The Portrait Project - kenkistler

The year was 2007.


I had just purchased my first DSLR camera (aka. real camera). And I’d just returned to Pennsylvania from a month exploring California- wandering through the Mojave, winding through Yosemite, and walking along the coast.


I wanted to try something new. I wanted to try my hand at portrait photography. Summer after summer through my twenties I worked at the best hole-in-the-wall camp in western Pennsylvania called Slippery Rock Baptist Camp. I loved it there. Every year a staff of late teens and twenty-somethings came together for the month of July to work with kids. We ran games, made meals, led canoe and tubing trips, sang songs, chanted cheers, and counseled the children.


Each summer the staff changed. New staff members came. Old staff members found “real jobs.” Some, like myself, worked summer after summer after summer. Others only came for one camping season before life stole them away to other places. No matter how many summers you worked, no matter how cool or uncool you were out in the world, no matter how athletic or smart, beautiful or homely, fashionable or nerdy. . . no matter who you were; when you became staff at SRBC, you became part of a family.


That summer I decided to photograph the family.

After years spent reading articles about “professional portrait photography,” it amazes me what we didn’t have.


We didn’t have a $1200 professional 1.4 portrait lens . . . we had the $50 kit lens that came with the camera.


We didn’t have a professional $300 backdrop system . . . we had a gray blanket hung from a wooden crossbeam.


We didn’t have $500 lights, Radiopoppers, and soft boxes . . . we had a open window and afternoon sunlight.


We didn’t have hair and makeup professionals, agents, craft services, or anything else . . . but we did have a LOT of fun.


Sure, as a photographer, when look back on these pictures there are a lot of things I would change. A lot of lessons I’ve learned about photography in the past seven years. I’ve picked up better lenses and better equipment, but there’s one thing I wouldn’t change- the spirit of those afternoons. The fun. The jokes and laughter. The sweet camaraderie.