A Style All Her Own

by Ronnie Garrett

KellyLynne Burke

March 01, 2010 — “I don’t have the kind of imagery where someone can look at a photo and say, ‘That’s a KellyLynne,’ ” says KellyLynne Burke. “My style is all over the place.” With a touch of traditional mixed with dark and moody, whimsy, fun and funky, KellyLynne photographs, for example, a dimly lit room, with a bride and her bridesmaids lounging on a chaise smoking cigars (see pg. 134). Or a bridal party lined up, ready to tee off, across the rolling greens of a golf course (see opposite, right). Or a bride dancing with her groom under a streetlamp’s soft glow, ala Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire (above left).

This mother of five has become one of the most sought after photographers in Michigan and neighboring states. Just two years ago, this rising star photographed five weddings. Last year she did 24 and she’s already booked for all of 2010. Not only that, but she’s getting follow-up work from former clients, who seek everything from Trash the Dress sessions to maternity photos and newborn and baby sessions.

“I started with nothing and my business tripled in size within a few months, and it just keeps growing,” she says. “If I had listened to people who told me I needed to wait until I had this much money saved up, more formal training and better equipment, I’d still be working in a law office right now.”

An Unconventional Path
KellyLynne took a very unconventional and winding path to get to where she is now. For one thing, she didn’t pick up a camera until her mid-30s. She grew up as a self-described jock in a creative family. Her aunt is a gospel music composer; her mother is a teacher and writer; her grandmother is a pianist; and her sister is an art history professor at a local university. “I never thought I could be artistic or creative,” she says.

But after dabbling in everything from sculpture to woodcarving, KellyLynne found the creative edge she sought when she picked up a Vivitar SLR at a garage sale. That same day she roamed around town snapping pictures, not really knowing how to use the camera but giving it her best anyway.

Those first images sparked a creative journey that soon found her shooting landscapes with a purchased Olympus E-510 digital SLR and captured the attention of a local gallery. She also began taking portraits of her children’s friends. When the parents suggested she get paid for her work, she launched a portrait business.
That was four years ago. KellyLynne then took another leap of faith and began offering wedding photography. At the time she was busy working her way toward a law degree and employed as a paralegal. She realized photography filled a creative void that her law career did not and decided to leave it behind to pursue her creative passions full time.

“When I started getting into photography, it quickly became an obsession,” she explains. “It’s definitely in my blood, in my heart and in my soul.”
KellyLynne admits that her gear is minimal and definitely not top-of-the line—at least not yet. Most photographers express surprise when they learn about her gear. “I often hear, ‘Wow, you get those images with that gear? I put too much money into my equipment,’ ” she says. “I take a lot of heat from other wedding photographers for using an Olympus, but there are things in my Olympus images that I just love,” 
she adds.

Rules are meant to be broken, KellyLynne attests, as she recalls the advice she received from other photographers when she first started out. She heard things like, “I don’t care if you practice, don’t do it until you’ve been a second shooter with this photographer.”

KellyLynne continues, “I took a chance on what my gut was telling me I was capable of and I did it. I don’t believe you need a formal education to be a good photographer. There are a lot of really great photographers who have never stepped foot in a classroom. And I definitely don’t believe you need $5000 lenses and a top-of-the-line camera to be a good photographer.”

Know Your Clients
Matching the right clients to her eclectic style requires good chemistry between the client and the photographer, KellyLynne says. “I tell prospective clients to look very carefully at my photos and make sure they like what they see because my style is my style, and I don’t conform to what I think a client wants,” she says, noting that she steers couples seeking a more traditional look to photographers better suited to 
their needs.

Social networking goes a long way toward helping her develop relationships with her clients. Besides booking an engagement session, she immediately adds new clients to her Facebook page so they can get to know her better and get a feel for her recent work. “Clients know that within 48 hours I’m going to post 10–20 wedding day images on my Facebook account,” she says. “By the time their wedding comes, they know me and my style, and I know them.”

When a couple living in Texas, but planning to return to Michigan for their wedding, hired her they opted out of an engagement session. Thus their Facebook interactions became KellyLynne’s primary means of getting to know them. “If I hadn’t communicated with this couple via Facebook, I might have been in trouble,” she says. “You have to do pretty drastic things to get to know your clients—even if it means you’re doing it inadvertently through what they post on Facebook.”

Facebook also provides a means of networking with fellow photographers, which KellyLynne says has helped her tremendously. In fact, she calls Facebook friends and fellow photographers—Candice Cunningham, Michael Corsentino and Ray Anthony Ivasille—her heroes and mentors.

Social networking is also just plain good for business, she adds. “The amount of business you can get by having a Facebook account is phenomenal,” she says. “When I post a
client’s images, not only am I giving them a sneak peek, but I’m creating more business for myself because their friends are seeing the images and asking who photographed them.”

Digital TLC
After the wedding day ends, this photographer’s work begins in earnest, sifting through thousands of images to come up with 300–500 to show a client. This is another area where KellyLynne breaks a few unwritten rules. For one thing, every image receives its own unique Tender Loving Care (TLC).

KellyLynne views every single image (shot in JPEG, not RAW) on a slideshow to gain an overall idea of the images she captured. The photos fall into three main categories: really good, good and “out of here.” She then edits each keeper one at a time in Photoshop CS4. “People will say, ‘My gosh, you’re always editing,’ ” she says. “But that’s okay because I like it and I love creating images my clients will love.”

She refuses to do any batch editing. “I want every image to be unique,” she explains. “It’s my thing to look at each image individually and decide what needs to be adjusted and whether there is anything that I can do artistically.”

While this process may sound tedious to some, KellyLynne says she’s gotten pretty good at it. She can open an image and instantly see what needs to be done. Nik Software Color Efex Pro 3.0 saves her a lot of time by opening doors that allow her to quickly take an image to what she sees in her mind’s eye. “I like it when I can sit back and say, ‘They are going to love this,’ ” she says. “But to do that, I’ve got to know my clients, their likes and dislikes and their personalities so that I can create something uniquely them.”

Go For It
The future seems very bright for KellyLynne. Wherever her journey takes her, her story should serve as an inspiration for those out there hoping to make their mark in wedding photography. “If you want something bad enough, you can have it,” she says. “You don’t have to have $20,000 to do what you think you should be doing with your life. You take that first step and you go for it.”

View more of her work at www.kelly

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer and photographer living in Wisconsin. She can be reached through her Web site at www.garrettncostudios.com.

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