Spotlight Interview … Photographer Emily Koch

Emily Koch is a professional portrait photographer from the heart of the bread basket here in the United States. Not only is she a talented photographer but she has pursued her photography in spite of our current economy.

I felt that if anyone would have an understanding and insight to share with her peers on the current business side of photography Emily would.

JRP: Thanks Emily for taking time out to share your work and thoughts about photography with our readers.

Emily Koch: Thank you James for your interest in my work. I am honored to be featured on your blog with some other amazing photographers.

JRP: Where is your studio located and what led to your pursuit of photography? Do you have any formal training?

Emily Koch: My studio is located in West Union, Iowa. It is a small farming community in rural Iowa. I dabble in all areas of portrait work but really specialize in children’s portraits which I really love, hence the my studio’s name, Giggles n Grins Photography.

I began my professional journey a little over three years ago using my children’s toy room as a make shift studio. I just started photographing friends and family to build up my portfolio and gain experience working with different subjects and situations. As word of mouth spread and strangers started to call, I soon grew out of that space and built a new studio on my property.

I have had no formal training with the exception of a few courses in college years ago. I have learned by hours of trial and error at the sacrifice of my three children and some of my sanity. I also study and try to emulate techniques from other photographers that I admire.

JRP: The geographical region where your live and work provides a good overview of the challenges facing a photography business today, especially in small town America.

Emily, what are some of the factors you consider when it comes to things like equipment selection, using a lab or printing in house? Setting up your wedding and senior class packages? Working in the studio or going on location?

Emily Koch: Around my community professional portraits are considered a luxury. Some challenges that I face are the economic restraints that many of my customers are under along with other local competition at lower price points. Most of my business are repeat clients. This is a wonderful compliment but I struggle at times thinking of new ideas for a child that I have photographed numerous times.

I try to be creative when setting my portrait packages by including DVD’s of proofs set to music for my weddings and seniors. For my children’s sittings, I have a baby plan incentive system for newborns to 12 months. I also enter one image from each sitting into a national photo contest that my lab offers.

I shoot about 90% of my images in my studio and use a local professional lab for my printing. I have tried three different professional labs and finally settled on one that offers high quality prints, and excellent customer service as opposed to being the “most reasonable”.

JRP: What camera system do you use in your work? What type of additional lighting do you use when necessary? What digital software do you use in your workflow?

Emily Koch: I would consider my equipment to be entry-level professional. Currently I am using a Nikon D200 with my lens of choice for studio work being the 18-200VR. I am saving for the 70-200. Since my studio is small and I am usually lying on the floor at the child’s level I prefer using a zoom versus a prime lens.

I am a huge fan of Alien Bee lighting and seamless paper in every color. I utilize large softboxes and octaboxes to create the large catch lights in my subjects eyes which I believe adds an additional sparkle and life especially with children.

I use Photoshop CS2 for all my editing along with some third party plug-ins and actions. I hope to learn Corel Painter to offer painted portraits to my customers soon.

JRP: What has been your most memorable assignment or favorite photo to date?

Emily Koch: That is a hard one. I can think of three assignments that have impacted my life. One, photographing my nephew’s birth and putting it into a story telling slide show of the event.

Two, I have been photographing a little girl named Reagan since she was a baby, and a little over a year ago she was diagnosed with leukemia. I was given the opportunity to photograph her before her illness, during the radiation and her hair loss, and now just recently during her recovery stage.

Three, I photographed another little girl whose daddy was stationed in Iraq. He had only seen her on one occasion since she was born. It was a privilege to know that I was creating a portrait that would be sent to Iraq for some of our heroes to enjoy …. especially her daddy.

JRP: What is most important to you, vision or technique?

Emily Koch: In my photography style and genre, I believe vision is more important than technique. Due to my lack of formal training, I have very little technical knowledge. My portraits are created from a true love of my subject matter, and much patience. I strive to capture perfect expressions versus perfect light ratios and exposures. That being said though, sharp focus is always a must.

JRP: What has been the best advice given to you by another photographer?

Emily Koch: I was told to trust my instincts and develop my own style and stick to it!

When I started, I tried to offer a little bit of everything but by doing that I could not perfect anything. I have learned that I am first and foremost a children’s studio portrait photographer with my style focused on facial expressions and childhood emotions. I have created a style that suits my vision, my skill, my equipment, and studio size.

It is up to my potential customers to decide if they prefer my style or not. I have come to learn that photography is a subjective art created by me the photographer. Some people will appreciate my art and others will not. Either way is fine with me because I love what I am doing.

JRP: What advice would you give to a young photographer starting out?

Emily Koch: Along with the same advice I just mentioned, I would tell him or her to be patient with themselves, and their subjects. You can’t learn photography from a book or watching a video. You need to get out there and shoot, shoot, shoot! The more you shoot, the more comfortable you will become with your subjects, your equipment, and the editing process.

To this day, I can say that with each new sitting I learn something new or feel the results are better than my previous one. A fancy , expensive camera does not equal fantastic images. Photography is a learned art that takes a vision, passion, knowledge, and a commitment to the entire process.

JRP: Thank you again Emily for sharing your thoughts and photography with us. It has been a pleasure talking with you.

Emily Koch: Thank you for letting me share some of my challenges, accomplishments, and philosophies of this passion we all share. It has been a pleasure.

If anyone has any further questions, please feel free to email me at :


I love meeting fellow photographers and helping any way I can.

JRP: To view more of Emily Koch’s fine photography please go to these links:


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