Ken Kaminesky is a commercial travel photographer and visual storyteller. His work has been featured in numerous commercial publications, including the New York Times and on the cover of National Geographic. He communicates his passion for travel, and for the landscapes & people he meets along the way, through his popular blog, and through yearly workshops in places as far-flung as Jordan, Italy and Iceland. His favorite place in the world is always his next destination. He believes that everywhere has a story that will inspire people, and he’d love to capture it in an image. He doesn’t usually talk about himself in the third-person.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
I started my career in the photography business many years ago while working as an assistant for several fashion photographers in Montréal and Miami. That led to working as a fashion photographer for a few years myself, before moving on photographing commercial lifestyle imagery for major stock photography agencies like Jupiterimages, Corbis, and Getty.
Back in 2008 when the economy basically imploded worldwide, the same thing happened to the stock photography industry. When I saw the writing on the wall, I decided that it was time for a major career shift. Travel had always been high on my list of things to do but I never got around to doing much outside of North and Central America. It came down to just deciding that as of this moment… I am a travel photographer.
I began by traveling to some of Canada’s most beautiful locations such as Banff, Jasper, and Yoho national parks. Not a bad place to begin amassing photographs for a new portfolio. After that, it was on to Europe. Paris, Barcelona, Milan, Florence, and Rome. I figured if I was going to get started, I was going to do it big.
Those trips were awesome for the cultural, historical, and architectural wonders but they were also perfect to do a whole lot of soul searching.
Like Miriam Beard said: “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
It was like a bit of a pilgrimage for me. I walked, and walked, and walked for just over three weeks during that trip to the point where I had walked over 400 km. The blisters on my feet had their own blisters at that point and the throbbing that I felt in my feet did not go away for many months afterwards. No pain, no gain.
Soon after returning from that trip I reorganized my portfolio website, began writing a travel photography blog, and dove headfirst into social media. A couple of years later after a blog design revamp and a photograph on the cover of National Geographic magazine, I was well on my way.
Today I’m still shooting travel for commercial and editorial clients, as well as national tourism boards, stock licensing, and fine art prints. I’m also leading workshops and tours in places such as Jordan, Italy, and Iceland.
I’ve never worked harder in my life than the last four years but at the same time I’ve never had such an incredible experiences and I’m enjoying photography now more than ever before.
–Ken, how would you describe your work? What feeling do you wish for your audience to have when viewing your images?
One word… Awesome!
Ha! I kid.
I will leave it up to others to describe my work. Seems a bit pretentious to try and wax poetic about one’s own work as an artist.
I hope that people get a sense of wonderment and Wanderlust when they look at my photos. I’m fortunate to get incredibly kind emails and messages via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms from people who like my photography. I’m always touched when someone takes the time to share a kind note with me, leave a comment on my blog, or communicate with me via social media the fact that my images have affected them in a positive way.
If I’m able to inspire anyone to travel to any of the destinations that I am showcasing or just to begin traveling, I think I’m doing a good job.
–As with anyone asking a photographer questions – please give us a run down of your preferred equipment... Also, what is your guilty pleasure item?
I’m not really an equipment junkie but that’s not to say I don’t enjoy the fact that there is so much incredible photography gear available to photographers today.
At this point in my career, I’m in the enviable position to have some amazing corporate sponsors provide me with exceptional quality photo, technology, and travel gear. I work with companies like G-technology, Zeiss lenses, Fuji, Arc’Teryx, and Induro.
Preferred equipment includes:
- G-Technology G Speed Q raid system for keeping my images and other data safe
- Canon 17mm tilt shift lens
- My Fuji X-E1 camera and series of Fujinon lenses
- All my awesome Arc’Teryx clothes. Nothing comes close to the quality of Arc’Teryx.
–Being a photographer as well, I’ve realized that random versus planned inspiration is always the most powerful aspects in creating strong imagery – do you mind talking a little about what inspires you most? Also, can you recall the moment that was most inspiring to you? If so, please tell us about it:
The intangible things are really the most inspiring. A kind word or a smile can go a long way to inspire me to be in a more creative frame of mind. A smell or a taste can immediately transport me to another time and place. The sound of the ocean or a warm tropical breeze… All these things inspire me and travel allows me to experience more inspirational moments than I could have imagined.
