Interview with Lifestyle Photographer Kim Hildebrand

Today, we continue our new series of LumoPro ambassador interviews with Kim Hildebrand, a lifestyle newborn and family photographer in Seattle, Washington. Kim shoots her images on film, often using a LumoPro speedlight. Stay tuned at the end of the post, for information Kim’s new Lighting for Lifestyle online course!

How long have you been taking photos and how did you get started?

I’ve been taking photos for about 20 years now – wow. That just aged me a bit. My dad was the visual storyteller in our family, so he took photos of our family vacations and kept up yearly albums. I have lots of memories of looking over the photos and reliving moments together. I took snapshots all the time with a point and shoot camera in high school and college, but I really got into photography well after graduation, when my spouse and I lived in Atlanta.

Family portrait

Photo by Kim Hildebrand

You have a unique workflow in that most of your work is done on film. Did you start out shooting film?

I had a Canon EOS-3 (still do) and took a black-and-white film developing class at an art center on a recurring basis for a couple years in Atlanta. I got so into it that I made one of our spare rooms into a darkroom. I loved the entire process – developing the film, reviewing the images on a light table, projecting and exposing the negative onto Ilford photo paper with my Beseler enlarger, and then watching the images appear out of nowhere when bathed in the chemicals. I could spend hours in the darkroom! From learning what a good negative looked like, I learned a lot about how to make a good negative using the Zone System. Our teacher always said, “Expose for the shadows; develop for the highlights.” I still think about that when shooting.

 What made you decide to switch back to film from digital?

I switched to digital when everyone else did, but ended up switching back to film about four years ago. I realized that I really hated editing because I could never get the color, skin tones, and contrast the way I wanted it to look. I also dreaded spending late hours in front of the computer, and I loathed culling down images. I tried outsourcing the editing, but still wasn’t happy with the results. It just wasn’t a workflow and process I was happy with. So I picked up my film camera again and haven’t set it down.

What genres of photography do you shoot most?

Now being in business for 8 years, I have established myself as an in-home lifestyle newborn and family photographer. I shoot client sessions on film because I just love the look and feel of it. Film also forces me to slow down and be more intentional, and it saves me loads of time on the computer.

Family photo in kitchen

Photo by Kim Hildebrand

What do you enjoy most about taking photos of families? What is the most challenging part?

I love the unpredictability of working with families, and I love capturing that! Parents can have the best intentions, but something always goes sideways, and that is life raising kids, right? I love showing that in my work. We’re all doing the best we can. We aren’t perfect, and neither are our kids – and that’s okay! It’s interesting!

I’d say the most challenging part is managing the expectation with parents that it’s totally fine (and honestly, a little expected) if Timmy cries and Emma won’t smile. I’ll show a gallery of genuine emotions and expressions any day over one forced, fake smile. Those crazy unpredictable things that happen are just as precious as when the family is smiling and laughing and enjoying each other’s company. Because that is life.

I’ve learned that reassuring Mom throughout the shoot that what I’m capturing is amazing really helps keep both parents (and kids) at ease to get the genuine shots I’m looking for.

 

Newborn family portrait

Photo by Kim Hildebrand

Do you feel like using film cameras limits you in your work or serves as a differentiator?

Thatʼs a great question. Film definitely has a different look to it, and I first thought it would differentiate my product and services from others, but I now don’t think that’s the case. First, there are more and more photographers switching back to film, and I know of quite a few where I live in Seattle. Second, most customers don’t know that I shoot with film until I show up for the session. I don’t think most people recognize the subtle differences in sharpness (or lack thereof), skin tones, grain and contrast. They just know that they like something – whether it is my style or the characteristics of using film, that they just can’t pinpoint. I have been hired more and more because I’m a film shooter, but that is with a specific target client who can see the difference.

Using film greatly limited me in my in-home work at first, without using flash, because it requires much more light than digital. Compare shooting Fuji 400h, a 400 speed film that actually needs a ton of light, with cranking up the ISO on a digital camera to 3200 or even 12800! But, problems are there to be solved, and I figured out a way to make it work.

Picture of family feet

Photo by Kim Hildebrand

How does lighting fit into your workflow?

I’ve used artificial lighting for years. I learned flash with film while in Atlanta, but didn’t really have a good grasp of it. I bought an entry-level strobe kit – Interfit – upon starting my business and really learned artificial light with that. I had a studio space for a while, which consisted of a very dark space with no windows, so I used strobe exclusively for years and really learned the light. But something was missing, and for me it was the thrill of shooting in-home lifestyle vs. studio work. Photographing in-home sessions was just really fun and challenging, and made me more creative. But shooting in-home sessions on film, in Seattle of all places, was next to impossible. I remember taking a meter reading one winter at noon, and the meter literally read 1s @ f2.0!

