Ken Kaminesky’s Rising from the Ashes
Speak about commercial photography for any length of time with Ken Kaminesky and eventually his deep knowledge of the state of the industry will come to light. This knowledge did not come easily or quickly. Attending his first year of college, he took a photography course and was enamored with darkroom work. Eventually, he left school to concentrate on commercial photography by working for pro shooters.
Assisting fashion photographers gave him the travel bug. At this time, in the early- to mid-90s, some of the photographers Kaminesky assisted were making significant money shooting stock for Masterfile in Toronto. After five or six years, the cutthroat competition soured fashion photography for the young assistant, and he made a transition to start shooting what he wanted on his own.
Signing with Sharp Shooters in Miami in 1999, Kaminesky began selling stock images just at the time when smaller, boutique agencies like Image Bank and Stock Market were being bought by Getty Images and Corbis. Smaller agencies had little choice. “They couldn’t compete,” Kaminesky explains. “They couldn’t afford to scan their libraries, they couldn’t afford to catalog them. All this just absolutely needs to be done. Getting a Web site done back then was just astronomical in price, so they all sold and Sharp Shooters became part of Corbis. After long contract negotiations between all the photographers who were with these other agencies, most people ended up signing. You didn’t have a choice. It was you sign this, or goodbye.” The owners of the agencies profited handsomely, but photographers were largely abandoned.
After signing with Corbis, Kaminesky had five editors in three or four years. A former colleague who moved from Corbis to Picture Arts in California offered to sign him, so he moved again. In a year, Picture Arts was bought by Jupiter Images. Eventually Jupiter was purchased by Getty Images. When photographers’ contracts were up, people were let go. Assignment work was cancelled. Kaminesky lost 80% of his income. That was two years ago, and he has taken this loss as a career-changing opportunity. The chaos of the industry has helped focus him on shooting what he enjoys in photography. This young shooter has risen like a phoenix with a different style of shooting in each hand.
His new methodology of shooting with small budgets has its own difficulties, but he continues to deliver the best product he can envision and execute largely by himself. “Photographing people can be stressful,” he says. “You’re working with your own money and amateur talents. You’re not necessarily able to hire hair, makeup, styling, so you’ve got tons of Photoshop work to do afterwards. It can be too stressful when, especially, the market is just going downhill. They’re giving photography away now.” Kaminesky laments the common practice of editors who will use images from a micro-stock agency as opposed to a rights-managed image. He feels the quality of stock images and commercial photography in general have both gone down as a result of slashed budgets.
This hasn’t soured Kaminesky on stock photography as a creative way to work, however. “No, I don’t want to give up stock,” he says. “I think no matter what, there’s such a beautiful freedom about it. You get to choose what you shoot. You can still shoot assignment work and shoot stock. You never know with stock when something is going to come in and do well for you. I’m very, very curious to see what happens in the next year or two with Photo Shelter because Corbis is doing nothing for me. You get lost in the sea at Getty. It’s huge. You don’t even get to talk to a person at Getty anymore. You are dealing with the Photographers’ Relation Department. That’s how they sign their emails.”
Kaminesky maintains his positive image of the art of photography. “I’m a huge fan of photography,” he reaffirms. “I could spend all day just looking at beautiful photos other people do. It’s inspirational to see what people come up with. I’ve never been a bigger fan of photography in my life.”
Two and a half years ago he gave up his studio to concentrate on location work. At that time, a dear friend of his was stricken with cancer. “I think all of what I’m doing now is in her honor,” he says. “She made me a much better, stronger, kinder person. She made me reevaluate my priorities in life. She made me want to do beautiful things in her memory, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Fueled by that desire to create original and beautiful work, Kaminesky has moved forward with his career after the loss of his beloved friend, and he’s done it despite dwindling stock photography opportunities. He’s divided his work, all evident on his site and his blog, between HDR location photography and more conventional lifestyle work.
Kaminesky shoots a Canon 1DS Mark III. When shooting HDR, he works only with ambient light, which just requires a camera, tripod, and a backpack with some assorted gear. “It’s a pretty minimalist way of getting around,” he says. “You want to be discrete, too, because I go into a lot of places, like the cathedral in Florence.” You can see this type of work on Kaminesky’s blog. Select images of this type are available as prints.
Kaminesky’s lifestyle photography can be found on his site. These are largely a magazine photo editor’s dream, all shot in exciting locations, and largely outdoors. He augments natural light with strobes fired by PocketWizard technology. “I use the PocketWizard Plus II transceivers,” he states. “They are simple to use, effective and have lasted for years.”
Still a fan of film, Polaroid and pinhole cameras, Kaminesky shoots entirely digitally now. In the 1990s, he worked on location shoots which required him to carry buckets of sodium sulfite. Although he loved the results and the detail of the grain, he’s happy to not contribute dangerous darkroom chemicals to the environment any longer.
Hoping to continue to do create travel-based work for himself, Kaminesky will pursue both his styles of photography for new corporate clients while building his stock library. With his deep knowledge of the commercial photography marketplace, it will be interesting to follow his career and see his two-pronged approach as an artist doing what he loves.
Written by Ron Egatz