The approach in shooting portraits for hire is fairly simple. Someone likes your work, they pay you to take their photo. Any flame of awkwardness or intimidation caused by the large lens/camera body combination usually burns out within the first ten minutes of the session as your subject relaxes and begins to trust your work process.

One of the more challenging photos to capture, however, is the “street portrait”.

When I was in New Zealand last winter, I was as mesmerized by the people I would see as I was by the beautiful sights. I found myself standing back, relying on my lens capability to try and capture these people in their natural settings, without the “posed” look.

The result? Amateur photographs that look like they came from a tourist’s iPhone.

What–did I disregard the power of my legs? Why couldn’t I get the courage to walk up to someone, explain that I think they’re unique and would love to take their photograph? I don’t really have trouble making conversation with strangers; I usually end up at the very least conversing with people I encounter in my everyday outings with a smile, but adding the camera to the mix is a whole different story.

When my boss first assigned me to capture photographs of the “atmosphere” of the premium seating sections, suites, and club level at the Target Center on Wolves game nights, one of the biggest mistakes I was initially making was standing too far away from people. These situations are further examples where I find it awkward to interrupt someone’s meal, social outing, or conversation to take their photo–epecially when I have an obnoxiously bright flash. But these photos are what the NBA was requesting. I couldn’t let them down; these experiences need to be documented.

Whether I’m working for hire or walking around with my camera looking for intriguing nouns to shoot as subject matter, my biggest faults result from my approach.

Mistakes I’ve made:

1. The “photograph and run” approach, resulting in a blurry sub par photo, with bad exposure because I only took one shot.

2. Fast, Rapid fires without checking my lighting/exposure in between shots, nothing really usable.

3. Tourist iPhone-looking photos (as aforesaid), because I’m afraid to get close enough.

4. Faking a close up with a long lens. The wrong areas of the photo end up in focus–ake intimacy at its finest. This also comes fits into the category of trying to hide my presence to the extent that I come off like a paparazzi. Usually, the eye contact is minimal or completely lacking, which is a nightmare because the eyes have the power to be the most captivating part of the photograph.


SLOW DOWN. If you’re in a rush, don’t bother to bring your camera out. The process of discovering and developing good work is a slow one.

Next, start with a SMILE. Every situation can be made warmer and less harsh if you smile and show the person you are not there to harm them or invade their space.

It’s important to practice shots in similar lighting before you get to the subject, so as not to waste their time when you do work up the courage to photograph them. Set your EXPOSURE before you approach them.

Finally, the most challenging, but often necessary step, is to MAKE CONVERSATION. Explain to the person you’re approaching that you are intrigued by them and would love to photograph them for a personal art project you’re working on. Asking permission is odd, but it’s courteous.

If you rush street photography and aren’t thoughtful in your approach, the result will be a collection of thoughtless, boring, or just plain awful photographs.

Do you ever sit in a coffee shop and just




The environment is perfect for people watching.

Especially today in downtown Minneapolis. It’s Saturday and a variety of activities are going on, like any weekend in the city.  I grow instantly curious as soon as I sit down. Not only to I overhear the small details of people’s orders, but I notice things like the baristas singing along to the “Starbucks” cd they’ve been corporately instructed to play.

One particular barista has a noticeably beautiful voice. He knows all the words and sings louder than the others while he creates non fat cappuccinos. His curly red hair creates a mini afro.  He seems to be great at his job. He interacts with customers and greets everyone kindly.

A group of eight tween-aged ballerinas enter. They giggle and talk about the dance class they just came from. Each of them has their hair in a neat bun, apart from one girl. Her dance class updo is falling out. That was me at 12 in ballet; I loved ballet, loved the art form, but I hated the instruction to have a perfect bun.  “Creative minds are rarely tidy” I thought. Ballet forced me to focus on creating perfect lines, perfect motions that lived up to the French demure created long ago. I loved that about ballet. I could express myself while challenging myself. However, I could never get that bun just perfect, without a few wispies sticking out of my head.

These little dancer muses addressed the frizzy-haired barista as “Sam”.  They must have come in a lot; maybe it was their ritual, even.

Sam seems joyed to see returning customers. But I can’t help but wonder what he’s really after in life.  Maybe he attends the Art Institute down the block? Maybe he’s in the city to pursue a musical career? Or maybe, maybe he has things all figured out already and he’s merely working at Starbucks to pass the time. 

