Posted by: Bill Shaner | November 4, 2008

Central Illinois Photographer Interview

Kevin and the Rocketts by Kevin May

As Dave mentioned earlier I’ve taken on the job of doing an interview with a Central Illinois photographer. The goal is to do this every few weeks depending on my schedule.

The rules for the interview are pretty simple really… I ask a few interesting, irreverent, and “probing” questions and our victim, I mean interviewee answers. I’m sure you’ve seen this before. The hook is the last question where I ask the interviewee who they chose to be interviewed next.

I admit I blatently stole this idea from the Flickr 5 Questions blog post. For that matter this interview thing is stolen entirely from the 5 questions blog post!

On to the interview!

Our first interviewee is none other then Kevin May (also known as Kev) and whose Flickr page is kevmaydude. I could go on with introductions but I’ll just let the interview speak for itself!

How many years have you been a photographer?

I’ve been self-employed as a photographer since 1990. Before that, I worked as an assistant at a commercial photography studio in Peoria called “Chroma” and I was there for six years. Before that, I went to Bradley University and I graduated with a degree in Photojournalism (I always wanted to be a photographer for Sports Illustrated and loved shooting Football and other action sports). Before that, I was like every other amateur photographer that loved to shoot pictures for fun, but never thought it would turn into a full time gig.

Gear you shoot (it can be short or long list… your call)?

I have a ton of gear and if you ever have the chance to come out to my studio (you’re all welcome anytime), you’ll see a lot of cameras, lights and other photo goodies too numerous to mention. When it comes to my day-to-day photography and the gear I carry in my photo bag, I use Canon 5D’s (two—one is there as a back-up). I carry three lens and all three are Canon “L” glass (20mm, 28mm to 70mm zoom, and a 70mm to 200mm zoom). I also have a Canon 550 EX flash in the bag as well. The other thing that I use all the time and this is one of the reasons that you see such vivid and snappy colors from me is a polarizer filer for all three lens. I use those polarizers probably 90% of the time when I’m shooting and it makes all the difference in more saturated color and also reducing glare on objects! I can’t recommend this enough!!!!!

I also have a digital back for my Hasselblad 553ELX—it’s a Leaf Aptus 75 and that produces a 33 megapixel photo which is outstanding! There’s a lot more stuff to bring when I shoot this camera, so for some gigs it’s not the way to go. When I can control the shoot, I use this camera and back and you’ll see some of my Flickr images have been shot with this camera.

Your business and website if you want to share?

My company name is officially the “Kevin May Corporation” (when my accountant asked what I wanted to call the business, I said it was my name, not some other business name to keep things simple.) I’m also very proud of the fact that my business has had and always will have an “unpublished” phone number. I don’t advertise and you won’t find my name in the yellow pages. I don’t recommend this for most business, but for me it has worked quite well.

Your main focus or focuses on photography (commercial, landscape, portrait, sports, etc…)

When I get asked this, my response is that I shoot anything except “portraits and weddings”! My business is commercial photography and a lot of what I do is corporate, industrial, and agriculture. It’s business photography for companies and for the most part, you’ll never see my work unless you happen to be in that particular business or industry. It’s not like a person that shoots for a newspaper or magazine and people see their work on a regular basis.

I feel very fortunate that everyday I’m shooting something different for different clients and I feel like this helps keep me fresh and creative. I think that if you’d work for one client all the time, you tend to burn out over time and I’ve seen it before in a lot of photographers that work for a company or are tied into one big client. Keeping fresh and creative is the key to longevity in this business. If you’ve got competition and you’re being pushed to be better, that’s a very good thing as well. I went through a period a number of years ago where I wasn’t being pushed and challenged and I got a little soft. Now with all the competition out there, I feel like I’m being pushed (in a very good way) to constantly improve and be a better photographer. I feel grateful that there are so many good photographers out there because I feel that it helps make a much better photographer!

Your guilty pleasure besides photography?

