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Capturing moments that tell stories - Interview with interiors photographer, Nicole England

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

Seminar Sessions are now being held online.

When it comes to photographing architecture and interiors, Nicole England is Australian royalty. Her work has been featured in Architectural Digest, Elle Décor, Wallpaper, Vogue Living and other leading industry magazines. And her book, ‘Resident Dog’ has flown off the shelves with a sequel on the way.

Looking at her long list of accolades, you’d never guess that after graduating from the esteemed Elam School of Fine Arts, Nicole put down her camera for nine years. A detour into sales and marketing meant Nicole could return to photography with the ideal combination of business nous, industry contacts and creative talent. Over the last 10 years, Nicole has discovered that architectural photography is not just a job, it’s intrinsically linked to who she is.

“My work is not a job. It’s what I love and it’s part of me.” – Nicole England shares her love of architectural and interior photography. And dogs.

At our live online seminar session on Thursday 28th May, Nicole will share the fundamentals of working with a professional photographer to get the best results. She will also share her experience of collaborating with top international architects and interior designers on “Resident Dog II: Incredible Dogs and The International Houses They Live In”.

With the seminar only a week away, we spoke to Nicole about her diverse yet illustrious career and everything she has learned along the way.

Book your tickets to the Seminar Session: Working with a Professional Photographer - Live and Online.

The Residence of Chariie, SJB Melbourne. The Resident Dog. Photography: Nicole England

TDC: You come from a family that loves design – your brother is an architect and your mother has a flair for architecture and interiors. How did your family influence your career path?

NE: Growing up we moved a few times and ended up renovating. We engaged architects and my mother worked on the design and interiors. There were always lots of conversations about architecture around the dinner table and during family holidays. At the time, it wasn’t something I thought I’d want to photograph. I think their influence was more subconscious because it took me a long time to discover that photographing architecture and interiors is exactly what I’m meant to do.

TDC: You ended up attending the prestigious Elam School of Fine Arts at Auckland University. Can you talk about your experience there and your decision to pursue photography?

NE: The high school I went to had a big photography department. Back then, we were using film and processing our images in a darkroom. I vividly remember our teacher giving us this square made out of cardboard and asking us to look through it, to simulate looking through a camera lens. When you stand in a space your eyes are constantly moving and taking everything in. But when you hold a camera up, it allows you to concentrate on a moment. Even as a teenager, I loved that idea of distilling space into a single moment.

When I finished school, I didn’t know I wanted to be a photographer. I went to Elam because I loved the arts. In the first year, you do a bit of everything. For the remaining three years, I chose to specialise in photography. The head lecturer asked me why I had chosen photography and I replied, “Because I was hoping to make a living out of it.” He said, “Then you’re in the wrong place. This is an arts school and that’s not what we’re training you to do.”

I heard that sentiment a lot and I still hear it. But it’s not realistic. Of course you need to hone your craft and love what you do, but you also need to know how to run a business, how to talk to a client and how to manage finances. That’s what’s so good about what you’re doing at The Design Coach.

Stylecraft Melbourne Showroom by Hassell. Photography: Nicole England

TDC: So you graduated from Elam, what happened next? How did you end up crossing the ditch?

NE: I pursued fashion photography and did some work for fashion brands and advertising agencies. A magazine asked me to photograph six people for an editorial. When the magazine came out, all the images had been cropped and changed. I guess I was a purist coming out of arts school and didn’t expect someone to do that. I felt disillusioned by the commercial side of photography so I gave it up.

I started working for a furniture and interior design business in a sales and marketing role despite having no idea how to sell anything. It was incredibly scary but such a valuable experience. I wanted to move to Australia so when the company asked me to open a showroom in Melbourne, I said yes.

A year later, I moved into sales and marketing roles in the magazine industry, working with some of the top design and architecture magazines. When the GFC hit, the publishing company closed and I decided to return to photography.

Nine years learning about sales and marketing was exactly what I needed to come back to photography with the right skills and contacts. I had never shot architecture and interiors before but as soon as I started, it felt right. It was a bit of light bulb moment when I was at those first few shoots. I thought, this is who I am, this is my style, this is what I love.

