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Meet Kenneth Stipe, Cinematographer/Photographer in Silverlake

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kenneth Stipe.

Kenneth, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My mother was a photojournalist in the US Virgin Islands while I was growing up. I was always infatuated with her old Minolta camera, not that I was old enough to know how to actually take a photograph with it. I would just peer through the viewfinder and frame the world around me. At 17, we moved to Los Angeles where I was introduced to the motion picture industry through working in movie theaters and eventually in motion picture laboratories. I soon realized that what I loved about working in this business was cinematography. Upon advice from a colleague, I applied to the American Film Institute where I spent one year. Soon after, I found myself shooting movies, television, commercials, music videos and documentaries.

Twenty-five years later, I have rediscovered my love for still photography, most notably creative portraits and fashion. I think what has driven me to this is the creative freedom I have with just a model and myself. As much as I love the collaborative process of creating moving pictures, there is a satisfaction I get personally without the chaos of a film set. There is such an immediate joy of bringing out the essence of a subject through my lens. Where this newfound love of portrait photography will take me, I’m not sure. But, I know that my future will always lie in imaging.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The road to where I am at this point in my life has NOT been easy. Competition for what I do is endless. There is always someone ready to step into the same position I am vying for and much of the time they are great at it! Because this craft is so highly competitive, there are many who will take advantage of the need for artists to build reels and portfolios. Clients come and go. Job offers come and go. There are many out there in this business who are going to make their masterpiece. They book me. Then I never hear from them again. Unfortunately, this is rampant, especially in the motion picture business. In my portrait photography, the difficulty lies in how to turn this into a viable business. It’s not just how beautiful my work is. It’s a business and one has to be savvy in navigating the waters.

Please tell us about more from being a cinematographer/photographer.
I am both a cinematographer and a creative portrait photographer. I am straddling the line between two careers but both involve imaging through lenses. So one enhances the other. I’m grateful for this. As a cinematographer, I specialize in narrative filmmaking. I love creating lighting and camera angles/movement to tell the story. If the script moves me, that’s a bonus. I feel that’s where I’m at my best. Now, as a creative portrait photographer, I feel (and have been told) that my knowledge of cinematography helps set me apart in my unique vision of lighting and camera angles.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
If I had to start all over in my life, I think I’d just start my career earlier. I really didn’t consider professionally working in the business until my late 20’s. I am a firm believer that getting an early start on a career choice is really important. I’d also find a mentor. I didn’t have one that I can think of. I learned from many of my peers and just by doing it. Having a mentor at an early age would be quite beneficial.

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