed photo of the customer’s living room, where the picture is then placed on the virtual wall and the customer can see exactly what will look best in their home.
Creating a digital portrait studio in the Grand Plaza never would have been possible, however, had it not been for DeJonge’s experience and background.
The photographer got his start at Hudsonville High School’s newspaper and worked his way up from there, moving on to Grand Rapids Community College’s Collegiate, Advance Newspapers, The Grand Rapids Press, The Grand Rapids Business Journal, Grand Rapids Magazine, The Associated Press and numerous national magazines.
Today DeJonge’s work includes senior portraits, family portraits, executive portraits and some commercial work. Starting in journalism, DeJonge thought that was the course he would follow until his 90 seconds with Gingrich turned him into a portrait photographer who now looks to do “legacy work.”
“The work I do will have a life of 200 years. Hopefully for that time it will be passed on through families and carry a legacy with my name and with the work,” said DeJonge.