Interview With Ken Kaminesky

We talk to renowned photographer Ken Kaminesky about his journey to success in the field and ask him what he has learned over the years

What was it that inspired you to become a photographer?
Unlike many photographers who develop their passion for photography at a young age, photography didn’t even cross my mind until I was eighteen years old. I did have one of those little 110 cameras, which my godmother gave me as a birthday present when I was around ten years old, but I could not afford to buy film or get the photos developed, so I doubt if I shot more than four or five rolls of film the whole time I had it.

It wasn’t until my first year in college, where I took an Introduction to photography course, that I really started to develop an interest in photography as a creative outlet. I think it was more the fascination of working in the darkroom that captured my imagination than the actual taking of the photographs. Seeing the images come to life in the darkroom trays, under that eerie red light, was kind of magical.

While I was developing (pun intended) an interest in photography, my sister was modelling in Europe and Japan. I guess I kind of used that as an excuse to look at fashion magazines and all the pretty models. The next step that seemed logical to me was finding a way to photograph these girls.

It wasn’t long after this that I was studying photography full-time in school. I was also fortunate enough to meet my sister’s agent in Montreal. He believed in me and started to send some of his models my way, so that I could photograph them for their portfolios and mine. I am still very grateful to him for giving me that chance. I remember being insanely nervous when I met him for the first time to ask him if he would consider letting me photograph some of his girls. Many years later, I ended up meeting up with him in London. It was nice to be able to thank him in person for influencing me in such a positive way.

How long were you photographing before you decided to become a pro? What did that process look like?
Not sure how to answer this one. I was studying photography full-time for a couple of years until I started working as a photographer’s assistant on the side. Seeing how I was learning more on the job as opposed to in the classroom, I dropped out of school to look for more work as an assistant.

Then again, when I think of it, in today’s day and age there is really no need for people who are interested in photography to go to expensive schools to learn the trade. There is so much information online and so many good tutorials that someone who is self-motivated and shows some proclivity for photography can learn all they need to know – then practice, practice, practice. I would also be remiss not to mention photography tours, since that is a big part of what I do today. Photography workshops and tours are given by many exceptional photographers and these two routes are great ways to further your education as a photographer. Be careful though, do your research, as there are also a lot of not-so-exceptional photographers who also offer workshops and tours.

After several years of working as a photographer’s assistant for several different fashion photographers, I decided to venture out on my own. And that is when this whole roller-coaster ride began.

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Describe a difficulty you faced when you first started out that you had to overcome as a new professional.
One word… Confidence. I had a double helping of zero confidence when I started out. Approaching potential clients was so nerve-wracking for me that I would have panic attacks before big meetings. It took me years to develop more confidence and, even then, I don’t think I really started to believe in myself until I started doing travel and landscape photography.

An old business partner of mine used to tell me all the time that if you don’t think that you can do something: fake it ‘til you make it. That was pretty much his motto and he was damn good at it. Being confident, but not arrogant, is an important quality in so many facets of life. The business of photography is no different.

When did you start using the Fujifilm system and why did you initially choose it? It became such a huge part of your process.
I was one of the first people to jump on the Fujifilm bandwagon many years ago when they first launched the X-E1. Like so many people, at first, I saw that particular camera as a secondary system to carry with me on my travels. It was light, compact, solid and had a serious quality feel to it.

I was working with Zeiss lenses, as an ambassador, at that time and soon after starting working with them, Zeiss started to develop a line of lenses for Fujifilm X series cameras. Through common connections I was introduced to the marketing director at Fujifilm who then sent me my first Fujifilm camera to test in Italy, and the rest is history.

Over the years, Fujifilm started to develop their line of mirrorless cameras and lenses at a rapid pace. With each new incarnation of camera body or newly released lens, I became more impressed with not just the quality of the gear and the ever-expanding list of Fujifilm gear, but also with how Fujifilm worked with me as a photographer, ambassador and consultant. It felt like the fit was just right in so many ways.

