Ron Kimball: Puppies, Kittens & Bears Oh My!

All photos by Ron Kimball


A veteran photographer of 25 years who specializes in automobiles and animals, Ron Kimball is possibly the most published calendar and poster photographer in the country. He markets his work through Ron Kimball Stock, which features over 500,000 of his images. Throughout the years, he's shot many animal calendars (one of his most successful is the humorous "Pigs on Parade"), and regularly shoots over 30 auto calendars a year. His impressive list of clientele includes Barnes & Noble, Bank of America, Union 76, Nissan USA, Bentley Motors Inc., The Humane Society of the U.S., Hallmark, Newsweek, Time, National Geographic, Business Week, Maxim and Forbes.

An appealing view of a Bloodhound puppy.

A Somali kitten peers out of the darkness.

A Self-Made Man
Long before he turned pro, Kimball says, he loved photography. "During the 1960s, I took a point-and-shoot camera with me wherever I went." He attended Stanford University, and majored in political science and psychology. Back in those days, he chuckles, "I was a free-spirit type of guy." After graduation he assisted a rock-concert producer, and photographed bands on tour.

He later became a firefighter (and was even a fire captain at one point), but never stopped taking pictures. He's primarily self-taught: "Over the years I took seminars, but never any photo classes." He found that professional photographers tended to be very secretive about sharing photo tips. Eventually, he began collecting the Dean Collins video photo education series. (Dean Collins also once wrote a popular monthly column for Photographic called "Collins on Basics.")

A Jack Russell Terrier and Tabby Cat pose side-by-side.

In the mid-to-late '70s, Kimball discovered he could make "big money" photographing animals for calendars. "The quality wasn't what it is today," Kimball says modestly. Armed with a great eye for photography, "and special feelings towards animals," he set out to become a commercial photographer. He shot covers for local publications like Cal Living and Cal Today, as well as a few calendar companies. He says he "got serious" around 1982. "While other photographers were out shooting pictures of good-looking guys and gals," he points out, "I tapped the animal market." Kimball used Nikon cameras and demonstrated to poster companies--like Impact--that he could shoot a 35mm image that could be used as a successful poster. (Prior to that, poster companies utilized primarily large-format 4x5 images.)

Pigs in hula skirts, from Kimball's "Pigs on Parade" calendar series.

Rising to Prominence
In the early '80s, the Landmark calendar company got its start. Kimball and Richard Stacks--another animal photographer--were its first major contributors. For Landmark, Kimball photographed the "various calendar genre," including men (for a popular calendar series called "Breathless"), women, and even teddy bears. He also shot calendars entitled "Up Front" and "Kisses." He continued to do more commercial photography and began advertising his own stock images in the Stock Workbook, which was the prominent resource for stock photography before the advent of online stock marketing. Kimball is represented by several photo agencies in Japan and Europe, but maintains, "the majority of our stock sales comes from our own company."

Kimball's first assignment photographing autos was in 1986. "Impact sent me a check to shoot cars and I initially turned them down because I didn't have time." Nonetheless, he eventually turned auto photography into one of the most lucrative aspects of his business. John Wagner, who owned Impact, sometimes purchased his own automobiles when he wanted to have one photographed. Kimball counts among his car photo credits Pebble Beach Car Show magazine covers, Nissan USA and Ferrari ads. In addition to supplying some prominent corporations and publications with stock images, Kimball asserts, "People call us for some last-minute stuff too. If we don't have it, we'll shoot it!"