PHOTOGRAPHER: Ken Kaminesky
BASED IN: New York, USA
KNOWN FOR: Travel and landscape photography
SHOOTS WITH: FUJIFILM X-Pro2 and X-T2 cameras, FUJINON XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS, XF10-24mmF4 R OIS and XF56mmF1.2 R lenses
World-renowned travel and landscape photographer Ken Kaminesky has had work published everywhere from The New York Times to National Geographic and writes frequently about the people and places he encounters along the way on his highly popular blog. He shoots with both FUJIFILM X Series and GFX system cameras and says that his favorite place in the world is always his next destination.
What first inspired you to become a photographer?
Unlike many photographers who develop their passion for photography at a young age, photography didn’t even cross my mind until I was 18 years old. Then, in my first year of college, I took an introductory photography course, which gave me a creative interest in the subject. In fact, I think the fascination of working in the darkroom captured my imagination more than shooting pictures did. Eventually I switched to studying photography full-time in school.
At the same time, my sister began modelling in Europe and Japan, and I was fortunate enough to meet her agent. He believed in me and started to send some of his models my way, so I could photograph them for their portfolios – and also mine. I am still very grateful to him for giving me that chance.
How did you turn professional?
I’d been studying photography full-time for a couple of years when I found a job working as a photographer’s assistant on the side. I quickly realized I was learning more on the job than I was in the classroom, so I dropped out of school completely to look for more work as an assistant.
Today I think there’s really no need for people who’re interested in photography to go to expensive schools. There is so much information online, and so many good tutorials. Someone who’s motivated and has some appetite for photography can learn all they need to know. Then it’s a case of: practice, practice, practice. It would also be remiss not to mention photography tours and workshops – these are also great ways to better yourself as a photographer, though be careful to select one run by a good, experienced photographer.
After several years working as an assistant for numerous fashion photographers, I decided to venture out on my own. And that’s when the whole rollercoaster ride began.
What was the rollercoaster ride? Can you describe some of the difficulties you faced in those early years?
I can sum up my difficulties in one word: confidence. I had a double helping of zero confidence when I set out. Approaching clients was so nerve-racking for me that I would have panic attacks before big meetings. It took me years to develop more confidence, and even then I don’t think I really started to believe in myself until I started shooting travel and landscape.
An old business partner of mine used to tell me that, if you think you can’t do something, “fake it ’til you make it.” That was his motto, and he was damn good at it! Being confident without being arrogant is important in so many facets of life. The business of photography is no different.
When did you start using FUJIFILM equipment?
I think I first jumped into the system when the FUJIFILM X-E1 was launched. Like so many people, I saw it as a second camera that I could take with me on my travels. It was light, compact, solid, and had a quality feel to it.
With each new camera or lens, I became more and more impressed with the X Series, and with the way that Fujifilm worked with me as a photographer. It felt like the fit was right in so many ways.
What’s your favorite lens?
They are all pretty good, to be honest. In fact I’d say the XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS is the best kit zoom lens you’ll ever see on any cameras – it’s small and very sharp. But at the moment my go-to lens is the XF10-24mmF4 R OIS. So many of my all-time favorite images have been shot using this lens, including several I am sharing here. It has the focal lengths that I shoot with the most and is pretty much the lens I keep on my main camera body in most landscape situations. That said, I can’t wait to get my hands on the XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR ultra-wide!
When you look back on your career, what landmark moments made the biggest difference to your photography?
There have been several times in my career when I’ve had to make drastic changes. But I’m always reminded of Charles Darwin, who said it’s not the strongest species that survives, but the one that’s most adaptable to change.
One of the most significant changes I’ve been through was when I got my first digital camera.
Stepping away from film was a big and positive step: all of a sudden I had the creative liberty to photograph whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. It is very hard to explain to people who didn’t start with film cameras just how limiting they were – every click of the shutter would cost you more in terms of film and development of that film. Removing those shackles was so liberating and allowed me to take more chances than ever before.
My second watershed moment happened in 2009, when I began to shoot travel photography. Almost overnight, I made the decision to change from being a people photographer to a landscape shooter and by doing so I was able to start exploring the world, witnessing the most amazing places, and having some of the most incredible life experiences. I’ve had my work on the cover of National Geographic and have my new photography tour company, Discovery Photo Tours.
Travel has opened my eyes and afforded me so many cherished moments and memories. It is now such a privilege that I get the chance to share my favorite locations and experiences with other passionate photographers.
What have you learned about yourself through your photography?
I’ve learned how to believe in myself more than ever before, but that has also been a challenging lesson. I’ve learned not to care as much about material things as I do about life experiences. I’ve learned that ego is a curse and something that many of today’s photographers need to keep in check. And I’ve learned that I’m blessed to have made so many great friends along the way.
Can you share an image that you consider a personal favorite?
I love this picture of Neuschwanstein Castle for several reasons. Firstly, I love working with the camera I used to shoot this – the FUJIFILM GFX 50S. It’s awesome, as is the insane level of detail in the RAW files. Secondly, it was a challenging shoot, and I enjoy small victories. And also, if you don’t look closely you might miss the castle altogether. I photographed it from many different angles, but one of the best was barricaded off and impossible to get to because of all the snow. The light was very flat, but thanks to the incredible dynamic range of the GFX 50S I was able to work a little magic into the image in post-production.
If you could sit down and share advice to yourself when you were first starting out what would you say?
Learn to believe in yourself, and do it sooner rather than later. If you don’t believe in yourself, do not expect anyone else to. Take some business courses. Take chances; lots of them.
From your experience and what you have learned, what advice would you give to someone who is considering turning photography into a profession?
Get ready for a bumpy ride, my friend. This seems like a dream job – and it can be – but don’t believe the hype on social media where everyone seems to be pretending that their life is 110% awesome. Trust me, it ain’t!
But to anyone who’s just started out in photography, I’d say this: The universe has provided you with a gift of talent, ability, and opportunity. What you do with that talent, ability, and opportunity is your gift back to the universe. Don’t squander it.
Ken Kaminesky is a compensated FUJIFILM X-Photographer.
See more of Ken’s work on his website or read about his exclusive photo tours at discoveryphototours.com. This article is based on content that appeared originally appeared on Landscape Photography Magazine.