Did you experience a noticeable difference in your workflow when you changed systems to Fujifilm?
Not really and I think that is a good thing. What did change was not having such a heavy camera bag when I’m using the X series gear.

Many say that the Fujifilm lenses are unbelievable. Were you surprised by that when you got your hands on it? What’s your favorite lens for landscape work and why?
Yeah, they are incredible. In fact, not many people know but Fujifilm has been making cameras and lenses since the 1940s. They also don’t talk about this, but they make lenses for other prestigious camera companies who just slap their logo on the lenses.

The kit lens that comes with the Fujifilm cameras is the best kit lens I have ever seen. Usually, camera companies just toss in a third-rate lens at a small extra price when you buy a ‘kit’ of the camera and a starter lens. Not Fujifilm. The Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS Zoom lens is a wonderful lens that is both extremely sharp and very compact.

At the moment, my go-to lens is the Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS. So many of my all-time favourite images have been shot using this lens, including several I am sharing here. It has the focal lengths that I shoot with the most and is pretty much the standard lens I keep on my main camera body in most landscape situations.

I am really looking forward to another upcoming Fujifilm lens. The Fujinon XF 8-16mm f/2.8 WR zoom lens that was announced stands a chance at dethroning the 10-24 as my favourite. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and get it out in the field on one of my next shoots.

When you look back at your growth as a photographer, can you identify places or benchmarks where something you learned or experienced made a significant difference in your process or art?
There have been several times in my career where I’ve had to make drastic changes, implement new ways of thinking, reevaluate my priorities and even change the main concentration of the focus of my work. According to Darwin, it is not the species that is strongest that survives. It is the species that is most adaptable to change. I have been doing this photography thing my whole career and have not had any other kind of job since getting out of school. Either I am doing something right, or I am just as stubborn as a mule. Perhaps it is a bit of both.

There certainly are two things in particular that have had the biggest impact on my career and changed pretty much everything for me in terms of the way I photographed and what I photographed.

The first major change came when I bought my first digital camera. I didn’t mess around and bought what was probably the best digital camera on the market at the time in 2006. Unfortunately, it was also the most expensive camera that I have ever bought, but it did get me on the right track and there is nothing like debt to motivate you to get to work. Stepping away from film was a big but positive step. All of a sudden, I had the creative liberty to photograph as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted of whatever I wanted. It is very hard to explain to people who didn’t start with film cameras just how limiting it was. Every click of the shutter would cost you more in terms of film and development of that film. Removing those shackles was extremely liberating and allowed me to be a lot more carefree in terms of how I photographed. That allowed me to take more chances and, in turn, offered the opportunity of learning far more, each time I picked up my camera, than ever before.

Being able to work on my own images in Photoshop and Capture One was a huge advantage over film. When I jumped from film to digital, I was photographing mostly people and lifestyle type imagery for major stock photography agencies. Being able to offer them far more selections was a huge bonus and being able to retouch those photos was a drastic advantage over anyone who was still using film cameras. I welcomed the digital revolution with open arms. Every year it gets better in terms of technology for cameras and computers, as well as software. I can only imagine where it is going to be in a few years. It sure is an interesting time to be a photographer. The creative control I have today on my photographs is a thousand times that of where it was just a decade ago.

The second watershed moment that had a huge impact on my art was in 2009, when I began to do travel photography. It was almost an overnight happening when I made the decision to change from being a people photographer to a travel and landscape shooter. By doing so, I was able to start exploring the world, make friends all over the planet, eat amazing and unique food, witness and photograph some of the most intensely beautiful places, live some awesome life experiences, have my work featured on the cover of National Geographic and start my new photography tour company Discovery Photo Tours.

Traveling has opened my eyes a great deal and has afforded me so many cherished moments and memories. It is now such a privilege that I get the chance to share some of my favourite locations and experiences with other passionate photographers on my tours in places such as Tanzania, Jordan, Myanmar and my new Antarctica tour.

