Aotearoa NZ Photographers – Larnie Nicolson
Design Assembly recently got the opportunity to chat with photographer Larnie Nicolson, an Auckland based photographer who shoots for international publications and creative agencies. We talk about developing her distinctive graphic style, her architecture and interiors focus and how she keeps a human element.
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How did you initially get interested in photography?
My whole family are creative and Mum and Dad were both interested in photography – Mum was always documenting the family with her trusty Minolta SLR and Dad was a scuba diver and owned underwater camera gear. Seeing life under water was fascinating and I’m sure this influenced me. I was fortunate to attend a high school that really nurtured creative talent and this led me to study at Media Arts at Wintec.
You talk on your website about your graphic design background, can you tell us a bit more about that, and how the transition from design to photography came about?
After my initial foundation year in Media Arts, I decided to major in graphic design and took photography electives. I always enjoyed the freedom photography offered – it’s very intuitive on one level, but precise on another, especially in the darkroom.
After I graduated, I lived and travelled around Europe for five years taking photos constantly. I decided to come home and study photography full-time for two years as well as working part-time as a photographer for The Waikato Times. After I completed that degre, I set myself up as a photographer focusing on architecture. I think there’s a nice relationship between graphic design and architecture and it felt like a natural fit.
How would you describe your photographic approach?
I try to plan ahead and visualise how the shoot will go; creatively and logistically, before I turn up on the day, including what potentially might not go to plan. This helps mitigate any issues but also sometimes provides inspiration – constraints can be quite interesting like that. Saying that, you really have to be open and flexible on the day. Sometimes the unexpected is where the magic lies.
Most importantly though is ensuring I capture something great for my clients – it’s a significant investment for them and they are trusting me to deliver the final images and I take that responsibility very seriously.
What did you enjoy most about putting out your own books? What’s the biggest struggle for you?
I loved putting a body of work out into the world. Publishing a book is a huge undertaking and I found it really helped to have a creative partner to share the highs and lows with. My first two interior books – New Zealand Interior Style and Rooms to Love, were collaborations with stylist and writer LeeAnn Yare and published by Penguin. When I was researching the idea for the book, I realised that there weren’t any other New Zealand focused interior books like it (this was 2011) so to see that first hard copy straight off the press was a real highlight of my career.
Aside from the sheer time, commitment and production complexities, there were so many decisions to be made and sometimes uncomfortable compromises – which just come with the territory when deadlines and multiple parties are involved.
My third book, Hanging Kokadama, was a commission by a London based publisher and written by Coraleigh Parker who is based in the Bay of Plenty. It was more of a challenge dealing with a publisher so far away but working with Coraleigh made it worthwhile. Even though it was a niche subject, it was published in 7 different languages and has sold something like 35,000 copies.
What shoot, personal or professional, are you most proud of and why?
Gucci hired me to shoot the interior and exterior of their new flagship store in Auckland and I felt the pressure to deliver to the amazing standard expected by such an iconic brand. It was an intense shoot that was run with military precision, starting at 8:30pm and finishing around 1am with five client representatives present the whole time. Furthermore, it was a large space with tricky lighting, but we were very happy with the final shots.
A memorable personal shoot was travelling to Farewell Spit and shooting a body of work there. That place is incredible.
I’m also proud of the relationships I’ve developed with clients over the years. Being a working photographer can be a real hustle sometimes and it takes perseverance and grit to keep producing work you are proud of and to stay in business (I’m sure every business owner agrees). I’m really happy that after 20 years I’m still working and loving what I do.
What’s your favourite thing about photographing people? How do you get them to look so comfortable in front of the camera?
The best part is meeting people from all walks of life and learning a little bit about them and what they do. People are often nervous when it comes to having their portrait taken but I’ve been told I’m disarming and friendly which helps them relax. Once underway, I always show progress shots so we can tweak what they don’t like or shoot another round until they’re happy with what we get. After a while they relax and learn to trust me because I absolutely want my subjects to be happy with the images.
What do you enjoy most about interior/architecture shoots? How much of the styling and art direction are you involved in?
I’ve always been interested in interiors and architecture and I like seeing new places. I think it’s a privilege to photograph people’s homes or work space. Their unique approaches are hugely inspiring which makes the job rewarding.
Ideally the client would be on the shoot with me and they can share insights and the intent behind the design. I can also gauge, at close range, that I am getting the shots they want on the day.
In terms of styling, it depends on the requirements of the shoot and what’s going to deliver the best result. I’ve done shoots where I have sourced and purchased soft furnishings and art-work, styled the shoot as well as the photography itself. On other shoots, light styling is required and this is something I can do easily to help make the shoot look the best it can be. However, I do really like working with a dedicated stylist so I can just focus on the photography – it’s also really fun to collaborate with someone else and create a shared vision.
What goes into a magazine / commercial shoot? Could you give us a bit of an insight into the process of shooting for a commercial brief?
With a magazine shoot, I usually see the scouting shots that were sent to the editor before the shoot or if a home has been pitched to me then I visit the location first to get a sense of the potential for a magazine feature. Seeing it in person gives me an idea of lighting and if the home could benefit from any styling pieces to bring on the day. Editorial shoots are generally a bit looser and more creative which is a big reason why I enjoy them so much. My job is to try and portray the essence of the home, the people (and animals) who live there and to give the readers a sense of the space through composition and lighting.
Commercial shoots by contrast, have a more definite outcome. For example, the client might need 12 final images for their website showcasing their product in situ – therefore there might be specific things we need to cover.
Before the shoot day, I’ll usually ask the client to send any inspirational images and references they like – it’s good to have a shared understanding as creative can be so subjective. I often visit the location for a pre-shoot recce to see if there are any potential issues so there are no surprises on the day.
On the day, I tether to a laptop so we can collectively see if we are getting the shots before we move on to the next set up. After the shoot, I’ll send the client the low-res images so they can select the images they want and I’ll work on their final selections in Photoshop.
How do you see your photography practice developing, what are your main aspirations for the next couple of years?
I’d like to continue shooting lifestyle photography for commercial clients and help businesses grow with thoughtful and considered photography.
I’m extremely interested in environmental issues and animal welfare, so if I can help those causes through photography then that would be hugely satisfying.
I’d like to shoot more travel photography and work more internationally (when that opens up again). Travel is my big love so if I can combine that with photography then I’d be happy. Apart from that, I’d just be happy to continue to push myself both creatively and in business.
How can people get in touch or see more of your work?
My website is: www.larnienicolson.com
I’m always happy to chat to people to discuss their project (and if I’m not right for the job then I have many contacts that I can suggest). Getting the right photographer is key for your project. You should love their work as well as trust and respect their opinion to get the best results.