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
“As photographers, we need to look carefully at what it takes to stay competitive,” says Kuhlmann. “Updating digital gear every 18 to 24 months is a necessity. I bill digital camera rental into every assignment, even if I own the gear. It's funny: I shoot on a 12-year-old camera body, but the capture system has outdated itself three times in four years. And each upgrade of the digital back costs five to six times what the camera cost. The motion-picture industry bills for every piece of gear that's used on the shoot; still shooters will need to do the same if they want to afford the next generation of digital gear.”
Adds Kuhlmann, “Another major change with digital is that the photographer has become the lab. I remember finishing a shoot, taking the film to the lab and grabbing a beer with the client for an hour while the lab processed and sleeved the film. Now, we're creating backups, and editing and processing out the raw files. This increased workflow also needs to be billed back to the client. It's a misconception that digital is cheaper than film. The photo studio is responsible now more than ever for the final image. Photographers have the opportunity to bill for these services and they should be. That's just passing the costs along to the clients. They get the benefits of digital, and they also have to pay for those benefits. You're managing all these digital files. It just doesn't happen for free and without a lot of time invested behind the scenes. It's the cost of doing business.”
Kuhlmann charges for the standard services that many photographers charge—from digital capture fees (replacing film charges) to file storage and retrieval fees to retouching and postproduction work. But he doesn't rely heavily on computer manipulation to make his party pictures work. Kuhlmann prefers to get it done in-camera and only count on the computer for subtle changes that put the finishing touches on a shot.
“We add a few effects to the images,” he explains. “Pretty simple, though. In post, I'm usually adding contrast or saturation and doing things to the file that can help add a little more drama to it—some saturation and maybe motion blur. Still, I do very little manipulation. Shooting under these harder lighting sources, it takes a little more work to massage that file. I work very differently with digital; I play a lot more. I ask for multiple choices when my retoucher works on images. It's always a game of discovery. It's fun to see how Photoshop can add to the energy. I don't like overly done effects, though; it cheapens the final image. I think subtle changes work best for my work.”
The Image Is The Thing
Although he loves his digital tools, Kuhlmann appreciates a finely crafted darkroom print or the unique results that he can get from particular types of film. His clients may not ask for it, but he's happy to shoot film when the assignment is right—or when he's doing personal work.
“Digital is a beautiful thing,” he says. “I'd never want to go back to an analog way of doing business. Don't get me wrong—nothing comes close to a beautifully toned fiber print—but nothing comes close to a beautifully crafted digital print either. They're two different animals and should never be compared.”
Adds Kuhlmann, “Great composition, lighting and compelling subjects interest me, so while my color work is vibrant, the talent is also vibrant. It's done with a purpose to invoke a mood, and my black-and-white work is quiet. That's the common thread. Creating the quieter work is an exercise in keeping things simple. No huge production, no stylist, no client. And I always stumble across something I really like that I can directly apply to my commercial work. After a week of clubbing it up, it's a nice break to balance it with something quiet and classical.”
To see more of Brian Kuhlmann's photography, visit www.kuhlphoto.com.
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