Home Artists Inspirational Fulfillment: Photography by Kevin Paul

Inspirational Fulfillment: Photography by Kevin Paul

Between his witty candor and distinct photographic style, Kevin has opened a studio after 18 years in the making. Using his abilities, he creates depictions of the world and the people in it that are honest and exposed in both a technical and emotional sense. If you want to learn from a photographer with over 25,000 shoots under his belt, who has worked with major commercial clients – and makes jokes about his nose, Kevin Paul is the guy to know.

The Kevin Paul Interview

Hi, Kevin. Tell me about yourself and your journey into photography.
I fell into photography by accident when my sister recruited me at 16 to work at a J.C. Penney portrait studio. I had just graduated high school and was looking for a job while I went to college to study music performance. Two years later, I talked my way into a job at one of the premier portrait studios in Southern California at that time. Shortly after they decided they liked me enough to keep me. I was only 18. I was the youngest photographer there by 15 years. Photography has always been a constant since I found it, while my other side projects have included things like running a weekly Underground Hip Hop club with a few of my friends, breeding seahorses,  jazz saxophone, and now propagating species of coral and promoting ocean conservation. My curiosity has always been abundant and I find a camera is a great way to open internal and external doors in this world.



I have always been a huge gamer. In 2002, I found my favorite video game of all time – Photoshop! Later that year, I got the opportunity to take classes from Michael Johnson and continued to study and learn from him for the next 18 months. 


I met the love of my life when I was only 19 years old, and we married in 2005. We moved up to Portland, Oregon the following year and find the spirit and beauty of the Northwest so abundant that we now call it home.  In 2015, I accomplished an 18-year dream by opening my portrait studio Photography By Kevin Paul. My past clients include Nike, Nordstrom’s, Paul Mitchel, Vidal Sassoon, and Randall House Publishing. 


Photography_By_Kevin_Paul_BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir


That’s some very impressive clientele, and it’s great that you’re still so candid. With over 25,000 sessions, I’d love to know what this joke is that you tell everyone and why it’s always your joke of choice?
Well, you have to stick with what works right?
I am a bit of a joke connoisseur. I have jokes about almost everything (including a healthy collection of cow jokes), but I do start out most sittings with the same “joke” if you can call it that. It’s more a stick really. It goes something like:
“Are you staring at me”
“Are you looking at my nose”
“Hey, don’t look at my nose”
“Did you just laugh at my nose”
“Why are you laughing at my nose”
“Do you think my nose is funny looking”
“Are you looking at my nose again?”
So on and so forth, you get the idea.


Is it the most ridiculous thing ever? Almost ya. But my nose is right behind the camera lens so the kids follow my nose straight into eye contact with the lens. I can even get kids to turn their head slightly by adjusting which side of the camera the “nose” comes out on. More often than not, I can keep that same routine up for about an hour which is the typical length of my “kid” sessions.




Does a photographer as versatile as yourself most appreciate the camera’s ability to take you back in time or its ability to creatively hint at what lies ahead for the future?
Primarily, for me, I would say the past.
Sitting on my desk right now, I have a photo of my grandfather who passed some time ago. It is not one of those regal studio shots or a picture of him from WW2 but a picture of him with some type of fish basket/strainer on his head at a party. It is amazingly ridiculous. The same photo reminds me of what a complete goofball my grandfather could be when we were growing up, and also not to take things too seriously. If I am photographing a family, it’s my job as the photographer to make sure that moment is as fun and happy as possible. It is possible for a photo to sit on a father’s desk while he is at the office to remind him why he works so hard, and then down the line for that same photo to be viewed by that kid to remember their father and the fun times they had.




What led you to open your own business after 18 years?
It was always a dream of mine. When I got that first job working with my sister at J.C. Penney, we had so much fun working together. She and I dreamt that one day we would open a studio together. Then, as time went on I got the gig at a great studio. Life was great, and I always thought about doing it, but no way was I going to leave that kush studio job. I mean, I had a camera in my hand 40 hours a week, it was just too much fun. I still talked about it – the same way people talk about selling everything and moving to Hawaii. The entire 15 years at that studio, I always continued to study. But as I learned more, there were always a few things I wanted to do differently.




