“Photography is like freezing a moment. I want to do that in an authentic way. Real. Not flashy, posed but real. If my photography can convey a real moment, I’m happy.”
Antonia Heil (born in 1986) is a German commissioned and editorial photographer currently living in Cape Town, South Africa. She didn’t study photography, but instead holds a degree in journalism.
“I believe in sharing. Don’t keep it to yourself.”
Interview with Antonia Heil
Antonia, why did you become a photographer?
I studied journalism, as my passion was radio journalism. I was addicted to the internet, looking at beautiful photographs – but I knew that if you want to do one thing properly, you have to focus on it. So my focus was journalism. Of course, here and there were some photography projects. When I moved from Germany to Cape Town, South Africa, I started shooting with my then boyfriend Desmond Louw, who gave me a camera. I quickly learned, fell in love with ‘shooting’ and it became a business.
Your portfolio shows a great variety. From wedding photography to portraiture and editorial works. What does each genre mean to you and how would you describe yourself as a photographer?
Tough one. I like the variety of shoots we do, it keeps things, our work, our life exciting. I love shooting weddings as it’s such an emotional and important day for people. There are tears, there’s laughter, there are fights, there is so much love – it’s just great to document this. Shooting portraits is just so much fun – if it’s for a business profile, magazines or for private use. I love coming up with new locations and getting to know the people we shoot a little to really show them in the photographs. People are just the most exciting ‘things’ to photograph. They all have a story. We seriously meet the most interesting folks through our work.
“We shoot the heck out of the places we go to and hope to make the magazines we shoot for happy.”
Shooting editorial is much fun, too, as we get to travel for that. We travel in South Africa, Europe and the USA to shoot editorial. It always feels like an exhausting holiday. It depends on the brief, but most of our editorial shoots are documentary. We don’t separate work and life, so work-travels are amazing! We shoot the heck out of the places we go to and hope to make the magazines we shoot for happy. It’s usually the case. Desmond, my husband and business partner shoots a lot of cars for magazines – that’s also great as he’s big into car design. Together, we shoot car commercials and we love the whole production from location scouting to endless days and nights of editing. I aim to be a photographer that shoots authentic, real. I’m not set on a certain area of photography. We take on any creative work that sounds fun!
You were born in Germany and then you decided to move to South Africa. Why?
I was an exchange student in South Africa when I was 16. If you visit South Africa once, you will keep on coming back. I came back and met Desmond. I moved to South Africa in 2009 to be with him, we got married. Every year we go ‘home’ to Germany and the rest of Europe for a couple of months to shoot there!
What was your most memorable moment shooting pictures?
I think the best is yet to come. Obviously, I love emotions – laughter and tears make me laugh and cry and while this is happening I take the best shots.
What does photography mean to you? And what do you want to transmit with your pictures? And in other words: What is it at all that a photograph can say? Especially keeping in mind the over abundance of photographic imagery in today’s society.
Photography is like freezing a moment. I want to do that in an authentic way. Real. Not flashy, posed but real. If my photography can convey a real moment, I’m happy.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
I think Annie Leibovitz is an inspiring person. Yes, but altogether I’m not really inspired by photographers. I’m inspired by creative people from all walks of life that are positive – about their work and life.
What’s your favorite inspirational quote about photography?
‘Photography is a process, not a product’
There’s a quote saying: ‘Design is a process, not a product’ by Christopher Simmons. I say ‘Photography is a process, not a product’ would be a nice quote. (laughs) Another quote I really love is the following: “Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them” by Marvin J. Ashton. I want to inspire the people I work with and leave them better than I found them.
How would you describe your photographic voice and way of working? How do you plan and execute a project?
I am pretty well organised which is necessary as I run a business with Desmond. And we do everything from sending out quotes to writing invoices, paying tax and of course shooting and editing. We work very professional. It depends on the project but most of the time we meet with our clients to see what they need, want etc. Depending on the timeframe, we brainstorm (a lot), scout locations, hire equipment, assistants (if we need them), get permits etc. Things go quick – a project often comes in, needs to be executed a few days after and the edited images need to be delivered often in less than a week after a shoot. Life is busy, so having things in place seriously helps.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
The axis of my/Desmond and my work is us working together. He knows the technical side of photography very well whereas I’m a good art director. Together, we just work.
What qualities and characteristics does a good photographer need?
Courage, kindness and business skills.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes?
For me, there are no rules. A photo speaks to me or not.
What kind of camera and equipment do you use?
I shoot mainly with a Nikon D700 or Nikon D800. My favourite lens is a 50mm 1.4.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
I never check sites like this.
What book about photography would you recommend?
I don’t read photography books except art books by photographers.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a (professional) photographer?
Give it a go. Develop your style, be confident about it. There’s a good chance you find a market that falls in love with what you do!