Nikolas Koenig on Branding and Becoming a Leading Hotel Photographer

Nikolas Koenig on Branding and Becoming a Leading Hotel Photographer

When Nikolas Koenig moved to New York 20 years ago, he was fresh out of photography school in Germany. By 2001, he had became Ian Schrager’s photographer of choice, and has since established himself as one of the most prolific hospitality photographers worldwide. We met up with Koenig at The New York EDITION—one of the iconic Schrager properties that he’s photographed—to talk about how he got started in the industry. Here’s what we learned.

It takes time to find a niche

“I moved to New York in 1995 after attending a very hands-on photography school in Germany. My two main interests were in fashion and architecture. At the time, I had tunnel vision—I wanted to work for a famous fashion photographer, like David Sims. But after working in the fashion industry for a few years, it became clear that success would be difficult. Suddenly, putting a portfolio together became a monumental obstacle rather than something that excited me—not because of the work, but because of the schmoozing and networking it involved. I was interested in a more quiet, technical job where I could do my own thing. Based on my interest in architecture, I started assisting on travel and hotel shoots, and it immediately felt incredibly natural to me. Twenty years la

When Nikolas Koenig moved to New York 20 years ago, he was fresh out of photography school in Germany. By 2001, he had became Ian Schrager’s photographer of choice, and has since established himself as one of the most prolific hospitality photographers worldwide. We met up with Koenig at The New York EDITION—one of the iconic Schrager properties that he’s photographed—to talk about how he got started in the industry. Here’s what we learned.

It takes time to find a niche

“I moved to New York in 1995 after attending a very hands-on photography school in Germany. My two main interests were in fashion and architecture. At the time, I had tunnel vision—I wanted to work for a famous fashion photographer, like David Sims. But after working in the fashion industry for a few years, it became clear that success would be difficult. Suddenly, putting a portfolio together became a monumental obstacle rather than something that excited me—not because of the work, but because of the schmoozing and networking it involved. I was interested in a more quiet, technical job where I could do my own thing. Based on my interest in architecture, I started assisting on travel and hotel shoots, and it immediately felt incredibly natural to me. Twenty years later, it’s still what I love to do.”

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Even the seemingly smallest opportunity can open the door to success

“My first assignment was with a small travel magazine that had me shoot a hotel in the city. That was the beginning of me becoming a hotel photographer—you get a job, you shoot something, then somebody else sees it and says, ‘He shoots hotels.’ After that, my next assignment was shooting International House, a boutique hotel in New Orleans, for Travel+Leisure. It was the first time somebody put me on a plane and sent me

somewhere to take pictures, and that felt momentous to me. Maybe it’s cliche to say, but the rest is history. There was a bit of a snowball effect from that project on, until my breakthrough when I started shooting hotels for Ian Schrager.”
Finding a balance between creative and commercial is key

“I deal with both the creative and commercial aspects of photography all the time. When I tour a hotel before a shoot, I have two voices in my ear: a creative and a sales manager. Both are telling me what I should capture. Sometimes, I can be very creative. At Public [Hotel] in Chicago, I photographed the Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Pump Room restaurant. It’s a large, open dining area with globe lamps. There were many ways to photograph the room, but for Ian [Schrager] it was all about the lamps. In the end the picture he liked most was 90% lamps with only some seating visible. In this case, the creative voice won—it was all about the fantasy. For other clients, if the sales voice is loudest, the more important shot might be one that shows the square footage or a more realistic shot of the room.”

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It’s the photographer’s job to emphasize, not to interpret the brand

“When I think about Ian [Schrager’s] hotels, there are very strong themes and design ideas. Every aspect from the decor to the lighting to the art is so thought out—it’s not my job to interpret that or to have an opinion on it, but to emphasize those aspects as much as possible through my photography.

Having passions outside of work is important

“I do a lot of photography outside of hotels, but still a lot of my work focuses on highly designed, artificial spaces. To balance that, I find myself drawn to shooting landscapes that are not pristine or necessarily beautiful to the eye—although I see a tremendous beauty in it. Lately, for fun, I’ve been photographing the shrubs and vegetation of Westchester County. Some of the shots seem so exotic, but people are always surprised it’s right where they live—people commute in and out of the county daily, but rarely notice their natural surroundings.”

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914 words

3.15.17

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