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Artist of the Week – Kevin Thom

January 18, 2011 by · 1 comment

Interview with the photographer Kevin Thom by Yana Radilova

Kevin Thom: “As long as my eyes are open (and sometimes in my dreams too) I’m looking at the world as if I’m photographing it.”

Birth of Kalla *

Kevin Thom is an award-winning photographer who specializes in commercial, promotional and headshot photography for artists and business people. He is based out of his studio in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Kevin takes an art-centred approach to all of his photography. A hallmark of his style is a distinct focus on visual communication. This tendency comes from the ongoing development of his conceptual series called “Elemental.” This series distills its subject matter to its most essential element, whether that be a shape, texture, color, attitude or emotion. Kevin then highlights this element using dramatic and unorthodox lighting, angles, perspective and composition.

Kevin’s work has appeared in numerous magazines, on book covers, and in other publications around the world. He has exhibited his artistic and conceptual photography in Canada and the US, as well as overseas.

Kevin is heavily influenced by the dramatic cinematic lighting style used in Hollywood movies. Some of his early influences include George Hurrell, who pioneered that style of lighting, and Yousuf Karsh. Kevin also admires the work of Erwin Olaf, Platon, and Annie Liebowitz.

Kevin Thom

Kevin, you seem to be incredibly captivated by photography! How did you become enchanted by this art?

I’ve been taking pictures since I was a kid. Something about it was mesmerizing to me from a very early age. My dad introduced me to the art when I was about 12 by giving me a very simple manual camera and a series of Time Life books that covered many aspects of the art. The idea of capturing a moment or a scene fascinated me. I also loved the science of it, based on those simple and perfect balances that exist between time and light. As I learned more about it, I began to love the element of editing reality, to choose what is seen and what is hidden in order to make the images say something.

Girls just wanna…

The rewards of my love affair with photography have been beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve found myself shivering in snowy forests, scaling mountain peaks in Southern China, leaning into the winds of the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, roaming the brightest cities of Europe, Asia and North America, hanging over the balconies of half-constructed skyscrapers, sweating in tropical jungles, and dozens of other rich experiences, all in the pursuit of the perfect photo.

Bangkok rush

What is your main source of inspiration?

I’m always inspired by what I find most beautiful or interesting about the subject. Once I’ve decided that, the possibilities for highlighting and emphasizing it are endless. I’m also inspired by the present moment. If you take time to examine what is happening right now you’ll always find something to shoot.

Whack a mole

How do you regard photography – as a kind of job or a hobby?

I am a full-time professional photographer, so I consider it a job. However, I have a passion for it, and I love it as though it was a hobby.

Hot lawyer

Do you remember your first steps on the road of photography?

Yes. I was horrible at it! I had this little manual viewfinder camera that required me to dial in the focusing distance and set the exposure manually. I could see the results that I wanted in my mind, but after spending a lot of my childhood money on developing prints, I was quite often disappointed by the results. I’d often estimate distance incorrectly, so the photos would be out of focus. I didn’t understand light very well either, so the photos would be poorly exposed or uninteresting. I kept trying though, because I loved it. It took many years of practice and failing before I started to get any kind of predictable results.

What is the most difficult feeling to capture by a camera?

The most difficult feeling to capture is the one that isn’t there. I think if you try to capture something that’s not there, you’ll always end up with a result that rings false. Capturing the feeling that is there is easy, as long as you take the time to fully immerse yourself in the moment, to listen, observe and feel it yourself. Of course, if you need to create a feeling, anything can be done by understanding the effects of light, shadow, composition, distance, perspective, color, body language and expression.

Red tree in the forest *

Does photography influence on your view of life?

Absolutely. As long as my eyes are open (and sometimes in my dreams too) I’m looking at the world as if I’m photographing it. I don’t know if photography has created this in me, or if it’s just how I am, but I feel fortunate that I’ve discovered photography as an outlet for it.

Paris stability

You have also taken photos of pregnant women. What makes a pregnant woman so beautiful in your eyes?

Pregnancy is so common, and yet so miraculous. I love that this is true, even after millions of years of our existence as a species. Every woman experiences her pregnancy in a deeply personal and unique way. Pregnancy is also a really heightened emotional experience for a woman. I think during their pregnancy, most women experience a full range of emotions, from extreme joy to sometimes rage and frustration. If you put together all of these factors, you’ve got a recipe for a magnificent photography subject.

Do you take part in native and international photo contests?

Yes, I’ve participated in contests, both as a contestant and as a judge. Whether you win or not, contests are great starting points for inspiration, and can be a great way to kick-start your creativity.

What is more arduous to photograph – a landscape or a portrait?

