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Is your passport current? We're about to do some trekking—photo trekking—with travel and lifestyle photographer Nick Onken.
Nick was originally educated as a graphic designer but ultimately found that making images with a camera was more fulfilling—and you can see that he didn't leave his design skills behind when he picked up the camera. We follow Nick around New York City as he meets with Cosmopolitan's photo editor, photographs a fashion model, and returns to his home in Brooklyn to share his story with us. We also meet the founder of Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit organization that builds schools in underdeveloped countries, and uses Nick's photographs as the centerpiece of its fundraising efforts. Then we're off to Guatemala to watch him create his magic.
Nick shows us how he has evolved as an artist and how the business of photography has changed—for example, using an online portfolio as opposed to the traditional "book" that art directors review. He's energetic, motivated, and talented. We've captured him for the lynda.com Creative Spark series but it was no easy task getting him to sit still.
These are some of the issues where they've pulled the images and published them. It's kind of cool to see things that are in print. They kind of give us a list or give me a list of overall rough ideas of what we want to-- of what they want, but then it's kind of up to me actually come up with each. Once we get on that location usually we spread it out. We spread it over three days, three different locations, and just spend each day shooting whatever we could off that list at that location.
So the last day, say for instance, we were at a park, and we just kind of pulled the models and we had a prop stylist. And kind of riffed off of it. And kind of said, oh, let's grab this prop and this model and this couple. Put them together, put them over here. And a lot of it's just thinking on the fly. Some photos can apply to a number of different stories, and so what they'll do is one edition will have an idea date expectations of a story, and then they'll go into that internet that we--library of images that we created and then they'll go and try to find something that pertains to that story, which they felt this one did.
But when all the elements come together and just you're running around--and you have good models in a great location and great props and stuff, and the models have good energy, that's what's, where things start to come together for me, and so you can kind of riff. And like you never know what you're going to get, which is the great part. So this is Bedford. This is Bedford Avenue, runs from north probably 11th down to south, to like Broadway, which is probably 20 blocks.
And this is like the heart of Williamsburg. So locations are definitely key in lifestyle just because it like it plays such a huge part in the concept and the textures in what's going on in the photo. Sometimes I like to find, especially like cool wall textures that have--that are kind of decayed and have a lot of character. They're kind of falling apart well. That comes across really well on film. So a lot of times I'll do like kind of a hard flash with the subject against like a texture like this.
Yes, I'm looking for something for the model today, maybe like a rock 'n' roll T-shirt, something, maybe one or two pieces that we could kind of add into the mix. Something like this could be really cool, because it's bright, and it would be like really, kind of fall off the model really well, like it will hang really well. It's a little bit bigger, but it might come off the shoulder a little bit, which would be nice.
I mean, style is everything. Style is why people hire you, like how you see, what your vision is for creative, and it comes down for the way you choose your clothes, the casting and how you see, how you pick talent, you know the types of locations, the types of colors, the types of clothing that you use, the type of light that you use, all those and the props and all that stuff, all those are part of the ingredients that actually make up how you see, how you see the the photo, so your style, and then that's what people buy in the end is like your, in a sense, your decision making.
And which ends up being your style. I like this, but maybe I'm thinking kind of like you're sitting on the curb eating, you know, eating Chinese takeout and kind of hanging out. But, if we see anything, like, fun that we can grab on the way. Model: Uh huh, yeah. No, this is cool. Nick: Donuts. Nick: And then, like walls, like there's a lot of cool textures around. We can shoot some stuff like that. What I usually like to do when I'm shooting personal stuff is shoot film, so we'll probably shoot a little Contax G2 action.
Maybe bring the Hasselblad. The film actually just kind of forces you to--the cameras are different so it forces me to shoot in a different way, and there's a texture to film that you can't really get with digital. So, I prefer that, but when you're first starting, your money goes towards other things than spending it on processing film. So now that I can afford it, it's a lot easier to shoot it. Yeah, do that again. Mouth open just slightly. Yeah, there you go. Great. Nice.
Part of it is people skills. It's learning how to build a rapport and like, you ask them questions, and you kind of get them to feel comfortable with you, then you kind of them run around a little bit, and just having them run around and jump, part of that wasn't really what I wanted to shoot; it was more to make her forget about what's going on, and then she kind of gets warmed up and used to it. So that's another kind of technique that I like to use. Stand up actually.
Let's get something where your hands are kind of more up like that. Good. All right, good. Let's head this way. Okay, I want to do something where you're like crossing the street here. Nick: We've just got to. Model: On green. Nick: On, on green, yeah. Let me see. I think I'm going to shoot this way. So I'm going to stand over here, and you'll cross this way. Model: Ok. Nick: Or, actually maybe you'll cross this way. There we go Good, cool.
And then the other part is just like, you've got to know your camera so your not thinking about it. I can focus on the creative stuff, and I don't have to think about the technical stuff, because that's what I'm paid to do is the creative stuff. Let's see. What are we going to do with you? Maybe we'll have you kind of walking this way. just kind of carrying. Model: Okay, is this all right? Nick: Just hold it. Yeah, just like that. That's good. Spin. Good. Cool. All right, let's go this way.
We'll get's some where you are looking at the camera. Good. I like that. We might need something with your hamster cage over here. Right here. Good.
Actually, stay right there. That light's great. Looks great. I like to have props because it kind of brings more concepts to the shot and also it gets them, the talent, moving and kind of creates fun moments actually. That's the biggest reason. When we were walking across the street I saw how the light was coming this way. Like and it, the light looking on her was just like really nice. And when the bubbles were flying, it was lighting--the sun was lighting up the bubbles as well.
So that's why I like this little area. It all looks good together. The more you shoot, the more you learn. You make this decision and you look at the photos afterward. You're like, that didn't work, so I think that's how your eye grows. It's the way you see, but it's also the way that you decide what you're putting into that picture. Nick: Good. Cool. I think we're good. That was awesome. Mode: Good. That was great. Nick: Good job. That was fun. Model: Yeah.
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