I don’t think there is one moment that has inspired me drastically more than any other. I’m looking for the next inspiration more than looking back on what has inspired me in the past. Each time I see or experience something new, I feel alive in the most beautiful sense of the word. Perhaps it is the anticipation of the next place, the next thing, the next person that will change my life. This is what inspires and motivates me.
–For all of those budding photographers who are hoping to up their game, what are some suggestions that you can offer them?
I think a lot of people have this sense about photographers living some kind of dream life. I know quite a number of photographers and none of them are jet setters or rich, even if they are incredibly talented.
The advice I’d offer is be prepared for a roller coaster ride. Work hard, really hard at your craft and invest more in yourself and less in equipment. Photographers take pictures, not cameras. Learn how to use Photoshop and keep learning, then learn some more.
Take a course in how to run a small business and have a good accountant, after all it is a business and taking photos is just a part of it.
Find out what makes you love photography and do that, not what makes you the most money. It is getting harder to make a living as a photographer and I think that you need to have passion for the craft and it has to be fun if you are going to have any success.
I always say that I do the photography for free but get paid to do the editing, paperwork, marketing and the other day to day things that it takes to run a business. I wish I could take my own advice when I repeat wise words I was once told; Don't worry about the future, and know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum.
Work hard, have passion and don’t look back. There will always be a need for good photography and it’s going to take good photographers to take those photos.
–I feel that the lighting of a photograph has the strongest relationship with the mood that’s portrayed... Do you agree? And if you would, please explain on the subject of how you mold your own moods throughout your work:
In photography, light is everything. Basically, you’re just painting with light. So, yup… Light is pretty important.
For travel photography research is required in order to be able to position yourself at the right time of day, right time of year, and possibly several times over and over in order to get that perfect shot.
While I know a lot of very talented photographers, none of them — to my knowledge — can control the weather and how it affects the light. Every day can present a new set of challenges for a photographer in terms of the clouds (or lack thereof), rain, snow, onset of the Rapture, or a dreaded Sharknado.
You just have to be ready no matter what the conditions are and plan to your best ability. The rest is how you deal with the cards you are dealt, so to speak. This is where Photoshop and other digital photo editing software comes in. In my opinion that’s what separates people with cameras from photographers. Once you have your raw images to work with, it’s kind of like what Michelangelo said about sculpting.
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
I don’t think I mold the mood. I capture the mood that is there and embellish it.
–Will you walk my readers through your post production process? What programs do you use? And what are some important tips for those who are looking to begin working in post?
Going through the post production in a few sentences is impossible. Each image is unique unto itself and would require a unique explanation.
That being said I am happy to share with everyone the software that I use. Of course I use the staples like Lightroom and Photoshop from Adobe. To complement those awesome programs I also use the Nik software suite from Google (which includes Silver Efex Pro2, Color Efex Pro4, HDR Efex Pro2, and more) Perfect photo suite from onOne software (includes Perfect Effects, Perfect Resize, Focal Point 2, and more), Rad Lab from Totally Rad, and Photomatix for tonemapping HDR images.
The tips that I can offer to someone who is beginning to work in post on their digital images would include:
- Shoot in RAW. There is no good reason to not shoot in RAW if you want to have more control over your digital images. Shooting in JPEG format puts you at a serious disadvantage when you attempt to work on your images on the computer after taking them. The latitude and dynamic range that raw images contain is so vastly superior to JPEG that it would make no sense for anyone serious about photography to not use this format. Processing digital images is so much easier and versatile when you begin with a RAW file.
- Scour the web for free Photoshop and Lightroom tutorials. There are great places to learn including YouTube, Digital Photography School, Luminous Landscape, and so many more. Google and onOne software both offer tons of great tutorials for free on how to use their software.
- If you’re really serious, you’ll want to also check out places like Kelby training and creativeLive. There is some free information on both these incredible sites and also paid content which is well worth the price in my opinion.
- Be patient and practice, play, test, rinse and repeat.
