Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Brian Kuhlmann - Life Of The Party
With a studio at the gateway to the Old West and the American Frontier, Brian Kuhlmann's St. Louis operation lands big clients who are drawn to his high-energy style
A commercial photographer faces a host of challenges in running a profitable business, and those obstacles actually can be compounded as the photographer achieves more success. Whether it's pressure from demanding clients, the technical challenges of mastering a large-scale digital workflow or simply fighting to keep the jobs from going stock, success can bring its own set of headaches. For St. Louis-based photographer Brian Kuhlmann, those challenges include the task of courting clients who are used to taking their jobs to New York or Los Angeles.
Kuhlmann launched his commercial career 18 years ago, and he has accumulated enough “bread-and-butter” clients to keep his business thriving. Even so, as a big-time photographer working from a smaller market, he has had to develop innovative methods for landing the big-budget creative assignments that he wants. He recently opened a satellite studio in Chicago to get into a larger market that allows him to stay close to home.
Big Fish, Small Bowl
“Courting high-end clients from St. Louis is no easy task,” Kuhlmann explains. “If I could get a dollar every time I heard that the art director took the assignment to L.A. or New York, I wouldn't need to shoot anymore. It's just a fact that if the art director has a good budget for a project, he or she will take it to the coast. In some cases, the assignment fits and it should go to the talent that it does. But in many cases, it's all about going to the bigger city for the fun. It's just part of doing business.”
Of his early years, Kuhlmann says, “Being in a small market meant having to be more of a generalist. I shot architecture, product, food. If the phone rang, it was important to be able to shoot the assignment. And in the beginning, I really enjoyed doing a little bit of everything. I looked at it as my schooling. I learned about composition and lighting by looking at magazine ads and trying to emulate them.”
Primarily self-taught, Kuhlmann worked with a portrait photographer as a teenager. The experience helped him understand the basics of lighting and composition, and showed him that he could make a living doing something interesting. It also taught him about the type of work he did—and didn't—want to pursue.
“I realized early on that I didn't want to shoot weddings or portraits,” Kuhlmann says. “It was the commercial photographs that I was drawn to. They were so polished and well-composed—and I had heard that you could make a lot more money shooting for advertising.”