Cincy is Creative: Waiting room walls inpsired Kim Dalton to take photography from hobby to career

CINCINNATI - Cincinnati and the greater Tri-State region are home to people who excel in artistic and other creative disciplines. Each Sunday, we focus on a creative individual who is bringing new perspectives to our lives and enriching our cultural diversity.

Who: Kim Dalton

What: Photographer
Where: Western Hills
Latest: Photos of green roof at Mercy West Hospital
Greatest: Framed prints in offices of Queen City Pediatrics

“I want viewers to think they could just step into one of my photos.” - Kim Dalton

In the City Expressions image gallery on Kim Dalton’s website, you will see Cincinnati from a whole new perspective. Dalton not only captures the typical city views, but also more abstract and unique vantage points.

Her work calls attention to architectural details you probably never noticed, like sculptured soldiers stationed over the doors of Memorial Hall or strings of lights in the Aronoff Center’s marquee. She has shot images in Mt. Adams, Coney Island, Mt. Echo, and other neighborhoods.

Breaking into the business 

Dalton is relatively new to the photography business, but she has been studying and practicing the art for nearly 20 years. Her portfolio and distinctive style have helped her win some plum projects.

The Cincinnati Reds hired her as the official wedding photographer for their first “I Do’s at the Diamond” wedding event last August.

And 150 black-and-white prints from her City Expression series grace the walls of the conference rooms in the Great American Tower office building at Queen City Square. Her work adorns the walls of other offices and healthcare facilities, including the Port Authority, St. Elizabeth Hospitals, and Bethesda Hospital Mason.

Dalton shoots portraits of families and children and particularly likes photographing high-school seniors. She shoots them outside of the studio, in settings and poses that make them look like images used to illustrate a magazine article. One of her favorite portraits depicts a young man straddling the yellow line on the Roebling Bridge.

When high school students enjoy the experience of being photographed in a cool, new way, they quickly tell their friends. So, a lot of Kim’s business comes from referrals.

Kim Dalton didn’t start seriously shooting photos until her first child was born 19 years ago.

“That was back in the days of film, and I only shot in auto mode because I didn’t know how to work the camera,” she recalled. “But I had a good eye for composition and knew how to fill the frame.”

Understanding composition mattered because it increased the odds of getting more usable shots when the film was processed.

Now that she uses Nikon D700 and Nikon D4 digital SLR cameras, Dalton still works hard to get the image right in the camera. This includes using a pop-up flash to create more interesting results when shooting portraits outdoors. She makes a few basic edits to every image (including basic portrait retouching), but prefers not to do much “fixing” in Photoshop.

Kim wants her images to look dramatic and real:

“I want viewers to think they could just step into one of my photos” and stand next to the person in the scene.

From hobbyist to pro

Dalton considers her greatest work (so far) the project that launched her photography business.

“I have three kids and have spent many hours in our pediatrician’s waiting room," she said. One day, while waiting for an appointment at Queen City Pediatrics, she felt a strong urge to ask the office managers if they would consider replacing the pictures that were currently hanging in the waiting room with photos of children she had photographed.”

Like many hobbyists, Dalton wasn’t sure her photographs were good enough for public display, but she worked up the courage to call the office manager and make the offer.

Queen City Pediatrics (see photo above) was opening an office in the Good Samaritan Hospital on the west side and said they would love to have her photos on their walls. The only stipulation was that the children couldn’t be identifiable in the photos.

Otherwise, some parents might ask why photos of their children weren’t chosen for display. So Dalton staged and shot colorful images of children and teens that are strikingly different from the full-face portraits you see in some waiting rooms

“That one phone call set my life on a new course,” Dalton. “I was ‘discovered’ by a Cincinnati art-consulting firm and now my photos hang all around the city. That’s pretty great!”

One doctors group asked Kim to shoot a series of scenes for their offices. They gave her a list of places around the city that had meaning to them. As she worked on the assignment, she tried to envision what made each location so special in the eyes of her clients.

An outsider's perspective

Dalton sees Cincinnati

differently because she grew up West Chester and rarely ventured downtown except for an occasional Reds game. Then, she married a man who started an inner-city ministry. During the 12 years she worked with him in Over-the-Rhine, she fell in love with the city.

Now, she rarely sticks to the sidewalks:

“I’m always looking up and discovering new gems I missed the last time.”

Dalton hopes her images remind people of “what is good and lovely in Cincinnati.” She wants to “help draw suburbanites out of their neighborhoods and appreciate the buildings, events, and eclectic mix of people we have in our wonderful city.”

Her passion for city scenes that helped her land the gig at Great American Ballpark. After wondering how to sweet-talk her way into shooting inside the stadium, she simply emailed the Reds, showed them her work, and asked to shoot the stadium. A Reds staffer soon called and invited her to shoot their “I Do’s at the Diamond” event.

Looking to hire a photographer: Dalton's advice

She advises anyone seeking to hire a photographer not to go by price alone. “Study their portfolios carefully,” says Dalton: “You can find a good photographer without breaking the bank.

Take time to look at their work. Not every photographer is going to be for you. Everyone has their own style.”

Considering the cost of professional cameras, lenses, lighting equipment, printing, framing, and editing time, good photography can be expensive to produce. Photography pros charge a certain amount just to break even.

Recognizing that money is tight for businesses and families, “I try to stay affordable,” Dalton said. She bases her prices on what she herself might be willing to pay.

Now that Dalton has mastered the manual settings in her digital cameras, she wants to try shooting film again. She would also like to tackle more architectural and interior projects and build a strong high-school senior portrait business. Over the next few years, she wants to see her work on more walls in Cincinnati, and would love to get published. 

“There are still many new and fun corners of our city to find and photograph,” says Dalton. “I am always ready to go exploring.”

Architectural details in Dixie Terminal, by K. Dalton

More about Kim Dalton

Follow WCPO contributor Eileen Fritsch on Twitter: @EileenFritsch.  

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