TDC: How do you approach a shoot to ensure you capture the space in the best possible way?

NE: I try to get as much information as possible from the client. I ask a lot of questions about the inspiration behind the design, the process, and any hurdles they faced. I also ask them to send me drawings and pictures to get an idea of the space and the feeing behind it. I don’t go to a lot of locations before the shoot because I like the surprise of seeing it for the first time. And I don’t like to be overly planned because things change so much on the day.

I always get to a shoot early so I can walk around looking at angles and discovering how I can tell the best story. Then it’s a matter of working with the light – watching the light as it moves around the house or project, trying to catch those magical moments when the light is hitting different surfaces.

Peninsula Residence by SJB Interiors. Photography: Nicole England

TDC: Your book, ‘Resident Dog’ is an absolute masterpiece showcasing incredible homes and the lucky dogs that live in them. Where did the idea come for the book and how did you make it happen?

NE: A friend and mentor asked me to describe what my perfect shoot would look like. I said it would be photographing an amazing house on the beach or on a cliff next to the ocean with a forest behind. It would be a beautiful sunny day with a smattering of clouds. There would be a dog running around and there’d be a great crew of people to work with – the architect, designer, home owner and stylist. At the end of the day, we’d enjoy a beautiful meal together.

After this big description that incorporated all my favourite things, my mentor asked, “What’s with the dog?” I replied that I just love dogs. I love having them around, I love their personalities and the funny things they do. Photographing architecture can be quite serious and the dog will appear wanting you to throw a ball or rub its belly.

At the time I was looking for a side project, something fun and personal. I set up an Instagram account and started posting photos of projects that had dogs in them. I approached a couple of publishers and they both loved the idea of a book.

I knew a lot of the top architects throughout Australia so I got in touch and said, “I’m looking for an incredible home to photograph but it has to have a dog.” They loved the idea so much that they wanted to be involved personally.

Residential projects are definitely my favourite. Spending a day in someone’s home is magical. Capturing where someone lives is really beautiful and I feel quite honoured to do it. Add a dog and it makes for a fun day.

TDC: Do you think the book is so successful because it makes architecture more accessible to people who aren’t necessarily into architecture?

NE: Yes, definitely. The readership is wide. Architects buy the book because they love architecture. And then there are people who love dogs and want to look inside people’s homes. The people who have seen the architecture because of the dogs is amazing. There’s an emotional connection to the book which they might not have had if it focussed strictly on architecture.

There are a lot of architecture books out there that are really beautiful but sometimes serious. And there are lot of books about dogs that are a bit silly with dogs dressed in bow ties sitting on an ugly chair looking at the camera. Until ‘Resident Dog’, there were no books that combined incredible architecture with the resident dog naturally and elegantly moving within the space.

The second book is coming out in November. It’s an international version featuring 25 houses from the UK, America, Mexico City and Australia. There’s a new designer, a new publisher and we got a great writer on board. It’s very exciting to see it come to fruition.

TDC: What do you love about working with architects and interior designers?

NE: My work is not a job, it’s what I love and it’s part of me. Because of that, architects and interior designers aren’t just clients, they are friends and colleagues. We see things in the same way, we talk the same language. We have the same attention to detail in our work.

Sometimes an architect or interior designer has been working on a space for five years – they know every detail, every hurdle they had to face. When I arrive, they get to watch the space be interpreted in a different way and see it come to life in a photograph. While it’s a collaboration, they trust me to find the right angle and capture those moments.

Ovolo Hotel, Sydney by Hassell. Photography: Nicole England

Next week we are offering you the opportunity to step further into Nicole’s world and we guarantee, you won’t want to leave. Join us at our Seminar Session and find out how to effectively collaborate with photographers to promote your work in the best possible way. Book today and get ready to learn from the best in the biz.

And if you don’t own a copy of Resident Dog, you can purchase it here. It’s the ideal addition to any designer’s (or dog lover’s) coffee table.

Time & Location

Seminar Session: Working with a Professional Photographer

Live & Online seminar

Date: Thursday 28th May 2020 Time: 4pm – 6pm

Cost: $60 (includes e-book summary)

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