One of the many blessings of being a photographer is that it can allow you to travel to some of the world’s hidden gems. Salt Lake City-based Architecture and Landscape photographer Dave Koch recently discovered this when he headed to the scenic Belgium Northwestern city of Brugge for his client Jennifer Hall.
Dave shot Jennifer’s home in Salt Lake in 2018 and was so impressed with his work that over four years later, she got back in touch and asked if he would like to photograph her new home.
I said sure. She then added that it was out of town. I said no problem. She said, “No, it is REALLY out of town!”. That is when she let me know it was in Brugge. I remember saying, “As in BELGIUM?” She said yep! How do you say no to that?
Dave and Jennifer did extensive pre-planning so he could fully gauge what made the property unique and how to fittingly capture that in the imagery.
With every project, I allocate time to scouting and taking in the feel of a home before I shoot. I walk through the home and plan my shoot… even the basic shoots. I talk with the property owner and find out what makes their property special. And then I shoot with all that in mind.
The stunning double house, situated on the Brugge canal and a stone’s throw away from the historic city center, was a 1718 renovation of a 15th-century building with two wooden front and rear facades and a total of six floors under parallel gable roofs and antiquated local Flemish tiles.
Beforehand I felt a ton of pressure to perform, and a little imposters syndrome transpired as a result. However, once I was on site, all that went away. I generally can get a feel for a location once I am there. I get in tune with it. I feel where the property is and where it wants to take me, and I flow with that.
The primary goal was just to shoot off the property. But beyond that, this was a remarkable and fascinating building pervaded with history and hundreds if not thousands of quirks. All facets that Dave was desperate to exhibit.
I have a basic philosophy; I did not see a feature in the last homes I shot, then I focus on that because that is what makes this property distinctive. So in making the jump from Utah to 15th century Belgium, NOTHING was usual!
Dave had 3 days for the shoot, and upon arrival at the historic Belgian City, he was met with downpouring rain and freezing temperatures. A true Northern European welcome!
On the first day, the seasoned photographer just sat in different rooms to discern the property’s aura. The 3-day allocation permitted Dave to fully explore how the rooms felt, rather than just shooting rooms as photographers frequently do when they’re in a hurry.
I could have done this assignment in one long day. But I love having the time to work over shots, play with things, and improve them. This job allowed me that.
On the second day, Dave woke up at 5 in the morning, grabbed his camera, and took off into the town. He adores shooting pre-dawn and dawn-twilight and decided to do some shots of the area. Upon returning, he was greeted by a majestic sunrise.
The most significant point of this property was that it was on a canal…. Not many properties have that! I shot a sunrise showing off the home, the canal, and the sunrise…. What I consider the hero shot here.
Dave spent the whole day shooting the property. From his survey the day before, he knew the times when the light was good, so he moved up and down and all around chasing that light.
There were a lot of rooms to shoot and a lot of missed shots. It was a SOLID day of shooting, but it also went by too quickly because it was so much fun.
The third day allowed Dave to chase the shots he missed the day earlier and improve the images he had already made. It was during this time he discovered a secret apartment.
I was so captivated visually I had to slow down and pace myself. I had to take it one room at a time. By the middle of the third day, I felt I had it all under control and was ready to go over everything…. And I decided to take one more look in one of the smaller bed/bath suites (there were 6 of them, BTW!) Something pulled me to the back closet, and as I looked in, I saw a door. I went through the door and found another 4-room suite with a living room, office area, bathroom, kitchen, and loft bedroom.
I was utterly dumbfounded…. This place was so big, and the rooms so convoluted; this whole apartment was hidden unless you looked for it. The whole property kept going and going… up, down, to the sides. And it was so foreign to what I usually do… it was full of surprises.
Dave was a photojournalist when he started out in the industry, and those roots were etched into planning, which was all about doing an outstanding job on a shoestring of gear. And he used all his prior experience working in this fast-paced environment to improvise on this project.
The first and biggest challenge was to be in a foreign land with only the basics of my normal kit. With no assistants and having to move around in cities I had never been to, I had to be abler to carry EVERYTHING I needed by myself. All at once. I could not make two trips for anything.
Perpetually compelled to go above and beyond the call of duty, Dave decided that some drone shoots would add contrast and a dramatic disposition to the images.
It was not required, but it added a lot. I went with a brand new DJI Air 2S. I even got a license, so I could legally fly in Belgium and France!
Dave gained a lot from this assignment, from learning to trust his instincts more, his profound capability to shoot in any situation and come back with the goods, and how it’s not about the gear; it’s how you use it.
I learn from EVERY job. As my friend Joe Edelmans’ says… “May your next shoot be your best shoot.” To me, that means every day, I am learning and using that to make tomorrow’s shoot even better. This is the true joy of photography- I am ALWAYS getting better.
Trust yourself and your feelings. Your art comes from within you, so allow yourself to find the inner voice to lead your eye. And listen to the client. They know the project better than you do. If you’re unhappy with an image or even questioning it, reshoot. Work a compilation until it’s right. Until it sings! The rule of thirds is older than you are; use it.
See more of Dave’s work on his website.