Interview with Nick Holmes: Getting intimate with Portrait Photography

When it comes to famous images The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the most recognized in the world. All the ballyhoo regarding it made me read about it too extensively. I never got a chance to visit the Louvre myself, but I saw many videos, clippings and read many experiences of the people seeing the image in actual. This was the 1500’s but now, as I am more focused onpho photography, I wonder what was it that made the image so eye-grabbing? What should a Photographer learn from this portrait?

As a photographer you have to take a lot of things into consideration – Composition, Poses, Lighting and the list goes on… But, as a one of the Professional Portrait photographers you have other important and often overlooked challenges as well. Focusing more on the subjects, you face challenges such as poor light, hectic work schedule and much more! How should a photographer deal with those?

professional portrait photographers - Interview with Nick Holmes

While I was searching professional portrait photographers who would answer those for you.. I stumbled upon Erica Jagger. She writes for Huffingtonpost on the sexual power of boomer women! Interesting right? She introduced me to a very talented ( I wonder how I missed him) photographer, Nick Holmes. Not getting much into details on how he was kind enough to take out time in answering these questions, I will let you onto the interview and get the answers.

Q1. When I take an interview , I usually read up a lot on the photographer’s background. But in your case (apart from the fact that you make your female subjects go weak in the knees with your looks) I couldn’t find anything. Just bits and pieces. Tell me more about yourself. Your early life, how did the passion for photography emerge?

I grew up in a small town in Kansas called Dodge City. Despite it’s adherence to the football-centric Friday Night Lights kind of midwestern town stereotype – my high school had a diverse art department that included photography and I took it every year. We shot with old Pentax K1000s and a few P30t’s, had unlimited black and white film (as long as you rolled it yourself) and access to a darkroom, studio, strobes – the whole bit. The instructor was a talented cat called Tim Schoonover and the greatest thing he taught me was darkroom technique. I spent hours dodging and burning single prints to help accentuate lighting. Gravitating always to portraiture for it’s intimacy.

professional portrait photographers - Gravitating always to portraiture


Q2. You have photographed many stars. What uniquess did it add to your skills while photographing stars like Virginia Madsen, Jennifer O’Kain, Talia Montgomery. How did it change your course of career?

If photographing celebrities adds any “uniqueness” to your skillset – it’s probably only that it leads to photographing other celebrities. The kind of work I do, for the most part, doesn’t have a commercial purpose – it’s for the individual themselves. So when I shoot a famous person, especially one that I’m just meeting for the first time, their trust in me is bolstered by the fact that I’ve been trusted by other public people. Most often I’ve been referred to them by a peer. All that said, I can’t say it’s changed the course of my career so much as it has broadened my clientele – which is fantastic.

professional portrait photographers - Virginia Madsen

Q3. Three essentials for a sensuous shoot which are most important according to you?

The most essential thing during a session, be it sensual or more traditional portraiture, is conversation. That is not to say talking, exactly – more of an environmental feeling of creative interaction. No one who has chosen to preserve some private piece of themselves in an image wants to feel objectified or be alienated from the impulse to behave honestly by a photographer’s clinical professionalism. Any abilities I have to place lights or dial in an exposure are trumped by my ability to connect with people. Other essentials: music and time. Music, even from a phone, that helps relax the person being photographed is a terrific tool. Most often the music they’ve chosen aids in their connection to the ideas or parts of consciousness that hey hope to capture and that’s half the job. Time you don’t always get – especially with famous people. But I’ll go out of my way to insist on having at least a couple of hours for a sensual shoot, regardless the client. People are inherently sensual and almost all of them have been taught to hide it – societal norm. They need time. Time to get used to me, to get used to the environment, the idea that they’re not in much clothing, the sound of the camera – all of it. Sometimes you burn an hour talking. Sometimes the second hour is less productive than the first. I’ve never had anyone insist on wrapping early – because when it all starts to work and become a collaboration above an interaction that’s an environment people want to linger in. Actors too, even with their often called upon emotional transparencies, frequently need time to become themselves in front of a camera.

professional portrait photographers - emotional transparencies

Actress Krista Rayne Reckner managed to deliver this in eight exposures during the only five minutes she had available on set to shoot. Quite the exception.

Q4. It is said that in a photograph you must strive for simplicity and get rid of the extraneous. How true is that?

For portraiture I’m not sure that’s a rule. In general, I respond to simplicity most often – but there are plenty of opportunities to capitalize on the extraneous. Like in this portrait of actor Sean Gunn. I think the three models in the background looking into camera and wearing wine bras draws more attention to the the personality of the subject than if they were absent. Sean loves this image of himself and we had a riot shooting it. Alternately, I went to London to photograph author Patricia Cornwell for the release of her excellent book about Jack The Ripper. I scouted several locations that would show London’s landmarks but it was just too much, too busy. Ultimately I shot her against a beautiful old brick wall under the Hungerford Bridge and used a strobe to throw a Hitchcock style shadow on it. Much more simple and, I think, much cooler looking.


Q5. If you were to pick one of your best picture. Which would it be? And Why?

professional portrait photographers - Hitchcock style shadow

This photo that I took in Havana a couple of years ago is a favorite. It is no kind of masterpiece. Composition is a mess. Focus isn’t perfect. But I love that place and the people. It’s an intensely vibrant environment. The faces of these three people in car watching a group of school girls cross the street are endlessly interesting to me.

professional portrait photographers - street are endlessly interesting

Q6. I remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s line: Do one thing everyday that scares you. Which would be your first?

Say “Candyman” in the mirror five times.

(I am laughing alone reading this)


professional portrait photographers - Eleanor Roosevelt's line

Q7. If you want something to look interesting, don’t light all of it. Is it true? What is your best bet in poor light during your shoots?

Again, for portraiture, it’s hard to call that scripture. For black and white I really like strong shadows – but I don’t always strive for it. Whereas for color I respond to the gamut. Poor lighting isn’t normally a factor during my sessions. Not that I don’t make misjudgments sometimes, but if I sense the lighting is poor that is a more than good enough reason not to take an exposure. …provided I’m in some kind of control. If I’m shooting a location with only existing light and it’s not a desirable condition and I MUST take the photo then and there – I just do my best. In situations like that it’s good to know what you can rescue in your post process, though I hate to shoot for the edit. Sometimes composition will save you on it’s own.


professional portrait photographers - creative collaboration

Q8. After a hectic schedule of acting and photography what relaxes and rejuvenates you? How glorious it is when it’s hectic. What a privileged to be busy. My down time is usually spent in a kitchen with friends. Again, creative collaboration. …and gin.

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