Photographer, Annie Otzen

Spotlight / Creative Spotlight
Annie Otzen
Richard Newstead
Dec 4, 2018

In an image rich world where one often feels they’ve seen it all, now and again new talent appears documenting life in a truly captivating way. Working day‑to‑day as a successful wedding photographer, Annie Otzen focuses her lens on capturing life’s special moments by providing a warm and immersive perspective to her imagery. Getty Images editor Richard Newstead talks to the photographer about her inspiration and life behind the camera.

[Richard Newstead]: Your images evoke the sensitivity of childhood and the sense of experiencing the world for the first time. Do you plan out your shots or do you like them to be more in the moment?

[Annie Otzen]: For the most part, the only planning I do is deciding what lens to grab that will capture the moment best. If I'm looking for a more playful atmosphere I’ll grab a wider lens but if I'm looking for something soft, I’ll grab my 50mm. On days when I’m trying out a new technique or new piece of equipment then I might plan it out a little more. One of my goals heading into 2019 is to actually plan out one shoot each week.

[RN]: You’ve done a lot of experimenting with art throughout your life. What drew you to photography? 

[AO]: For me, it was the quick turnaround time of photography, specifically digital photography, that drew me to it. Other types of art can take weeks to see to completion but with photography, I could take a photo and have a final product within the hour; there’s something very satisfying about that. I also love the shareability of photography. When I first started, I had just moved to the West Coast away from all my family and friends and photography gave me the ability to share all my new experiences with people living far away. 

[RN]: You say that you’re a self‑taught photographer. In the journey of learning something new, sometimes mistakes are the most important learning tools we have. What’s the most important mistake you’ve made while photographing and how did it change your understanding of your job?

[AO]: One of the things I love about photography is constantly learning from my mistakes. One mistake I made early on is thinking the shallow depth of focus or “blurry background” would make photos look professional. I eventually realized that trying to get that “blurry background” would compromise the photo and cause me to miss focus. One thing I’m learning is that I need to slow down. Last year I had a second shooter at a wedding say to me, “One thing I’ve noticed about you is you talk fast and work fast.” I think it was meant to be a compliment, but it also made me realize that if I slowed down just a little, I think it would improve my quality of work.

[RN]: Your images have a unique point of view. You use mundane moments and daily pastimes to show day‑to‑day life in a very enticing way. Does your work make you look at your everyday life and your children differently away from the camera? 

[AO]: For me, it’s the other way around. I think I have always seen a bit of excitement in the mundane. I lost my father when I was 10 and that really shook me and made me realize at a very young age how special life is. I think that’s part of the reason I love photography, I can share the way I see and take in life with the click of a button. It took a lot of practice to be able to do that but at this point, it comes very naturally. I also do have to remind myself to set down my camera and just take in life and not constantly try to document it.

[RN]: A lot of your photos involve your children. Are they interested in your photography? Do they cooperate with you while you’re shooting or do you prefer a more candid approach?

[AO]: They are really interested in film photography right now. I think there is so much immediate gratification in their lives there is something fun about waiting for film to develop. I have been buying them little disposable cameras and they love it. I also think as they get older the candid approach to photography gets harder. They are much more aware of the camera then they were when they were younger. I’m starting to let them dictate more of what I photograph and that does help them stay interested.

[RN]: The lighting in your photography is beautiful. How does your choice to use mostly ambient light affect your process? Do you find it limits the kind of images you’re able to take?

[AO]: I do find dark winter days an extreme challenge but I always love experimenting with different and surprising light sources. I enjoy being challenged and that is why I continue to use more natural light or what lamp light is available to me in my lifestyle work. I take a very different approach when it comes to wedding photography and use a lot more flash and artificial light.

[RN]: You were a wedding photographer first before you started shooting for Getty Images. Wedding photography is very demanding – there's a lot of pressure to get the right image and exactly the right moment. This seems inherently different from shooting lifestyle stock photography. How does your process change depending on the type of job you’re doing?  

[AO]: There is very little pressure, so I have the ability to experiment a lot more. I think that is why I love lifestyle so much. My wedding days are very planned out. Heading into a wedding I can almost see frame by frame how the day will go. I also know ahead of time what type of more experimental photography I will be doing at each wedding depending on the client's tastes. When it comes to lifestyle, I never know what each day will bring.

"I could take a photo and have a final product within the hour; there’s something very satisfying about that."

[RN]: There’s a very common theme running through all of your photos. If there were no obstacles and you could shoot anything in your wildest dreams, would you still be taking lifestyle photos?

[AO]: I think I will always take lifestyle photos and always be documenting what life looks like at the current moment. I think my dream is to someday travel and take lifestyle photos all over the Unites States and the world, but for now I can settle for the upper Midwest.

Also, recently I have really loved looking at sport photographer’s portfolios. I know very little about sports photography, but I imagine it to be very high pressure yet the great photographers are able to capture all the emotions that the athletes are experiencing.  I see many obstacles to me ever becoming a sports photographer, but I could see myself really enjoying it.

[RN]: Is there an image that stands out to you in your own archive as a moment that was extra challenging to capture or feels more special than the rest?

[AO]: Anytime I try to place myself in one of my own photos it is so hard. I’m personally not that comfortable in front of the camera but I think it’s important that I’m in some photos too. There is a small series of photos my daughter and I took last January that may not be the most technically perfect, but I feel like I was able to capture some of my own love and emotion for my children without being too awkward.

[RN]: How do you stay motivated?

[AO]: Since 2012 and when the kids were born I’ve made a point to use the camera every day. It helps to set up projects such as my current series ‘100 photos on summer’.

[RN]: What would you say to people coming up through art school?

[AO]: Invest some time in understanding business and marketing.

[RN]: What app can you not live without?

[AO]: Instagram, Fitbit, and I love the One Second a Day app. My kids and I have a great time putting together a little video each month with one second from each day.

Filmmaker, Brandon Li