Long fingernails, dog tongue: Elgin photographer shoots it all for Guinness World Records
Mochi, a St. Bernard from South Dakota who has the longest tongue on a dog, loves peanut butter. Ayanna Wilson of Houston, Texas, who has the longest fingernails on a woman, uses her knuckles to punch into her cellphone.
Photographer Kevin Ramos of Elgin has learned that and more in the last six years while focusing his lens for Guinness World Records across the United States. His portfolio includes the person with the largest Afro, the largest ball of tape, the youngest professional drummer, the longest snake in captivity, the longest golf cart, the tallest horse, the largest collection of teddy bears, and many more.
"I love it because I like working with people, and especially with people that have a unique story," he said.
Ramos, 46, owns Kevin Scott Photography, which he started as a freelance business while he worked full time for SGS/Sierra Photography in East Dundee. He took the plunge as an independent photographer in 2016, opening a space on Elgin's west side before moving in July into a larger one at 163 E. Chicago St. He mostly shoots products and people for advertising, and does business headshots.
"It's been busy," he said. "It's wonderful to make my own schedule, and it's wonderful to be able to plan out the goals of the studio."
He has relished working for Guinness World Records, which contacted him out of the blue in 2011, he said.
"Their main audience is 12-year-old boys, and they saw something they liked (on my website)," he said. A search engine optimization course he took helped, he added.
Ramos got into photography as a student at Larkin High School by assisting local photographer Bruce Rohr and graduated from the former Colorado Institute of Art. He got a job with AutoMeter Products in Sycamore, for which he shot car parts, race cars and race car drivers, and in 1996 he joined Bakstad Photographics, which became SGS/Sierra. He stayed there for two decades.
Ramos said he always wanted to open his own studio, and he built his freelance clientele working in his living room late at night, after his wife and three children went to bed. "I wanted to be able to show people what I've done."
Michael Whitty, head of pictures and design for Guinness World Records, wrote in an email that Ramos is the company's "absolute No. 1 freelance photographer in the central and eastern USA. He is an extremely talented photographer with superb technical qualities, has great (and much needed!) versatility and develops a great rapport with our wide mix of record holders."
Ramos' first Guinness World Records photo was at Wing Park in Elgin, where he shot Moses Lanham, a Michigan man who at the time had the greatest external foot rotation. He most recently shot a 6-year-old who runs Ryan Toys Reviews, the most watched YouTube channel for a millennial.
"Some of them are easy to photograph," Ramos said. "Some of them are difficult because they aren't comfortable being in front of the camera, so you have to talk to them and get them to relax."
His favorite photos are focused on one person in a defined setting so he can control the lighting and imagery, he said. "It's more relaxing and I can really focus," he said.
Animals can be difficult to shoot, especially outdoors and in motion, like the fastest dog to travel 30 meters on a scooter. "In those cases, it's hard to get pictures I'm really happy with," he said.
Ramos said he doesn't gross out very easily, although he got a bit squeamish when he photographed a man with the most piercings on his tongue. The man tried to get one more piercing done during the photo shoot, but there just wasn't enough space.
One memorable trip was when a record was made, and photographed, on the spot: The girlfriend of a record-holder succeeded at beating the mashed potatoes eating record.
He's met a variety of humanity, and most people are the same on the inside, Ramos said.
"Some people are bizarre on the outside ... but you see that, even though people are really different, everyone has that feeling inside of wanting to be liked and wanting to be friendly."