So I knew I wanted to shoot film inside. I had a lot of experience shooting with one strobe, so I started taking a strobe kit with me to in-home sessions. And it worked great. Until I wanted to move around to different rooms and take photographs in tight spaces. So I had been reading up on small flash again and decided to take it with me to the next session. I realized a speedlight in Manual mode is exactly the same as a strobe, just without the modeling light! So I set up the flash in each room as we moved around the house for the session and pretended it was like a strobe. It was a game changer!

I basically use one LP180 speedlight on the little stand it comes with, bouncing the light off ceilings or windows, and just move the unit around with me, based on which room Iʼm working with my families in. Easy peasy.

Brothers sharing stuffed animal in cribs

Photo by Kim Hildebrand

What is your favorite piece of LumoPro gear and why?

Hands down, the Lumopro LP180 flash. It’s durable and well-made; the controls are really intuitive; it’s relatively inexpensive compared to many flashes that are on the market today; and it’s dependable. The flash paired with my triggers work with all my film cameras – Contax, Pentax, and Canon – and I love that I donʼt have to switch systems! I was also shocked that this little flash unit could give me enough light to shoot a family inside on film. It is much more compact and portable than a strobe too, and I can use it in the smallest of spaces, as long as I have a surface to bounce off of.

Black and white children portrait

Photo by Kim Hildebrand

What is your favorite image you have shot and why?

That is a tough question! I feel like my work is continually evolving, but my current fave is a recent one of my kids. They sat for me when I was playing with my flash to use it as backlight. It’s a simple photograph. They are laying together opposite ways, relaxed looking right at me. Their expressions are simple, open and honest, and I love that.

What influences your work, outside of other photographers?

Art, cinematography, influential writers like Brené Brown and Simon Sinek, anything on TED Talks and CreativeLive, interesting light, color. And the things I see in every client’s home, like artwork, architecture, interior design, pretty windows and drapes, the color of the walls and texture, like blankets and quilts, etc.

What advice would you give to photographers who are just getting started?

Besides learning your craft, learn what it is that you are passionate about and really love to do. What do you get a thrill taking a photo of, no matter how many times you have done it? Because being in business is hard, and it’s going to have its ups and downs. Learn what you love to do and become an expert in every aspect of it. And pay yourself.

Mother and child portrait

Photo by Kim Hildebrand

If time and budget constraints were no object, what personal project would you want to complete this year?

I’ve had an idea in the back of my head for a long time about how wonderful it would be to show how the bond between a mother and child is universal regardless of where you live, what you believe in, what color your skin is, how much money you have and what language you speak.

Family portrait by window

Photo by Kim Hildebrand

Lightining Round: Getting to Know You with Kim Hildebrand!

LumoPro: If you could spend one day with any photographer (living or dead), who would it be and why?

Kim Hildebrand: I’ve always been fascinated with Vivian Maier. She’d haul those kids out and traipse all over the city with her Rolleiflex and take street photos…..then store the film away in a locker for a complete stranger to find years later. Did she not have money to develop the film, or did she not care about the result, only the journey? She was the ultimate observer who loved capturing moments that interested her without a care in the world about money, recognition, honors, or any of the other messy things that come with photography.

LP: If given the chance, would you rather photograph the Olympics (Winter or Summer?), the X-Games, a polo match with the entire royal family or a professional beer pong tournament?

KH: My initial response is a beer pong tournament because it would be funny as hell and takes me back to college.

LP: If you had to choose one piece of lighting gear to have during a zombie apocalypse, what would it be and why?

KH: Light stand. It’s a multi-purpose item that is more durable than an umbrella. 😉

LP: If you had a career other than photography, what would it be?

KH: I’ve had many careers before photography, but would I go back to them? Hmmmm. I’ve been dreaming that one day I’ll be a world traveler/blogger, and people would pay me.

Father and infant portrait

Photo by Kim Hildebrand

Kim is launching an online course teaching Lighting for Lifestyle, which covers all things flash and lighting for lifestyle and portrait (film or digital!) shooters. If you are interested in learning about how to use your flash indoors, get more information here.

A huge thank you to Kim for her time. You can find more of Kim’s work on her website – https://www.kimhildebrand.com/. You can also follow her on Instagram – @kimhildebrandphoto

All images by Kim Hildebrand and used with permission.