Preserving a Legacy: An Interview with Audrey Koehler from Hart & Fig

When we think of investment pieces, what comes to mind? Heirloom jewelry, maybe a classic watch…but what about photographs?

For today’s post, I got the opportunity to speak with Audrey Koehler, from Hart & Fig Photography. Audrey and I attended high school together in Madison and over the last year, I’ve loved watching her photography business grow and produce some beyond gorgeous pictures. A few weeks ago, I reached out to Audrey about answering a few questions regarding how to select the right photographer – but after discussing the importance of capturing moments, you’ll see why portraits are actually the ultimate investment piece.

How did you get started as a photographer? Can you explain your background?

Life has a funny way of creating paths to destinations you never considered. I have spent my entire life loving art, and luckily for me, I come from an artistic family who helped shape that passion. My mother is a watercolor painter, my father is a graphic artist and my grandmother was an acrylic painter. I remember sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table where she taught me how to look at a still object and draw what I saw. She pointed out how the light touched each object and how to represent that in my drawing. Because of that, from an early age, I noticed things most children didn’t. Growing up instead of going to the park, or gymnastics, I went to museums (probably against my will). As I got older I experimented with all types of mediums. In high school, my medium of choice was ceramics, due to a teacher who took me under her wing. In college, I went to school for fine art. That is where I really got the freedom to try whatever I wanted. Photography wasn’t one I tried. In college, I was dead set on becoming a 3D artist, metals, woodworking etc. Two years into the Fine Art program, I panicked. I realized I had no idea how I would make a living as an artist, so I switched majors to a BSA in Architecture. Architecture taught me a lot – it taught me minimalism and discipline the fine arts did not (read my blog here for more on this). Anyhow, fast forward to graduation and working in the field for a few years. I was realizing the art and design of architecture was not as prominent as I thought. Working in the field just did not fuel me. I was missing something. After my children were born I really wanted a camera to start photographing them. I wanted to make sure our legacy was preserved. I wanted to be able to remember the face of my kids as they changed and grew. I fell in love the camera. I fell in love with the idea of preserving legacies. What I fell most in love with was creating not only beautiful things but meaningful things. Tangible items of legacies that can be passed down.

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How did you choose the name “Hart & Fig”?

When picking out the name of my business, I knew I wanted it to be meaningful and relate back to what is most important to me, my family. Hart is my husband, Patrick’s family name. It is also the middle name of my youngest son. Fig represents the place my husband and I got married. We eloped in the place we got engaged in Sonoma, California, a place that feels like a second home. One of our favorite restaurants there is “Girl & The Fig”. I decided to use the word “Fig” as a placeholder for one of the places that is most meaningful to our marriage. I am a very sentimental person, so for me having a business name that was sentimental to me as very important to me.

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What inspires you as a photographer?

Love & authenticity. To me, love is the forefront of why we do anything we do. As humans, we desire love above all else. Love is also incredibly complicated. Love isn’t always pretty, it can be mundane, cause anger and sadness, however through all that love triumphs. Being able to photograph all those emotions is what sends chills down my spine. Watching a mother in awe of her son on his wedding day touches and inspires me. Seeing the beauty in the monotonous is what fuels me. I have also been so blessed with some of the most creative thinking clients who inspire me every day. They march to the beat of their own drum. They don’t let Pinterest dictate their wedding plans, they dictate them themselves. They are breaking norms and creating moments that wouldn’t have otherwise happened if they didn’t dare to be a little different. Creative people make my business less of a “job”, but a passion.

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Professional photographs can be expensive. Why is this something that is worth the investment?

Professional photographs can be expensive and it is truly up to you if you think they are worth it or not, I am not here to tell you one way or another. But this is how I feel about investing in photographs. Photographs are a “material” item, however, they are a material item that inflicts emotion every single time you look at them. I truly believe it is one of the few material items in this world that never gets pushed aside. No matter where you move to, your wedding pictures will always be on display, you won’t grow out of it and you won’t get tired of it. For me, I always thought I could never forget my children’s faces when they were first born. Like somehow my love for them would never erase that memory. Guess what, time can be cruel, and without photographs of my children as newborns, I don’t know if I would still remember every detail. We live in such a fast-paced world, that we so easily look past details and have so much in our brains, it is hard to hold onto some of these memories. That is exactly why to be investing in photographs is so important. I do not want to forget those details and it is important to me not to.
If what I said resonated with you, invest in a photographer. If you really want that photographer to draw true emotions out of you for the most authentic images possible, don’t skimp. Being a photographer is much more than owning a camera. In fact, personally, I would rather hire a professional photographer with an iPhone than an amateur with a professional camera. These days, purchasing a camera is easy, reading your manual is easy, reading “Understanding Exposure” books are easy. What isn’t easy is that art behind it. A photographer worth the money will not only understand how the camera works, but how light works, how getting real emotion works and how to combine all those things into a composition you see in the photograph.

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If someone is looking for a photographer, where should they start? Are there any resources you recommend?

Before you begin looking for a photographer, you should decide what KIND of photographer you are looking for. There are so many great photographers out there with their own unique style. Do you want a photojournalistic feel? Do you like images with a dark moody feel, or a light and airy one? Once you have decided the style you are looking for, start looking at different blogs. Social media is also another great tool. Instagram is going ever popular with wedding photographers.