–The industry of Photography is one of the most difficult to become successful in... How did you manage to ‘make it’ in an age where everyone feels as though they’re a ‘photographer’? What was the catalyst point that helped you the most to be where you’ve always wanted to be? And what tips can you offer others (who feel their work has graduated to the point of a possible future career)? And what routes would you suggest for getting yourself out there and becoming successful in the travel photography field?
I made it?
Woohoo! Wait till mom hears!
Honestly though, “making it” is a subjective term. Any career in the arts is going to be a hell of a roller coaster ride. Writers, musicians, photographers, actors, and other artists don’t exactly have the most stable lives or careers.
Taking nice photos is one thing, making a living by doing so is something completely different. The main reason that I am still in photography after all these years is tenacity. My career has taken so many twists and turns in terms of subject matter that I photograph and the technology in photography has evolved drastically in the last few years. Nothing about this career has been stable or secure but it has been interesting.
Some of the most beautiful photographs in the world are being taken by amateur photographers now. Considering the instability of photography as a career, I see that photographers who are having the most fun taking photos are the amateurs. What I and other professional photographers do is run a photography business. I’m not out there taking photos every day, even if I’d like to be.
The first thing I’d ask anyone who thinks they want to do this for a living is for their description of what they think the job is like. While I never want to dissuade anyone from following their passion as a career choice (like I did), I would like to make sure that they’re getting into something like this with their eyes wide open.
My main tips would be:
- Take some business courses
- Take A LOT of photographs… virtuoso musicians don’t get better by not practicing, the same applies to photographers
- Get better at Photoshop
- Get even better at Photoshop
- Don’t equate popularity(comments, likes, views) with talent
- Travel to places that inspire you and take photos of the things, places, and people that make you love being alive
- Don’t compare yourself to other photographers
- Understand the difference between being an artist and a commercial artist
- Give yourself achievable goals and targets
- Expect that for every yes and open-door that you get, you will get 25 negative replies or doors slammed in-your-face
- If you work for free, you will always be the free photographer and as soon as your client has a budget they will go with the photographer who actually values themselves and charges for their services… Like a normal person
–Inspiration is the driving force of a photographer... So, which photographers influenced and inspired you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?
In my early days the photographers that inspired me were:
- Phillip Dixon
- Peter Lindbergh
- Nick Knight
- Patrick Demarchelier
Who inspires me the most are my photographer friends like Elia Locardi, Colby Brown, Dean Bradshaw, and Patrick DiFruscia. Not just because of the exceptional photos that they take but for their passion, determination, and big hearts.
–Most photographers have a sort of cringing reaction when they see something that falls into their ‘pet peeves’... What are your photo pet peeves? What are absolute no-no’s that amateur photographers should keep in mind?
Big pet peeve is marginally talented people who own cameras and take lots of photos who have become popular on social media for no reason and have drank their own Kool Aid. The Kim Kardashians of the photography world.
Don’t be a sheep and let the crowd decide what you like.
–And lastly, Ken, there’s a perception on your website that you’re out traveling to exotic and beautiful places all of the time... What’s the real story here? And what all are you up to on your time off? Finally, where are you off to next?
I know a lot of people travel quite a bit more than me. I’d like to change that and find ways to travel to more places, more often and spend less time at my desk. For example, this year I’m not going to all that many different places. On the positive side I’m going to Iceland twice and Italy twice, both of which are in my top five favorite places in the world. I’ll be leading photography workshop/tours in both Italy and Iceland.
I actually spend most of my time running the business of being a commercial travel photographer. This means I’m at my desk or behind my laptop or iPad 10-12 hours a day on most days that I’m home. Not so exotic and hard on my back.
Time for me to get an intern. I’d really like to spend more time taking and editing images as well as writing my blog. Time management is a daily challenge when I get 100-200 emails a day to deal with as well as all the social media duties to take care of. Time off is something I rarely indulge in and I save that for taking an off day while on the road and can really take advantage of it.
Iceland and Italy are the next two locations I’m heading to this fall. After that, I’ll likely be heading to Southeast Asia at the end of the year. One of the best parts of my job is the fact that I never know when I’ll get an email or phone call which can lead to traveling to new and exciting destinations.