Every once in a while you come across a portrait that just grabs you, shakes you, and then leaves you wanting more. For me, that is what Julia’s work is about. Julia Kuzmenko McKim is a professional Beauty, Fashion and Portrait photographer, as well as a talented Retoucher. She has such a unique grasp of lighting and her skill as a digital painter takes stunning photographs and makes them shine as works of visual art. Her work has been featured on Vogue Italia and numerous print publications.
Yet, beyond her impressive resumé, Julia is the real deal, contagiously optimistic, and a pleasure to talk to.
One on One with Julia
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
― Henry Ford
You have described yourself as a photographer, retoucher, digital artist and educator. How do these different traits play into your every day life?
They are all my everyday life now. Unfortunately, I don’t shoot as much as I would like to right now. I spend my days retouching for clients and my personal projects, writing for my blogs and working on educational materials. I have been invited to do a handful of Master Classes overseas this year, so I am improving the programs and working on my eBooks at the moment.
But all of it revolves around my passion for photography and digital arts, so working doesn’t really feel like work.
What got you started in photography?
I always loved visual arts and started painting and drawing when I was a child, but drifted away from it while in college. Then I became an accountant upon my graduation and there’s nothing creative about that profession, I’ll tell you that.
But after many years in the financial industry I was still drawn to the visual arts and bought a new camera in 2006 before a short vacation in Switzerland. During the week that I spent there at a ski resort, I learned how to use it, how to expose right, and returned home with a new found passion for photography.
I started taking a lot of pictures of friends and family members, and soon began to receive requests from friends of friends for paid shoots. I still had my well-paid full-time job and didn’t really need the extra cash, but I was absolutely getting a kick out of the fact that someone was willing to pay me to do what I loved doing anyways.
Very soon I started feeling that my main job was getting in the way of my passion and after a lot of thinking, planning, battling with myself, I made up my mind, quit my job and went to Australia to study Commercial Photography.
How would you describe your style?
Beauty in the broadest meaning of the word. I think my work is somewhere between photography and digital painting. I would love to be just a digital painter, but I know how to use my camera and set up beautiful light – which saves me a lot of time and takes me half way to the final image.
What do you do for creative inspiration when preparing a new piece/project?
Mood boards are absolutely necessary for me now. I can’t believe I could work without them before. I use Pinterest and create a board for every single shoot I do. Not only does it help me get inspired and prepare for the shoot, I can also share it with my team, so we are all on the same page beforehand.
What is your favorite subject to shoot? Why?
To me, there’s nothing that can be more beautiful in this life than female faces. I’m not sure why, it’s hard to say. Some people love abstract designs and landscapes, but I am very much in love with the beauty of human beings. And when I say I prefer shooting with women, it doesn’t mean I don’t think that guys can’t be beautiful in their own manly way. I just feel more comfortable working with women, because I tend to put them into sensual, pretty girly poses… Guys don’t usually appreciate that.
What is your favorite photo or retouch project so far?
I really enjoyed working on my Día De Los Muertos images, it involved a lot of digital painting – you can see it in the video of its making:
My second most favorite is the Flames series, and even though there was no painting involved at all, I really love the results. I should do more projects like these.
Did you study photography/art? If so, where?
Yes, I studied Commercial Photography at the International College of Professional Photography in Melbourne, Australia. Unfortunately, the wonderful art school did not survive the economy crisis and closed its doors forever right at the end of my second year in 2010 after 15 years of bringing up pro photographers and advertisers.
Do you have any crazy photo shoot experiences? And do you feel you learned anything new from it?
Yes, I do! And even though the production wasn’t all crazy, it felt unreal at the time for me to even be there!
Back in Australia, when I was still a first-year photography student, I found one of the best Fashion, Celebrity and Advertising photographers in Melbourne where I lived and emailed him asking if I could assist him. I showed him my current portfolio (which was very amateurish at the time).
After I sent my email, I thought I’d never hear back, but at least I wouldn’t regret not trying.
Just imagine how delighted I was to hear back from him on the same day! He said that he had his paid assistants and couldn’t let me assist at his commercial shoots (which was obvious), but he invited me to tag along and ask all the questions I had. The wonderful man’s name is Andrew Maccoll and he is still one of the biggest Australian commercial photographers, only now he lives in Sydney.
So, about a week later, Andrew emailed me the details of his upcoming shoot, and even kindly offered to pick me up on the way (Australians are so awesome, aren’t they?!). I cancelled all the plans I had for the day and joined the team at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre. Andrew was shooting for Jetstar, one of the biggest Australian airlines, with a TV-celebrity Shelley Craft, the Australia’s Funny Videos host of many years. It just happened so that Andrew did not have his assistants for the shoot, and I ended up becoming one for the day. It was amazing! Funny how, Shelley came up to me to shake my hand after the shoot, she was thanking me as if I did her a favor or something – I think she thought I was Andrew’s full-time assistant.
After the shoot I helped Andrew to pack up the lights and we spent about half an hour talking photography and lighting while waiting for his family to pick him up. I emailed him later that day thanking for the opportunity – and guess what! – he invited me to another commercial shoot the next day. We photographed the Australian advertising legend, 85-year old Mr. Clemenger in his BBDO Clemenger building in the center of the city.
Seeing a top commercial photographer work with celebrities of that caliber and get to assist him and pick his brain after the shoots was an amazing experience and it did feel crazy awesome then!
Do you have a favorite camera or equipment?
I have always shot with Canon, but it’s only because I invested a lot of money into lenses and accessories right at the start. I don’t think it would matter if I was shooting with Nikon for the type of work that I do, so I’m not hung-up on the brand names.
I would definitely enjoy trying my hand at the medium format one day. We had Medium and Large format cameras modules in my photography course and I’ve been very attracted to the feel in those images.
As for the lighting equipment, I was shooting with Profoto for a while, which, I’m sure you know, is a very expensive equipment line. Last year I bought a few Paul C Buff’s lights and light modifiers and I must say I’m very happy with them. Einsteins are very reliable and easy to use, so why spend a fortune on lights.
What advice would you give aspiring artists?
Never give up! I know that it often gets hard, our inspiration comes and goes, business isn’t always easy for those who try working as full-time photographers.
If you love what you do, you will always overcome any obstacles, just keep shooting!
Julia will be traveling Europe this Fall doing Master Classes on her techniques and also has a collection of educational eBooks on retouching. Stay tuned for our full eBook reviews later this week.
Until Next Time . . .
Stay Inspired ~ Jules
CREDITS: Photographs by Julia Kuzmenko have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.