Over the years, Kasey L. Hilleary somehow found herself as the photographer of her family, ready with the various aim-and-shoot cameras that helped to fill albums with snapshots. One holiday season, her husband surprised her with a professional camera, the Canon Rebel, along with the comment that it was “time to get a professional camera.”
But Hilleary’s new camera was a bit more complicated than her previous Instamatic devices. “I needed to learn everything the camera did technically,” she recalled. “I joined the New York Institute of Photography online, and it became so fun to learn.”
While maintaining a full-time career as a software trainer at a local law firm, Hilleary decided to take her newfound photographic knowledge into a side career. She initially aimed to create a home-based business, but that didn’t quite work.
“I set up a room, had a backdrop and did it out of my house with the dog hair and the laundry,” she said. “I was like, ‘I want people to come to a more professional environment.’ ”
Now going into her sixth year of business, Hilleary’s KLH Photography LLC operates from a studio at 130 Elm St. in Bridgeport, where a 12-foot ceiling and 8-foot eastern-facing window offer an airy environment filled with natural illumination. The Canon Rebel that changed Hilleary’s life has since been replaced with a 5D Mark III sporting a 50mm 1.2 lens, but her brand loyalty remains. “I’m a Canon gal,” she said with pride.
KLH Photography’s clients run the gamut from business professionals seeking a new corporate portrait or a distinguished LinkedIn photograph to proud parents eager to create photographic memories of their children, either through straightforward portraiture or phantasmagoric composites that place the young subjects in fantastic scenarios via Adobe Photoshop. But child subjects require extra skill and speed, Hilleary warned, observing that, “with any photography that includes a 10-month-old to a 4-year-old, you need to get that done fast because they’re going to lose interest.”
Hilleary also specializes in generational pictures, where family members gather together for a single portrait. Having more people to work with also demands patience, Hilleary added, explaining that “it’s one thing to get one person into a flattering position, but getting three or four people takes a little more time.”
A great deal of Hilleary’s photographic work involves calming the nerves of her subjects, many of whom enter her studio professing how they hate to be photographed while lamenting that being in the studio makes them a nervous wreck. For Hilleary, the greatest challenge involves dialing down the apprehension while focusing in on the personality before her camera.
“I love capturing people the way I see them,” she stated. “My job is to bring out who they really are and show it back to them. It’s fun to see people loosen up as the session goes on and then become more comfortable. When they see that picture, they’re like, ‘Oh, I do look good.’ ”
If Hilleary has competition, she observed, it would be anyone who possesses a cellphone. But she also pointed out that the ubiquity of cell phone cameras does not guarantee studio-level craftsmanship.
“Everyone’s a photographer now,” she said. “You get what you get and you move on. But what type of lighting can you get and what kind of angle shots can you get? Do you want a blurry background? Do you want a sharp background? You’re not going to get a good picture with an iPhone if you don’t care that the subject is not sitting properly or her hair is in her face. I think a professional picture of yourself helps people see the real you.”
Hilleary has promoted KLH Photography through Facebook advertisements and Instagram, and she recently tiptoed into Craigslist advertising. “I didn’t really think about it, but then I went on Craigslist to see what other people were promoting,” she said.
And while some assignments take her out into the field, she already has a helpmate lined up.
“If I need assistance, that’s when my husband comes in as free labor,” she laughed.