I don’t think of either one of them as being particularly “arduous.” If I found something arduous to photograph, I wouldn’t bother photographing it! Why spend time doing something you don’t love? Fortunately, I do love both. As you can imagine, photographing landscapes and portraits are entirely different things. With a portrait, I can pre-plan a lot of things, including lighting, setting, wardrobe, tone, etc. to match my own imagination of the final result. Portraiture is quite collaborative. I work with my subject to come to a visual conclusion. Shooting a portrait can be very appealing from a control perspective, in that you can set up the ideal conditions for the shoot in a studio as a framework for what will seem to the subject to be quite spontaneous, and you can be nearly guaranteed a good result.


With landscapes, on the other hand, you must relinquish control to nature. You can plan the basics, like time of day and the general season when you’ll be shooting. You can bring the right equipment and all of your technical knowledge. In the end, though, you must make the best of what is in front of your camera. Often, although the shooting conditions might turn out to be different than what you’d initially imagined as being ideal, nature will present surprises and opportunities that you couldn’t have possibly anticipated. You must be flexible enough to see these surprises as gifts. I find that the greatest joys are to be found in surrendering to what that moment has to offer.

Paradise Lamai

Have you taken photos of any exotic places or extraordinary people?

This might sound cheesy, but I think it’s absolutely true: each place and each person can be extraordinary or exotic. It all depends on perspective. When it comes to places, I know that to me and my frozen Canadian compatriots, a tiny, deserted tropical island might be exotic, but to the people who live there, it’s absolutely ordinary. That’s why I make my best attempt to photograph places in ways that even the natives will find surprising or exciting in some way. I want to use the camera and light to heighten the experience of viewing something. I get more pleasure in finding remarkable images in mundane subject matter than I do in shooting stuff that everyone already thinks is exotic.

Paris dichotomy

As for people, everyone has something special about them that a photograph can reveal. Finding the best way to show someone what they never knew about themselves in a way that makes them feel good about themselves is really a lot of fun.

Mountain man redux

It can be great fun to work with artists and performers too, to develop ideas that enhance what they’re trying to say about themselves, so that just by looking at the final photo, you’ll know what they’re all about.

Kung fu

What are your professional plans?

I’m going to continue shooting what I love to shoot, and finding new things to love to shoot. I’ll forever be seeking out and keeping myself open to new opportunities. I’ll keep learning and working on my craft and my processes, so that I can continuously grow better and better at what I do.

Black fairy in swamp *

How do you see the future of photography?

There are always going to be new technologies and gear coming down the pipe. 3D, super high resolution imagery, automatic this, cyber-nano that, whatever. I love seeing all the new toys that camera companies throw at us every year, but it’s very difficult to predict much more than a couple of years out these days. However, one thing will never change: the ability to see–to get below the surface of something and create images that speak to the heart—there will always be a demand for that. I think the future of photography is going to look a lot like its past. The ones who know how to see, and also know how to be flexible enough to roll with the changes, they’re the ones who are going to be driving the art forward.

Bangkok car candy

Give some advice to all inexperienced photographers!

I know it’s a bit of a drag, and perhaps obvious, but learn how to use your camera! I mean, really learn it. Now that everything’s gone digital, there’s no excuse not to take lots of photos with different settings and see how they affect your final result. All of this hard work will pay off later, I promise you, because you won’t have to think about it anymore. Once the technical skills have become second nature to you, you’ll be able to translate those images in your mind into photographs. It’s like riding a bike. You might fall down the first few times, but soon enough it’ll be perfectly natural to you.

Paris sun shower

Don’t worry about buying the latest and greatest gear. It won’t make you a better photographer. Instead, learn to push what you have to its limits. To this day, some of my favorite photos were taken with a very humble 3MP digital camera, my first foray into the digital world. Once you truly know the limits of what you have, and continuously find yourself bumping up against them, that’s when it’s time to upgrade.

Mamela pink

Always try to find ways to say something with your photos. A great photo isn’t just a picture of something. It’s a statement about something. You can say a lot about something just by changing your composition, adjusting a pose, your angle, how the light hits your subject, and many other ways.


Join online communities that offer real sincere and honest critique. Even if you might not always agree, it’s very valuable to know how others see your work.

Matt dusk

Don’t bother shooting the things you find boring, even if someone wants to give you money for it. Flattery through cash is not worth creative death. Shoot the things you’re passionate about, and find new ways to do it. Work harder, go further, do more than you thought yourself capable of doing in the service of your art. If you are always trying to do this, you’ll become great at it. Most of all, have fun!


* The three photos Birth of Kalla, Black Fairy in Swamp, and Red Tree in the Forest are collaborations with Kevin Thom`s girlfriend Laura Hollick, who modeled, as well as creating the costumes and the concept.

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