Hannah Koehler is a commercial photographer currently based in Austin, TX. Working with local and international brands to create campaigns, lookbooks, and more, she has truly harnessed her gift and turned it into something spectacular. Hannah captures beautiful moments on camera with her impeccable eye and gift for bringing her subjects to life on film. Read on to learn more about her passion for photography, collaborating on social media, advice for aspiring photographers, and a lot more!
Hi Hannah! Tell us your story and how you came to be a photographer.
Growing up in sunny Phoenix, Arizona, I was always taking road trips with my family to national parks and tiny desert towns stuck in the 70’s… although I didn’t know it yet, I was coming to have a deep love and appreciation for the visuals of desert life and the terracotta color palette of the southwest.
Working as a freelance graphic designer out of school (where I took as many digital photography and editing courses as I could!), I found the most happiness when I was working the occasional photography job. I realized at some point that I really wasn’t a true working photographer, just an occasional hobbyist, and this bothered me very much! I wanted to do real photography work, so I decided to become a commercial photographer. I reached out to friends, as well as people I admired online, to ask for collaborative shoots that would fit my future vision. I then reworked my website to specialize in photography, using my new portfolio that exemplified the kind of jobs I wished to land!
After a year of working freelance photography jobs while simultaneously continuing with a more personally stressful graphic design career, I hit a wall and needed a mental reset. I spent a summer in nature, working in Yellowstone National Park in customer service. While I was away (and posting as many beautiful forest instagram photos as I could!), a few potential commercial clients reached out to me, and in the fall of 2015 I became a full time photographer. A long solo road trip took me away from Arizona into Texas in 2016, and quickly led me to meet many creative people in Marfa and Austin with whom I later had the opportunity to work! I am currently living in Austin Texas, with frequent road trips back into the desert for work and for personal photography.
How would you define your photography style? What do you try to capture from your subjects when taking photos?
I love that taking a photo is an honest replication of what is in front of the lens, and yet with the right perspective, vision, and with artistic use of equipment, we can create images that are also surreal. Images that show how a moment feels is what really excites me about photography!
When I photograph people, I like to capture little in-between moments. I love facial expressions that are hard to read! Most of all, I want the viewer to look at a portrait and feel the humanity of that person, and connect with him or her emotionally in some way.
What is your favorite type of photography to shoot? What are your top three tips when it comes to photography/photo editing?
I often shoot clothing and other products…I am always the happiest when portraiture of some kind is included in these shoots! I love photographing people. Even with a flat lay of products on a table, adding a human touch such as a hand reaching into the frame can transform an image.
Three Photography Tips
- Get your focus tack sharp. Even if you are using the least expensive DSLR your images will likely look professional if the focus is correct. Get your lens calibrated or learn how to take manual focus images if you need to… get those crisp crisp images! Having a portfolio full of beautifully focused images will land you jobs. In the early days of my career I rented Zeiss brand lenses from the camera shop to go on my basic crop frame Nikon, and that noticeable quality shift got me through professional gigs for a year!
- Back up your back-ups. Don’t take chances, mistakes happen! Always have a backup battery or three, a backup memory card or three, be sure to have a backup camera option if you have a big shoot. Back up all your images in the cloud and on a hard drive as soon as the shoot is over. Being prepared could save you a ton of stress and money down the line.
- I enjoy using vsco on my computer and vscocam on my phone for all of my artistic edits. I have the upgraded vsco x which allows me to add film presets to video! This really comes in handy on my Instagram stories. I often color edit both the photos and videos that I post to my stories to match the color scheme I use on my Instagram. I will note however that for many of my commercial jobs, I don’t use any presets or filters… I simply color correct, add contrast and sharpness, sometimes pull out the shadows. Less is more, never underestimate a good clean edit!
In your opinion, what makes a picture beautiful?
The most beautiful images in my opinion are the ones that make you want to jump into that captured moment. The ones that you save or pin because you want to go to that place, or because you want to feel the way that the subject of the photo looks.
What are your top three Instagram tips as a photographer to share their work and get discovered?
Thank you so much! My top three tips are:
- Share only the kind of photography that you really want to shoot more of. If you want to land more fine art inspired jobs, don’t post your headshot work even if it is your financial bread & butter. You can put your full portfolio on your website. Only post what gets you really excited, even if you don’t feel like it will get the most likes. Stand behind what YOU like, not what you think people want to see!
- Promote the pants off of people in your art community. Collaborate, help others produce their ideas, tag them, mention them, say what you like about them in your captions. Not only is this a great way to make friends and connections, but the Instagram algorithm will also bring your images to the attention to a much wider audience of all your friend’s followers! There is no competition in this booming digital market if you have the right mindset. Helping others is helping yourself.
- Make use of Instagram’s new features as they come out. It’s well known that using location tags, hashtags etc in your stories and posting them regularly will grant instagram users favor with the algorithm… and that seems to be the case with all new features. Instagram is self-promoting too, you know! 😉
Has social media helped to grow your client and fan base and how? What do you love most about Instagram?
I have met or remained in touch with virtually all of my creative friends as a result of Instagram. Probably 50% of my client base has learned of me through my Instagram. I love that despite any normal social media pitfalls, Instagram remains a place to find those people who see the world the way you do… and often those people want to meet up and do cool things! It is also an immediate and oddly personal way to learn about what is happening in the art world even if you are thousands of miles away, liking photos from afar.
What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?
Don’t wait for better gear or a job offer to take the photos you want to create. Do the best you can with what gear you have or with what you can rent, and reach out to others and ask if they will participate in your idea… it might be just the artistic opportunity they have been waiting for!