Richard's Photographer Spotlight: Ann-Kathrin Koch

When Ann-Kathrin Koch left her career as a film editor working in advertising & television to pursue photography, she was armed with the knowledge of how to tell a visual story—using movement to create continuity, choosing the right shot for the right moment, etc. The stories she tells now aren't of big brands and famous actors, but two people in a single frame. And every frame is a story that matters to someone. Ann says being a destination wedding photographer is the best job she can imagine—every year, she travels tens of thousands of miles through over a dozen countries to document people experiencing the best day of their lives with their closest family & friends.

Today in Richard's Photographer Spotlight, Ann is revealing how she remedies her shoot-day jitters, how to align your expectations for a photo with reality, and how starting in "the age of Flickr" influenced her photography!

Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?

Ann-Kathrin Koch: Before I was a photographer, I worked as a film editor for 12 years. I’ve always been a visual person with a big soft spot for movies. I was a visual storyteller as an editor, but I had to work with footage that someone else had shot. It was such good school in determining what works and what doesn’t in terms of composition, the subject’s emotions, and above all, light. I was lucky enough to work at a time where the majority was still shot on film and with some of the best cinematographers' material in front of my eyes every day—I was spoiled.

I’d always been interested in art, and mostly photography. I could look at a photograph for the longest time, trying to figure out what it was that made me stop. Photographers like Garry Winogrand, W. Eugene Smith, and Wolfgang Tillmans, as well as cinematographers like Robert Yeoman and Emmanuel Lubezki, are a constant source of inspiration for me. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of finding beauty in an image.

R: Making the leap from photography as a personal passion to a paying gig is a big oneŠ... how did you decide to pursue it as a career?

AK: My photography really started out during the age of Flickr. I would take photos every single day for years, trying to recreate first what I had seen somewhere else and at some point the vision I had in my mind. I assisted a commercial photographer for a while and didn’t like the lack of creative freedom. I felt I needed to find a way to combine that creative freedom of taking the photos I wanted with clients who were willing to pay for it. Once I discovered there are people who want me to do exactly what I do, I knew I had found what I was looking for the whole time.

R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?

AK: It’s not so different, actually. I love photographing people, and I love to document my travels. Ideally both! Travelling really frees the mind and makes you susceptible to new experiences. I love meeting people and finding out about them and their lives, their thoughts, and their passions. Taking a portrait of someone can open up doors to the most interesting conversations and helps turn strangers into someone you know. If I can bring my curiosity about a place and a person into the picture I’m taking and tell the viewer a little bit about what I’ve learned, I’m happy.

R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?

AK: Shooting enough personal work in between—it feeds back into my paid work, so everyone wins. I found that my clients book me more and more based on the personal work—like lines intertwining, it’s the perfect balance.

R: What is your favorite camera and why?

AK: My Hasselblad H2. I started with a Hasselblad when I first began shooting film, so I was very happy to return after 10 years of trying out every other system I came across. I can’t give up the medium format system despite all the drawbacks: higher price, slower handling, a lack of unobtrusiveness. The Hasselblad works so beautifully and fast, always reliable, and with service centers around the globe if needed.

R: What's your first memory of shooting with film? Why do you continue to shoot it as a pro?

AK: Apart from the odd photography course in school, my first memory of shooting film was when I bought a Hasselblad 500 C/M on eBay. Every photograph I looked at and liked was photographed on film, often even large format cameras. So, I looked up film cameras and decided to try medium format. The day it arrived in the post, I put my digital camera in the cupboard and didn’t touch it for another year. I love that I am connected to my subject with no distraction, like a screen on the back of my camera.

It was a very steep learning curve shooting film, especially on a waist-level viewfinder. But despite months of lab bills and what often felt like regressing back to knowing absolutely nothing about exposure and light, I knew I had found my passion. That one moment when an image comes back from the lab and it’s exactly what you had in your head when you shot it—it’s priceless! Film will always be the one medium that lets me translate a vision I have into something tangible.

R: Why is it important to have continuous communication with your lab(s)?

AK: Communication is the most important tool you have in any relationship. It’s the only way to align your expectations with reality—which is important when someone else is in charge of making your work shine. Really not digging those tones on a recent shoot in a jungle of green on green? Loved how those skin tones from the latest sunrise session made you want to hug your screen? Tell your lab! No one can read your mind, and if you know what you want (and don’t want), you have to let them know.

My lab is my closest partner when it comes to my photography and I want them to be an extension of me, not just a service provider. You have to find someone who understands what you want and works just as hard as you do to get there. Don’t give up until you find that—I promise it’ll be worth it.

R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?

AK: I usually wake up in a hotel room somewhere on the morning of a wedding. That’s not always the most restful night of sleep you can get, so I try and do at least 15 minutes of yoga. Which comes with its own challenges in a hotel room.

Apart from that, my level of preparation is out of control (quite ironically). Everything needs to be charged, cleaned, and packed the day before. I then double (and triple) check on the day everything is still there. I take extra film and extra batteries. I have a map. I have a schedule. I have water. I have snacks. I have a backup map. And a backup schedule. And I have a playlist for the drive. Somehow preparing everything I possibly can in advance really frees me up on the day to just let go, and stop worrying. Once I get there, I’m good.

R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?

AK: Mos Def. That beat will have to carry me over the next eight hours!

R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?

AK: Savory.

R: Chocolate or vanilla?

AK: Chocolate.

R: Dogs or cats?

AK: Cats.

R: Urban or rural?

AK: Rural. With an urban pad.

R: Modern or vintage?

AK: Modernism.

R: Breakfast or Dinner?

AK: Breakfast. And drinks for dinner.

R: Warm weather or cold weather?

AK: Warm!

R: Biggie or Tupac?

AK: Tupac.

R: Early bird or night owl?

AK: Early bird. Sunrise addict.

R: Crossword or Sudoku?

AK: Crossword.

R: Batman or Superman?

AK: Spiderman.

R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?

AK: Fiction.

R: Comedy or Drama?

AK: Comedy in real life. Drama in fiction.

R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?

AK: A ballet dancer. I trained as a professional dancer until I was 19, and I still secretly wish I’d never stopped.

R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?

AK: Flying! I always dream of being able to fly. Failing that, I’d love to be able to teleport myself everywhere I’d want to be. I’m incredibly impatient, so sometimes time zones and long distances really get in the way of where I’d like to be right now.

R: What is your favorite word, and why?

AK: “Yes.” Because we hear “no” way too often...