What have you learned about yourself through your photography? What has that taught you and how have you applied it?
I have learned how to believe in myself more than ever before but that has been a challenging lesson; that I don’t care about material things as much as I do about life experiences; that ego is a curse and is something that so many photographers of today need to keep in check; that I have the power to inspire others with my photography in a positive way.

Perhaps the most important thing that I have learned about myself, through my photography, is the fact that I love the craft and art of photography on a very sincere level and I have a deep sense of gratitude for the fact that I am able to make a living doing something I love. Being able to teach, share and explore on the tours I lead, alongside so many incredible guests that join me, is a huge privilege for me. I am blessed to have made so many good friends along the way and it is thanks to photography that any of this has been possible.

Can you share an image with us that you consider a personal favorite, how it was created, and why it is dear to you?
I love this new shot of Neuschwanstein Castle for several reasons.

One, I love working with the Fujifilm GFX50S. It is an awesome camera with insane detail in the raw files.

Two, it is one of the most recent shoots of mine and a challenging shoot. I enjoy those small victories, in terms of successful images, when they are challenging to get.

Three, if you don’t look closely, you may miss the castle altogether. One of my favourite things in the world to photograph is a man-made object surrounded by a beautiful landscape.

I really wanted to photograph this location in the wintertime and I’m sure that you can see why when you take a look at the photograph. While the castle is beautiful in any season, winter, in particular, turns the whole scene into this fairytale-type look. You can see why Walt Disney chose this particular castle as inspiration for the ones in his theme parks.

I photographed the castle from many different angles, but one of the best vantage points was barricaded off and impossible to get to because of all the snow. This was shot on the second day that I was at this location, bright and early. The light was very flat and, thanks to the incredible dynamic range of the GFX50S, I was able to work a little magic into the image in post-production.

If you could sit down and share advice to yourself when you were first starting out what would you say?
Learn to believe in yourself and do it sooner rather than later. If you don’t believe in yourself, do not expect anyone else to. Take some business courses. Take chances, lots of them.

To someone just starting out with their journey with photography and Fujifilm what advice would you give them as they begin their journey?
The universe has provided you with a gift of talent, ability and opportunity. What you do with that talent, ability and opportunity is your gift back to the universe. Don’t squander it.

From your experience and what you have learned, what advice would you give to someone who is considering turning photography into a profession?
Get ready for a bumpy ride, my friend. This seems like a ‘dream job’ and it can be, but don’t believe the hype on social media where everyone seems to be pretending that their life is 110% pure awesome sauce. Trust me, it ain’t.

Most people who try to get into photography will fail, fact. I don’t believe the old saying ‘If you dream it, you can do it.’ That is utter nonsense. If you dream it and work your ass off and fail miserably but don’t let that stop you, and constantly strive to improve yourself and your craft, then and only then you just may make it. And by make it, you have to understand what making it means to you. Success is all relative.

As a person trying to make his way in a creative field, I have learned a lot of what to do and what not to do. Achieving any kind of growth whether artistic, personal or business requires learning some valuable lessons. Here is some of what I have learned along the way.

Don’t take yourself too seriously
Don’t take any nonsense from people for no good reason
Don’t get down for too long when life gets hard
Don’t wait too long to do the important stuff
Don’t listen to the haters
Don’t let your ego win
Don’t try to please everyone

Do believe in yourself
Do accept honest constructive criticism
Do practice your craft often
Do hang out with positive, kind and creative people
Do learn how to say no and, most importantly…
Do realize that everything you have ever done has brought you to this very moment in your life.

You can’t change the past, so there is no point looking back. You can’t predict the future, so don’t worry too much about it. The only thing you truly have is this very moment. Do make that moment count.

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    Gorgeous images and excellent, inspirational article, Ken! As a Fujifilm X-System landscape and product photographer, I have a keen appreciation for your fine work.
    Thank you sir! Regards, Steve

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