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What kind of questions should someone ask when interviewing photographers?

Here are easily the top questions you should ask (and your photographer should also be telling you right off the bat):

  1. “What is your photography style?” Before you book a client make sure the work you are seeing from them is exactly the style you are looking for. Make sure you have not selected a single photo and based your decision off of that. Make sure that the entirety of their work resonates with you. As a side note to that, when looking at their work, make sure their editing style is consistent. Any inconsistencies should make you question what “look” your photos will have upon delivery.
  2. “What is included in the price?” Most photographers will add things like travel per mile to your overall investment. Make sure you clarify if the tax is included, you would hate to be slapped with any “hidden” fees that are buried somewhere in the contract you signed. Make sure you know how many images you will be receiving and how they will be delivered to you. Make sure all expectations are covered before signing anything.
  3. “Who is your ideal client?” This may be an awkward question; however, most photographers can tell you the ins and outs of their ideal client. They may have even given a fake name to their ideal client. Seems crazy right? No. By asking this question you will know 100% if you are a good fit. You will get a better gauge on the photographer’s style and what fuels them. You want a photographer who is so excited about YOU and YOUR plans, not one that is just looking for a check.
  4. “What is your backup system?” You guys, this is so important. I am currently apart of tons of wedding photographer Facebook groups and you would not believe how many times I hear a photographer asking our advice on that to do after they lost all their clients images. The reason for this being, they did not have a proper system of backing up. Reason being, good backup systems are expensive. Here is my system, and what you should be looking for as an answer: when shooting any wedding, I shoot with two cameras. Each camera is set up to back up all your images right in the camera. The first thing I do when I get home from a wedding is back up those images on to two hard drives. I also make a third back up on an offsite hard drive just in case of a flood, theft or apocalypse. You can never be too careful. Generally speaking, my system is a bit over the top, but when interviewing photographers, they should be able to tell you at least two different places your images live before delivery.

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Sometimes individuals get nervous with taking pictures. Do you have any tips for feeling more relaxed in front of cameras?

A good photographer will get you feeling relaxed once your session has begun, but here are some things I do to get the best and authentic images on my clients’ wedding day:

  1. I meet with each client in person before any session. I do this because meeting first over a cup of coffee or drink is the best way for my clients and I to develop a friendship. Developing a type of friendship is what makes my clients relaxed and comfortable around me.
  2. I encourage my clients to pick an investment of mine that includes an “Adventure Engagement Session.” Meeting in person with my clients only goes so far. At that point, they have not been in front of a camera with me and they do not know what to expect, and why would they, by getting in front of my camera prior to their wedding day, they are in a sense practicing. They get a better sense of what to expect. Also, my Adventure Sessions are fun. We hike together, we drive together, we have a drink together, again developing a relationship. That way, when I arrive on their wedding day, I am a friendly familiar face that they feel comfortable around. When clients are comfortable around me, that is where the magic happens. Look for a photographer that implements these ideas in their investments.
  3. Have a cocktail. (Not five, but one.) This will take a little of the edge off.
  4. Write each other a love note prior to the session you are willing to read off to one another. This is a great icebreaker. Your vulnerability is out there from the beginning. Know that us photographers do this for a living and being vulnerable in front of us is nothing we haven’t seen before.

Know that photography is a collaborative effort. The photographer can only do so much as far as pulling these emotions out of you. You must be willing become vulnerable and let your love take over.

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Do you have recommendations for outfits or settings?

I cannot recommend outfits that allow for movement enough! Maxi dresses are great for creating movement. Also, be comfortable – if you are constantly adjusting yourself, your photos will look stiff. Try not to be too “matchy-matchy”… I usually recommend one pattern per couple.

Here are some of my favorite locations in Wisconsin:

  • My absolute favorite is in my client’s home. There is something so intimate about photographing people in the place that is most comfortable to them. A place they curated and a place that holds memories. A place that holds significance to my clients is another great place to start. This goes back to creating those authentic images. If I place my clients in a place that is “like home”, or meaningful to them, the magic unfolds on its own.
  • Sun Prairie natives love Edna & Elmer Wetland Conservancy! Here is why I love it: there are meandering paths, tall grass, water and mature trees. There is plenty of room for an adventure right down the street from where I live.
  • Willow River State Park in Hudson. Have you ever seen Willow Falls? If you haven’t I suggest you Google it, because there really is no other explanation needed.
  • Washington Island in Door County. There are endless lavender fields. Washington Island is beautiful in itself. It is so remote and has an East Coast feel to it.
  • Parfrey’s Glen in Baraboo (located near Devils Lake). There is a ravine filled with fog and sandstone. If you are looking for some really dark and moody photos, that is the perfect place.
  • Also, here are some other Baraboo locations I love: Pewets Nest and Mirror Lake.

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I cannot thank Audrey enough for taking the time (she is in the midst of wedding season, mind you!) to answer my questions. Hopefully, you’ve not only learned some valuable tips but also see why photography is such a priceless investment.

If you’d like to contact Audrey, please visit her website here. I cannot recommend her enough – and as you can see by the beautiful pictures in this post, her talent is amazing.

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Freelance writer. Equestrian. Fueled by coffee. Lover of luxury fashion, college football and used bookstores.

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