Here at Creatively Squared, we have long admired Nikki Astwood. We have watched her grow as a creator, product photographer and stylist from the very beginning of her journey.
Nikki’s neat arrangements, impeccable eye for detail and flair for colour caught our eye early when she began participating in our creative challenges. Fast forward a few years and Nikki is now a highly sought-after brand and product photographer as well as being a source of inspiration for many aspiring creators.
Resourcefulness is definitely one of Nikki’s strengths and her ingenuity is evident in her resulting imagery. From reinventing everyday items as props with a little spray paint or getting crafty with paper shapes, Nikki is well known for dabbling in a bit of DIY to bring her creative visions to life.
We were lucky enough to spend some virtual time with Nikki to get to know the creator behind the content works of art. Scroll down to see her journey from humble cat photos to stunning content creation.
Welcome Nikki! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started on your creative journey as a product photographer.
Hi, I’m Nikki from Wellington, New Zealand. When I first met my husband, I remember he was into photography and as soon as I picked up a camera, I knew it was something that I wanted to learn more about. I have always been creative and photography was the perfect way to be able to use my creativity but at that time it was all landscapes and cat photos.
When I was first introduced to Instagram, I used to use it to post cat photos (of course 😉) lots of food photos and a few holiday snaps. At the time I was in between jobs, I had studied Interior Design and from that worked out that the styling and finishing touches was what I enjoyed about Interior Design. I started getting more creative with my Instagram images and entering photo challenges like Creatively Squared. Food was an obvious first subject for me but I soon starting experimenting with products I had at home and realised that brands must need images for their products and perhaps this was something I could do.
At the risk of sounding old, product photography was not really so much of a thing back then and I always had to explain to people what a product photographer was. That was about 6 years ago and it has been all go since then pretty much!
What are some things people might not know about you?
What equipment do you currently use for your product photography?
I started out using a pretty basic Canon camera that we already had but have since upgraded to a Canon 5d Mark IV, once I start using a particular brand like Canon I find it really hard to change so I also have my eye on a new Canon Mirrorless camera. The lenses that I use are the Canon 24-70mm and the Canon 100mm Macro which I love.
In 2021 I invested in a Profoto D2 monolight and that was honestly the best thing, it has made my images much more consistent and I don’t have to worry about what the weather is doing outside! I also have a Manfrotto tripod with an extendable arm but often I much prefer to shoot without a tripod and move around my scene.
Tell us more about your lighting setup.
When I first started, I only ever used natural light because that was what was available, free and not as complicated as I thought artificial light was. Over time especially in winter it has become frustrating trying to shoot what I want to shoot with natural light so I made the switch to artificial and have not looked back. I still love natural light and use it from time to time but for me you can’t beat the consistency of artificial. I love working with harsh shadows and creating shapes and interesting patterns/shadows in my images. I always used to be so scared of shadows but once I just embraced the harsh light it quickly became one of my favourite styles.
Do you have any advice to share with aspiring product photographers?
You can’t force creativity unfortunately, it comes and goes and when you’re on a roll the best thing to do is let it flow and go for it, you will always know when you feel like you are in the zone and that is a great place to be. I remember when I had my first creative block, I had no idea what was happening and thought I had just run out of ideas, this happens to me all the time now and it can be frustrating so it is always a good idea to take a step back and work on a plan for how to deal with this situation going forward. I often find when I hit a dead end it is because something in my set up is not working so I ask myself a series of questions to calmly see if I can bring it back, often this works and just like that I am back on track.
What is one thing you wish you knew earlier about running your own business? Just how many hats you need to wear to be able to run your photography business. In the beginning I thought I was in for loads of fun days of styling and photographing maybe a bit of painting but in reality, if it is just you running your business you also need to be all the other things – customer service, accountant, marketing, set designer, tech expert (don’t love this one) website and social media expert just to name a few. I actually love doing most of these things but had no idea at the start just how much of my time I would spend doing other things that were not photography.
How do you keep learning and evolving your skills?
I love working my way through a good course and have completed a few that have really helped me. I love YouTube and always love finding new people to follow there. Books are another big one – some I have purely for photography inspo but I also love a good business or creative book.
Some great courses that I have loved: Artificial Lighting Academy by Joanie Simon from The Bite Shot – Literally a one stop shop to learn artificial lighting. Joanie also has a great You Tube channel with so many amazing resources. Rachel Korinek from Two Loves Studio – Lots of great courses but the Retouching Food Photography one helped me a lot The Moodelier course bundles are also great with loads of content to inspire and you get a look into other photographer’s processes which I always love.
Nikki practices her vignette arrangement skills by making use of everyday household items in this resourceful series. Source: @revisededitionstyle
Who inspires your own work?
I love watching Peter Mckinnon on YouTube, his photography is amazing and his videos are always entertaining. He has a few videos on product photography which are definitely worth checking out. I love the dreamy scenes that Florence James Collective creates, always so magical and inspiring and I love their use of colour. Weekend Creative are a super inspiring team, their attention to detail, beautiful set design and use of colour is amazing and they have loads of helpful business resources and a very entertaining podcast about freelance life (Per Our Last Email) which I can never miss an episode of.
What are your go-to props to use in your product styling?
What is next for you?
This year I am looking to expand my service offering which is super exciting, I have a couple of things that have been in the pipeline for the longest time!! I am wanting to learn a lot more about video and incorporate a lot more movement in my work. Typically, I work by myself so I would love to get out and about a bit more this year and see where that takes me. Also forever working on that work life balance so planning on finding lots of other non-work related activities to keep me inspired and motivated this year with a healthy dose of down time.
Thank you Nikki for being a constant inspiration to us and the Creatively Squared community since the very beginning. We really appreciate you and your creative self.
Want to be inspired by Nikki more? Check out Nikki's DIY backdrop just like this one on this blog post. Source: Nikki Astwood
Nikki Astwood is a product photographer and stylist based in Wellington, New Zealand. To find out more about Nikki pop to her website, visit her blog or follow her journey on Instagram @revisededitionstyle.
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