Reel Women: Visionary Director and Photographer Kharen Hill

(REEL WOMAN: Kharen Hill)

Kharen Hill is renowned for her entertainment, advertising and music photography. Her ability to create amazing images with lighting and her creative choices in selecting location and themes makes her work unique and memorable. 

Working with clients across North America and the world her photography is recognized for its vivid use of color and her ability to create graphic, beautiful and eye-catching in any subject.  Kharen’s relaxed approach with subjects and her years of experience with the world of movie sets, actors, musicians and travel, puts her within a select group of photographers who can be spontaneously creative navigating time constraints and varied production requirements and challenges. 

She has creative directed, shot and directed motion and advertising campaigns for most of the major streaming and motion platforms. 

Kharen’s ability to create amazing images with lighting and her creative choices in selecting location and themes makes her work unique and memorable. 

Born in New Zealand, Kharen travels the world on assignment and is based out of Los Angeles California.

Let’s meet Kharen!

What’s your origin story?

I was born in New Zealand as a young family we followed our Father who was a cancer researcher living in New York and London.  High school was in New Zealand and then fresh out of one year of a Bachalor of commerce at Auckland university the sudden move to Canada gave me the push to follow my dreams of being an Artist and Creator.

How did you get into photography?

Selected for a specialized program in media at Capilano University in Vancouver I did a student practicum at a company working on many projects for the Expo in Vancouver Canada. After ruining some copy film I was developing in a dark room for the frustrated Trudy Woodcock, she gave me some film and sent me outside to photograph everything I could find that was blue.

The film was seen by the creative director Paul Smith and I was added to a photo team that was being sent around the world to photograph all the Air Canada Destinations in the world. Transition to entertainment came as the fledgling Vancouver Canada film industry hit its stride.

Who were your mentors?

My photography teacher was Gerry Blitzstein. He was knowledgeable and inspiring and his passion for photography was infectious. Paul Smith, storyteller and creative director. He discovered me and gave me my first photo job.

Terry McBride, the founder of Nettwerk Records who brought me in to photograph his artists leading to relationships with recording artists including Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne. Randy Braun who was head of MGM Creative advertising and worked with me for Katie Holmes’s first movie leading to an ongoing relationship and work with networks and studios worldwide.

While there will be others, what do you consider your biggest achievement to date?

There have been moments when I am shooting a big campaign for a movie with an A list cast, multiple studio sets with dream client, crew, art department and production team. It’s exciting to create at that level. But over the long term those moments come and go.

As exciting as it feels to be in that environment I think my greatest achievement is the enjoyment and the dedication I have to commit creatively to each shoot and the fun I have each time I pick up a camera or go to set as a director to create something unique and interesting for that specific project.

What drives you to create?

Creativity and being on a shoot makes me happy and gives me what feels like a super human energy. There is something so perfect and satisfying about the energy of heading a talented group to bring creative vision alive and I could do it 24/7.

What shows are doing the best job of portraying strong women on TV?

When I think of the question I actually think more of the women who choose the roles with integrity that portray strong women. Anything Kate Blanchet, Viola Davis, Thandie Newton, Frances McDormand, Laura Linney, Robin Wright.

These are all women who chose rolls and bring strength and depth to each performance.

Coffee, Lunch or Happy Hour. Name a famous woman you would like to attend each function with.

Coffee – Annie Liebovitz | Photographer – I would love to pick her brain:)

Lunch – Niki Nakayama from Netflix’s Chefs’ Table – Her Japanese food was inspiring as an art form. I haven’t been to eat it yet and I want to.

Happy Hour – Jane Fonda. Because she’s inspirational and I admire her activism including her Fire Drill Fridays she spearheads for Green Peace.

What is the biggest challenge to women in your industry?

Believing we can. It’s a privilege to grow up believing anything is possible and a challenge not to. Women are not inherently encouraged to believe that. Nor do we grow up as men do to and to Network and support each other doesn’t come as second nature.

REELated: See who else is on the Reel Women List

How has having the superpower helped you?

My superpower is making people comfortable, providing a safe place and photogenic concept and place for them to create a character and to be express themselves. This helps me bring out something they want to portray about themselves and helps the collaboration feel like safe place to express and visually experiment.

If being a woman is your superpower, what is your kryptonite?

My kryptonite is late-night sprinkles cupcakes and the vending machine that dispenses them…and I love espresso too much to limit myself to one in the morning.

When you’re not creating, what do you do in your off time?

My life takes a seat to work most of the time. Being freelance means a constant work-life balance and always being at ready to go somewhere. In my time off, I love spending time with family and enjoy horse jumping and hiking.

Predict your future! Where are you in 5 years?

I look forward to continuing with photography directing and am excited to work on more artwork. Exploring NFTs and digital art. I have too many ideas to ever get them all done so I hope I have become super efficient at time management.

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