I don’t know that I have too many guilty pleasures away from photography. If I had to pick one that that could be considered a guilty pleasure, I would have to say it’s all the traveling that I do. I’m very fortunate that clients will send me all over the U.S. and the world for photo shoots. I’ve been to some amazing countries and places that I don’t know if I would have ever seen if it hadn’t been for my clients.

With as much as I’ve been on the road for work, I think that most people would be content to spend time at home in Peoria, but I do love to travel, so I take advantage of the slow times of the year to travel all over the world and I shoot personal photography for myself. I love shooting nature stuff and I would say that it’s my passion. I know that when I retire from shooting full time, I’ll be ready to go and shoot nature photography. I’d like to get back to a time in my life when as I call it, you’re shooting for the joy and passion of photography! It’s not that I don’t like what I’m doing, but when you’re shooting to please a client, it’s different that shooting for yourself.

When we are growing up we are told we can be President, a firefighter, a teacher, etc… Why photography for you?

I think that I came to the photography world late in life in some respect. When I was in High School, I thought I wanted to be a printer running a printing press. I had a couple of jobs working for small printing operations in Rockford, Il. where I grew up. At some point I knew that this wasn’t the direction that I wanted to go and I had always enjoyed photography as a kid (I even had a small B & W darkroom at my house like a lot of others kids I knew). Once I went to Bradley University, I knew that the dream could become a reality!

Never feel that your dreams are out of reach. Most people are afraid to take a chance on their dreams. I will tell you that it takes a special person and mindset to be self employed. Most people have a hard time risking it all with no safety net (meaning a full time job with benefits and a regular paycheck). It’s not that I’m special in this regard, I’m like any other small business person that believes in themselves and takes a chance to make the dream a reality. I can’t ever imagine working for someone or a company in the future and I never hope that I have to. I love being self employed and I want to help those that have the same dream achieve what I have (I’m talking about all the amateur photographers that want to be full time photographers)!

Some of us (both you and I) started with film but now shoot digital. Do you miss film?

Yes and no. I’m so grateful that I grew up in the world of film because I think that a lot of younger photographers that never had to go down that road are lacking in some of the basic photography knowledge that they need. When I started in photography, my first camera was a manual camera (no auto exposure or auto focus) and you had to know the basic principles of photography. With today’s cameras, if you have an eye for composition, the camera can take a very good photo (exposure wise) and you’ll find a number of photographers out there that can take great photos when the conditions are perfect. Where they run into not so perfect conditions, they have problems and aren’t sure how to fix them. Knowing what your camera can and can’t do is huge and also knowing how to fix those problems is everything.

I really don’t miss film when I can do so much more with digital. There are things that we could only dream of doing in a darkroom that are now possible with digital. It was very expensive to make the conversion from film to digital and we as still photographers were very spoiled that our gear wasn’t insanely expensive all those years ago. Now that we live in the digital world, buying a camera in the 1k and up range is the norm. I remember buying my first Nikon F3 at the then price of $500 bucks! Now you can’t touch a great camera like that for under 1k! Times have changed! Times have changed for the better as far as I’m concerned!!!!! I feel very fortunate to have lived in both worlds and I think that it also allows some of us older folks an advantage over some of our younger friends!

Enough questions that date us! So you have the opportunity to shoot with anyone (living or dead but of course the dead won’t really be dead since shooting with a zombie would be just plain bad!) Who would it be?

I’ve got two for you, the first would be Ansel Adams! He’s the guy I’ve always wanted to be. I would have loved to have been his assistant for a number of years and heard all the stories and tapped all that knowledge as to how he did things and what he saw and how he thought! He’s always be the best photographer ever in my book!

The other person that I’d love to shoot with is anyone that I walk around and shoot with! By that I mean when we have a group outing, I really enjoy chatting and shooting with other photographers. There is so much that I can learn from any photographer regardless of their level and experience. We all see thing differently and you might see something that I would never see. If I’m walking around with you or checking out your photos afterwards, I might see something that I can put away and use later when I’m shooting. We all can help each other and make ourselves better by chatting and sharing on the internet as we do!