Then, in 2012, I got hurt fairly badly at work. I was told I would never be able to hold a camera again, and likely never lift more than 5 lbs again. Ever. They told me I was 92% permanently disabled. So two surgeries and a few thousand hours of physical therapy later, I’m back to being able to hold a camera. As tough as that was, I am glad it happened. It really made me pause and made me fight for what I wanted to do. Everything had always come so easy that I never realized how much it meant to me until I couldn’t do it anymore. I used my time off to learn more of the business side of things, and 16 days after being fully medically cleared to return to work for the first time in 3 years, I signed a lease for my studio.
The experience I am able to give my clients now is what I always wanted to do before. It’s pressure for sure, but the rewards are incredible. I wish I had found the guts to do this ten years ago.


That’s an incredible story that could easily inspire anyone with a dream. Also, do you feel your love of hiking influences your vision and the way you photograph landscapes and adventures?
Yes! Hiking resets my brain. It reminds me of how big and beautiful the world is, and how amazing God is being able to create all these wonders. The world is such a beautiful place, and I am very lucky to live where I do and get to experience such amazing scenery every day. I try to find beauty in all things, but the PNW makes that a bit easier than most places I have been.




I use a variety of techniques when I shoot and process landscape photography to try to bring into the print the same emotions you feel being in the scene. I often saturate colors, blur water, stack exposures for different points in a frame. All of the tools I use are meant to try to replicate the way I remember the scene in my mind. Just like the photograph of my grandfather, those pictures take me back to certain points in my life. Some are just pretty scenes, but others were created with a certain person or thought in mind.



Which cameras and equipment do you prefer?
I started back in the f… (wait can I say that here? The four letter word beginning with F? Ya? O.K.) film days -shooting medium format with a Pentax 645. I got into digital in 2002, first with Nikon, but shortly after I switched to Canon. At the time, Canon was superior, although I think they are all about the same now.
I am currently shooting with a Canon 5Dmiii and a 24-70 2.8 lens for 90-95% of my work. I shot with a 7D and the same lens for 4-5 years and racked up a shutter count on that body just under 800,000. So that’s the backup camera now. I’ve never been one to chase the newest camera, but the 5D is awfully nice. I do have 7 or 8 lenses, including two of the 24-70.’ If one ever breaks on a shoot, I can grab the other. I find that lens to be so versatile that it almost never leaves my body.


I do use a lot of strobes in my work. I have 6 Canon flashes that I control with the Pocket Wizard ETTL system. I also have 4 smaller speedlites that can be triggered on manual mode with other flashes. For larger strobes, I am a huge fan of Paul Buff, and have been using their lights for studio work since 2000. I actually shot with the same ultra 1800 for over 6 years (about 10,000 sessions), before it finally gave out on me. I am now shooting with their Einstein lights.
I’m a firm believer in finding gear that works and just using that. I like to not have to think about my gear when trying to create something. It’s just important that it works so I can spend my energy with my client.




Any special techniques you lean towards while shooting or post processing?
The greatest benefit I have had to my post processing in the last 10 years is learning to utilize Lightoom. I now import my photos with a custom preset (which I call Import Sauce) that are predefined settings based on how I want my images to look. From there, I select the good ones (not remove the bad ones) with comparative selection and then color correct in batch modes for various lighting conditions as they occur. Most of the time, this is for portraits unless a random pimple needs to be removed or there is a stain on someone’s shirt.
My landscapes and art prints go through a bit more, though.  I most often merge several exposures of the same thing to create a high dynamic range. I then use the tools in Lightroom to dodge/burn, saturate/desaturate (I find desaturating is as important as saturating to pop some colors) adjust specific tonal ranges, etc. From there, I go into Photoshop for all my masking and detail work.


Working with portraits, I think there is a definite line that far too many cross in enhancing the body or creating a certain look. I walk a very conservative side of that line. I find people to be beautiful just the way they are, and think that industry photographers need to stop trying to define beauty by altering people. HOWEVER, on an art piece or landscape photo, anything goes.




See more of Kevin’s work at http://www.photographybykevinpaul.com/.

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1 comment

getenergy59.com July 30, 2017 at 11:06 am

Kevin Paul Photography specializes in on-location and studio photography for portraits, and a photojournalist and artistic approach to weddings.


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