I’ll never know anything more about Sam’s life. Isn’t that crazy? I’ll also know where the gym-goers are headed post-gym-Starbucks run.  Who here is a regular? Who pulled over into a metered spot because they couldn’t resist a cup of java? 

I just sit here, in all of my black clothing. Editing my photos, creating blogposts. Getting caught up on emails, etc.

I notice a tall dark man wearing all black. Just like me. Black scarf, jacket, clothing. Funny enough, we also have matching black photo backpacks. So he’s a photographer, too.  I wonder if he’s here to edit, like me, or if he’s headed on a shoot on this cloudy, cold day.  His wife is soon at his shoulder and they are a beautiful African American couple. 


I’ve known it’s been cloudy all the hours I’ve been here so far, the natural light being let in the room is that of a dreary day.  I didn’t notice the rain until now, however. I notice the sidewalk is wet. People are moving hurriedly. I begin to dread going outside.

Two hours. I still have two hours before I need to dash across the street to be at my boss’s editing office in the Target Center. 

I suppose I should get back to editing my photos. And of course, I’ll be undeniably people watching.

Sam is sweeping now; he even sweeps to the rhythm of the music playing. I’ve learned enough from my musically inclined friends in college to understand a person who’s passionate about music: it’s in everything they do. Their mannerisms, their speaking voice, the way they use their hands to assemble small tasks like coffee pots.  It’s beautiful.

Okay, seriously this time.

Nature was my biggest inspiration for this video project. What a beautiful fall it has been in Minnesota! Thank you to Kyle Blakeslee for working with me for a day of shooting live and still shots.

It’s my favorite release to shoot projects that I’m not getting paid for once in a while. Just my camera, the creative process, and my imagination.

Timberwolves 2013-14 Season

Good afternoon!

Whew, it’s been a busy few weeks for me. Kelly J. Kusilek Photography is continuing to grow and I feel like every new day and new client brings me closer to my goals as a photographer.

In other news…

I begin a new position next week as a marketing assistant for United States Distilled Products (UV Vodka, Phillips Vodka, Prairie Organic Vodka), but more about that in another post.

Today I want to talk about my journey thus far assisting NBA Photographer David Sherman.

My first assignment back in October was a blast: Wolves Media Day 2013. I learned a tremendous amount in setting up light stands, strobes, soft boxes, back drops, and more, the day prior to the big shoot. The next morning at Media Day, I was thrown into a chaos of player interaction, where my assignments were to assist Mister Sherman, and to capture “behind the scenes” style candid photographs of the Minn. Timberwolves players and staff.

We learned during the setup of Media Day that the Minn. Lynx had advanced the the WNBA Finals, meaning two post season home games were in store. I shot fans and crowd interaction at these competitions. It was a blast, and a great learning experience. Big congrats to the LYNX on a great season, it was an honor to watch them in action.

Briefly between seasons, I worked on sporadic assignments with Mister Sherman around the Twin Cities. His clients ranged from professional headshots to lifestyle work, so I was able to dip my toes in all kinds of waters.

I’m thrilled to be on board this Wolves’ season.

Each home game I learn my assignments for the evening. I have worked most intimately thus far with the Premium Seating department. This means I scope out VIP lounges, suites, bars, terraces, and special fans all around the Target Center to capture their photographs as they cheer on the Wolves. My work mostly focuses on capturing the atmosphere at each game. I have also been instructed to focus on the dancers, Crunch, player interaction with fans, and unique fans. I’m always keeping my eye out for people sporting their Wolves gear who might make a great photograph to capture the essence of NBA fans.

I consider myself very fortunate to receive individualized constructive criticism from a professional in the industry. I can feel the growth of my knowledge and skill as a photographer with each interaction with Mister Sherman. The best way to learn is to be thrown into the action. I still have a lot of things to fix, but I once learned that failure is key in the learning process for an artist.

The next home game is this Friday, and I’m hoping the Wolves can get back to winning since our two-game deficit!

Ta ta for now,


Welcome to my new website! I’m still working out a few kinks, and updating each section, but for now take a look and have some fun! I hope you get a feel for my style. Please direct any questions to me at Here are a few projects I’m currently working on:

Heather and Garrison:

1X3A6167_watermarkVanessa and Ryan:


Samantha & Kyle: