We had the good fortune of connecting with Jess Koehler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jess, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
As a photographer, I’d experienced different genres of the industry throughout my career. But once I became a mother, my values framework shifted. I wanted two things: to be the boss of my own schedule and have my work be meaningful. With that, I’d moved forward with full focus on only accepting private families as clients. I literally was tearing up on the way to a maternity session the other day. I was reflecting on how grateful I am to have intentional clients who want to document their family AND choose me to do it. I’m sold out for the remainder of 2020, so it’s confirmation that I’m moving in the right direction as a creative business.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My professional journey began all the way back in high school when I started photography classes as a hobby. It wasn’t until my professor sat me down (in college) for an end of year review that I realized this was a career option. I was at a local community college then. There was an excelled ‘advertising photography’ program just over two hours away that I could transfer to. So from there, I focused my next year on whatever it took to get into that program. I made it happen. That was over 18 years ago and it’s been a long road with a lot of mistakes and personal discovery. About 6-7 years ago, I’d even put down the camera and swore I was never shooting again. Around that time, I was doing commercial photography and had an agent. The short end of the story is that my soul wasn’t connecting to the work. I was pregnant with my first, so, I consciously stepped away from the advertising world and focused on growing my family. I think for us mothers, we go through a massive shift of our own personal identity after childbirth. It’s a recalibration on what really matters. I knew if I was to go back, the work must have significant meaning. I allowed myself to dig deep and identify my WHY. As a mother of two, my values shifted for the generational storytelling aspect of family photography. I continued to clarify my vision and began saying ’thanks, but no’ to the jobs that weren’t fueling my soul. Now, my photography business exclusively serves families. A client often starts with a maternity session and we can continue with milestones of the baby’s growth. Many of my clients are long-term families who like to book every 1-2 years. I love to photograph families with styled + intimate beauty. You’ll see that I creatively lean towards a moodiness within my light and color. I like to tap into a different sense of vulnerability when my clients are open to it. I’m proud of how I can direct someone who feels insecure about being photographed. The goal is to create space for them to feel comfortable with me and ultimately really love the end result. With the changes in 2020, I believe we see our own humanity much differently. It’s important to really allow yourself to be seen and I want my clients to recognize their authentic selves in the photos. As I’m gearing up to teach a course in 2021, the topic is a combo of my expertise and documenting my own family. I want to help parents take better snapshots on their iPhones. I believe that the tradition starts with us. I’m going to help improve the quality of their photos as well as my strategies for organizing and printing them. You can download my freebie that gets you started with a ‘Do + Don’t’ Guide. It’s available on my website!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
(All created with a non-covid framework and someone visiting with a kid.) Day 1 I’d likely keep it low key on the first day. We’d probably pop over to Larchmont to walk around, hit up one of the coffee or ice cream shops, depending on the time of day. If they are game, I’d get the body moving and do a hike in Griffith Park. I’d like to land at the observatory at sunset to get a broad scope of the cityscape. Day 2 There would definitely be a beach day! I’d pack up a cooler and head up to Point Dume. I’d probably swing by In-N-Out on the way back to Hollywood so I didn’t have to cook after being in the sun all day. Day 3 I’d hit up a different neighborhood to explore, depending on their interests. That may be the Downtown Arts District and eating at Cafe Gratitude, swinging by Artbook, and looking for gifts at Poketo. Overall, keeping it a little more low key today. Day 4 If kids are involved, I’d plan a day at Disney! Day 5 Recoup day. We’d get fresh food from the farmer’s market and make brunch together. The kids play, parents hang. Later, I’d order-in and we have a movie night together with cocktails for the grown-ups. Day 6 We’d hit up either the Long Beach Aquarium or the Natural History Museum. It’s easy and fun for the kids! Day 7 I’d plan on a morning trip to the Skyspace slide in Downtown LA! Later, we’d go to The Row for lunch. Then, give a chill evening to have dinner and pack up.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I feel fortunate that I’m surrounded by really smart and compassionate humans. Ivan Lizarde has been an irreplaceable gift over the last year. I’ve commissioned him for my website and media development – which has been a game-changer in my growth. Johan Khalilian is a close friend who coaches executives. His guidance in my moments of conflict, anxiety, and helping to clarify my vision is life giving. Krysta Masciale is another close friend and brand strategist whose brilliance and friendship raise the bar for me to bring excellence to my work ethic. Laura Tremaine is a client, but also has a great podcast called “10 things to tell you”. I’ve found many of her topics to be A-HA moments for me. She helps me ground in the big story of why I do what I do.