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500px Blog » Licensing Contributor Kyle Kuhlman on global travel and adventure photography

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Licensing Contributor Kyle Kuhlman is an American travel photographer who uses his experience from both in front of and behind the camera to help inform his dynamic, adventure-style imagery.

Q: Tell us who you are—what gets you excited to get out of bed in the morning?

A: Hey y’all, my name is Kyle Michael Kuhlman. I’m 29, and I was raised in South Bend, Indiana. Since I was in the third grade, I loved being on stage. Singing, dancing, acting—everything about the arts pulled me to them, even though my family was (and still is) very much a sports family.

I ended up dropping sports to pursue performing and ended up graduating with a BA in Musical Theater. To this day, there is nothing that makes me feel more myself than being artistic. I have been so lucky to be self-sufficient off of performing for the last six years—which any artist knows is the goal for life.

Q: You work both in front of and behind the camera, tell us a little bit about each perspective.

Self-Portraits by Kyle Kuhlman on 500px.com

A: When I was 13 or 14, my parents thought it would be a good idea to have my sister and I sign with a print/commercial agency in Chicago. I remember taking my comp card images so vividly—they made my dad take off his sweater for me to wear so they could get the exact shot they were looking for, and I thought that was just the coolest. From that moment forward, I fell in love with being in front of the camera. I continued modeling throughout high school, college, and into my adult years. I loved how different I could look in each image and how each photographer saw me when they looked through their lens.

For me, as a photographer, this is what I love, but just reversed. I have shot a handful of my girlfriends who have self-image issues, and I can’t explain the feeling when they are over the moon about the images I take. I tell them that even though they may not like what they see in the mirror every day—THIS is what I see, and what others see. I tell them that their confidence comes from within, and you’d be surprised at the Cinderella transformation [that happens] once you are comfortable, and accept that you can be beautiful.

Q: How does your experience in front of the camera help you when directing your models from behind the camera?

Bali, Indonesia by Kyle Kuhlman on 500px.com

A: Having been in front of the camera for so many years, I know what image I want in my head. I know the angle, the lighting, and the frame the perfect image needs to be done in. I have worked with A LOT of different photographers from all over the world, and love taking different concepts and ideas from what I’ve done in the past to create my own perfect images.

I also feel my experience as a model helps DRASTICALLY with someone being comfortable in front of my lens. The connection with model and photographer is crucial if you are looking to get good images. It’s a matter of trust. The model trusts that the photographer will paint them in the best light, that they are taking this vulnerable part of someone and creating art. And the photographer trusts that the model knows they have their best interests at heart so they are able to open up to help create together—in unison.

Q: You mentioned that you only recently became interested in photography, what inspired you to pick up the camera and begin shooting?

Bali, Indonesia by Kyle Kuhlman on 500px.com

A: Well, as many photographers know, photography isn’t a cheap hobby. So to do it right, I wanted to make sure that I was able to get the proper camera and lens to start with. This is all thanks to a very close friend, Michaela Palicki, [who is] one of the best photographers I know or have had the chance to work with. She has traveled around the world with me, taking pictures of me and my friends throughout our explorations. I loved sitting for hours watching her edit these incredible images I never even thought were possible to get.

While in Hawaii, Michaela asked me to take a few images of her, and I completely fell in love. She taught me everything I know about photography. How to balance and change my manual settings, about my camera and its body and lenses, and drastically about editing.

After about a year of just watching her photograph and edit, I asked for a recommendation for a camera and went for it. She flew to New Zealand to spend some time with me and travel, and was by my side helping me to explore my newfound passion the entire way. She even drew up diagrams to show the difference in my F stop and shutter (which I still keep in my camera bag). It’s always about the little things, ya know?

Q: Your compositions are quite strong, often playing with the positioning of the model within the frame. Is there something you look for when composing your images?

A: When composing an image, I love to look for that spark. I know, it sounds so vague!

That spark, for me, could be in the eyes, the smile, the slight movement of hair, or a flick of the wrist. It’s that subtle hint that gives that particular image something the hundred you took before don’t have, and it’s what captivates the audience.

Q: Lifestyle and travel is a common theme throughout your photography, capturing genuine moments or hidden adventures off the beaten path. Is there something drawing you toward these particular genres within your photography?

Wellington, NZ by Kyle Kuhlman on 500px.com

A: For the past six years, travel has taken over my life. I have visited, and explored, more than 50 countries, four different continents, and endless cultures and people. There is nothing more beautiful or satisfying for me, as a photographer, to have the chance to shoot in new and exotic locations, and what better way than with friends and family who are along for the ride.

I love the lifestyle genre of photography because it’s as if you are getting a glimpse of someone’s life in that very moment. Their feelings, their environment, it’s all a little secret we, as an audience, are let in on.

I also enjoy [taking photos during] adventures because you never know what you will get. Sometimes things work out in your favor like clouds or sun, or maybe the wind blows just right, and then sometimes it doesn’t and you end up just laughing the whole time because nothing is going your way. It’s all unexpected and so unpredictable, and that’s the beauty when you get that one epic shot!

Q: LGBTQ+ representation within travel photography is something that you dabble in. Using photography representative of this community for travel can help to associate a particular destination as queer-friendly. Why do you think it is essential to promote and continue to provide this for commercial photography?

Power Couple by Kyle Kuhlman on 500px.com

A: To bring awareness to LGBTQ+ and the destinations [that are] safe, and secure, for our community to [visit] is [very important]. There is nothing like being comfortable in your surroundings, and to have knowledge of where these places may be is so helpful. I have traveled and taken queer images in not so accepting countries (Russia being the biggest), and it’s a scary world when you are hated for being exactly who you were meant to be.

We need to build and expand the acceptance of our community, and if I am able to give insight as to where my ‘family’ can travel safely, I will make sure this is something I put out in my work. There are too many humans dying, or being killed, from being in the wrong place at the wrong time from the hands of others. We need to be aware, and awake.

Q: How do you source the best locations to shoot in?

Wellington, NZ by Kyle Kuhlman on 500px.com

A: Seeing as I am traveling a lot, locations are always such a tricky little thing. A car or easy transportation isn’t always accessible to me depending on where I am, so I have to sometimes think on the fly.

I get a lot of my location ideas from Instagram—looking to see where people may have taken photos or selfies around the area I’m in. I will also do a google [search] to see if there are little hidden locations others may not have noticed. Other than that, I love to just walk with a model, and if something pops out at either of us, we give it a go. Sometimes the spot shocks us with how effective it is in the images, and then other times it’s a bust, but better to try than not at all.

Q: To date, where has been your favorite location to shoot?

Bali, Indonesia by Kyle Kuhlman on 500px.com

A: Ahhhh! This is such a hard question, because I have been to some incredibly beautiful places.

If I had to choose one, I would have to pick Bali, Indonesia. There is something about this incredibly beautiful country that has absolutely everything. You can hike 10-15 minutes to lush greenery and the most epic waterfalls and streams, or you can take to the kitschy towns for some urban feels. There is something new around every single corner, and the most diverse scenery I’ve ever experienced.

Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would your next destination be and why?

A: The next place I plan to travel to will be Africa, primarily South Africa. I have always been fascinated with the lifestyle, wildlife, and nature that surrounds that country. This is a continent that is full of third-world countries, so traveling will have to be extremely thought out and planned, but the beauty seems to be unlike anywhere else. It just so happens that I will be turning 30 next summer, and have already made a pact with my best friend to make the trip there.

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