In Focus: Simon and Deborah Kuhl

There are dozens (hundreds?) of photographers doing portraits and weddings in the Okanagan. I was reluctant to feature one for two reasons: a lot of them are doing it exceptionally well, making it difficult to choose, and also because drawing attention to one looks like commercial favoritism. On the other hand, I thought it might be interesting to get a glimpse into this genre and learn something new.

Simon and Deborah seem to be taking a unique path, shooting a wide range of different subjects and styles, sharing their work, participating in online communities, and working together as a couple. These two obviously love the Okanagan, and would be taking pictures here even if they weren’t making a business of it.

Instead of a cross-section of different styles, I opted to feature a number of their black and white portraits. There’s a wonderful timeless quality to many of them; a sense that the picture has value even when you don’t know the people portrayed. I get the impression of authenticity, and of stories being told, whether the shots are posed or not. They were gracious enough to answer a few questions about their photographic journey so far.

Q. Favourite locations in the valley?
A. Linden Gardens is where it all started for us and we still shoot there regularly. The scenery changes by the week and it’s such a refreshing place to be, on many levels. Plus the coffee is great. It’s a place where we are relaxed and can experiment with many different styles and subjects.

We also loved living on the sunny east side of the valley and would get great results on our sunset photo-walks after dinner.

Q. Influences or artists/photographers you admire?
A. Tara Morris’ work totally blew us away when we first saw it! Her work with natural light and her gift for capturing familial bonds and wonderful expressions is still the benchmark for us. We also appreciate her keen focus and how she has carved herself a specialty niche, both in her style and in her subject matter. She could no doubt expand into other fields and styles, but her work stays true to her strengths and what she is most passionate about.

Yousef Karsh was a master who also influenced us.

Stephen Wilde was always Simon’s favourite mountain biking photographer. In a segment chock-full of amazing photography, Stephen’s work shifted away from pursuing the highest technical quality and headed straight–on to grittier images that were full of emotion, a sense of place, real experience and a more artistic vision. His style was distinct.

Flickr, of course is an awesome source of learning and inspiration. There are too many to list, but the best part is the variety of styles that you can draw inspiration from. We also find working with other types of artists to be inspiring, for example fashion models and musicians.

 


Q. You’ve captured some wonderful faces. Any tips for aspiring portrait photographers?
A. Thank you! Start with people you know and are comfortable with. This will make for more natural expressions and take some of the pressure off. Practice a lot. Also, do a lot of research about styles, lighting, philosophy, etc but develop what you learn into your own unique style, because that is what will set your work apart.

Another tip I thought of for the question regarding aspiring portrait photographers — shoot a lot of frames. It only costs you a little more editing time. The higher the stakes and larger you feel the challenge is, the more frames you should take. If it means deleting 30 images to get that one perfect expression, who cares?

Q. The wedding/family/portrait business keeps getting more crowded. Any thoughts on the difficulties and opportunities in the business of photography in the valley?
A. Great question! The market is hyper-competitve for sure and that drives down prices. From the outset we recognized that we would have to focus on taking deeply meaningful photographs that would have intrinsic value to our clients AND develop a distinct style.

We also recognized that while technology has opened the door to more amateur photographers than ever before, there was, more importantly, a larger – almost insatiable – demand for images in our society than at any other time. Images are everywhere now and they are powerfully used to sell and promote and commemorate. For example, a couple getting married now may reasonably expect to get 100 – 250 high quality images. A few generations ago, most couples may have expected a few, or even just one.

The opportunities are there…but a photographer may have to reduce their expectations of income, look for opportunities where there is less competition, consider auxiliary services like teaching workshops or editing services, or specialize in a niche segment.

More from Kuhl Photo on the web:

In Focus features interesting Okanagan photographers and their work each month. Individual photos are also featured each week on Focus Friday. The author primarily picks stuff from the I Love the Okanagan group on Flickr — if you have suggestions or ideas for photography features, please pass them along to jhiebert@gmail.com.


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