Photo you absolutely love that YOU shot!! Don’t be shy!! Oh.. and you have to tell us why you love the shot.

This is a very tough question in a sense for me. It’s not like I hang on photos that I’ve taken years ago and show that as my best work. What I mean by this is that I’d like to think that I’m always progressing and evolving as a photographer. I’d like to think that I’m always getting better and better as a photographer. I’d also like to think that my style of photography is evolving as well and what I shot a year ago, five years ago or ten years ago is different and better. I would really hate to be showing you photos that I shot ten or twenty years ago as the best work that I’ve ever done (like I haven’t done anything since). I’ve seen a lot of photographers that will show you old work and I’m thinking “what have you done lately”?

If you look at any of my shots on the Flickr site, you’ll see a wide variety of shots and styles from me. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to shoot a number of different things and places. I think that with some of my better shots, it’s not so much what I did, but the opportunity that I was presented with. I was able to take advantage of those moments and create something that I really liked.

When you look at any photographer’s shots, the thing that might grab you is the perspective of the shot, or the light (and the shadows) or the color or the composition of the shot. I like to think that my work has some of these elements and it’s something that grabs you and makes you pause for a moment to see what the shot is all about.

The things that grab me when I’m shooting are light, shadows, color, texture. I found out on my most recent trip how much I need sun for my shots. Other photographers like hazy, overcast days, but for me I need sun to create my style of shots.

I’ve put together a couple of quick shots that I’ve taken that I like. There’s no rhyme or reason to my picking these shots, they just grab me for whatever reason.

Waikiki by Kevin May

This is one of those city colorful shots that I just love to shoot. There’s some nice reflections from the lights in the water and the city ends up looking great!

Chopsmith1 by Kevin May

I like this shot because it’s a studio shot and the bike looks great. Nice clean simple lighting and also the wide angle lens gives a little distortion to the rear wheel and makes the tire look a little beefier!

Bellagio by Kevin May

One last shot in the studio. This is a player card for the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. I elevated the card off of the background a couple of inches and then hit the card with a somewhat hard light to give a little shadow. Nice color and composition and room for a headline and copy in the shot.

The correlation to this question… Photo you absolutely love that Someone else shot!

I just love looking at other photographers work. It’s not like I see something and wish that I shot it, but I try to look at the photo and learn from it and try to incorporate it in my work. I see so much good work out there and there are a number of incredible photographers out there. I think that we have a great group of photographers on our local Peoria Flickr site. I learn a lot from seeing what others are doing and how they see things. The different perspective that we all bring to this is great!!!!! I love the idea that people are able to share their work on the internet and we are all able to see it. In a way, it’s like when I was going to school and you would see what other photographers were doing and how they were shooting at the school darkroom. Now we have the ability to shoot something and then share it with others instantly.

I would say to all the other photographers out there, keep shooting and showing your work. I’m inspired by it and it lets me see things in a different light and that’s a very good thing!!!!

Photo Cliche you would most like to see go away?

This is one that I don’t see on Flickr (Thank God), but it’s one that I seen on some of the model and glamour forums. Photo cliche Number One that could go away and I would be very happy is the shot of a female model holding a sword, gun, or other phallic symbol! This one is horrible and every time I see it I cringe. I really think that the photographers that do this are thinking that it’s going to really look cool to see a sexy model holding this long big asian sword, but it doesn’t! Trust me, it looks lame and pathetic and all is does is perpetuate a very bad image.

Here’s my tip off if stuff like this is a bad idea, as a male photographer, if you’re going to shoot something like this because you can’t wait to show all your male friends at work the shot, it’s lame!!!!!!!

Wow, how’s that for a cliche???

Finally… The next vicitm? I mean interview?

I would pick Tim Lester. He’s a young man that’s been shooting a ton of stuff and is really getting into photography. I think it would interesting to hear what he’s think, what he’s trying to shoot, what challenges he faces starting out.

Gray Fox by Tim Lester

So… Tim you’re next! I’ll be in contact with you soon so we can “chat”!

And Kev… Thanks!!


  1. Great interview!!! Good job, both of you!

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