Monday, 22 December 2014

Creative Moments: Nicky Johnston (Exclusive)

Hello gorgeous people,

I hope you are well! Today I bring you yet another exciting interview from an amazing photographer that is Nicky Johnston. If you follow me on Instagram  you may have seen our selfie together (above) about a month or two ago. I have to say Nicky is genuinely such a lovely guy, I am so glad he agreed to an interview!

I originally conducted the interview for a university assignment but because Nicky is such an ideal interviewee, I couldn't resist publishing the interview on my blog too! In this interview you will learn a bit about Nicky's background, the amazing individuals he has interviewed and why he will be the grinch at Christmas - don't worry he has a valid reason!

Name: Nicky Johnston
Occupation: Photographer

How are you today?

I am good thank you, I am nice and chilled today, it has been a very busy week. So today has been nice as I am seeing some friends later. So I am really well.

I caught you on a good day

Yes you have

How has your week been?

It has been a bit maniac, a lot of late night working and I had that Stand Up for Cancer thing on Friday evening, till one o’clock in the morning…

…Yes that was one of my questions.

Oh okay. So I had that on Friday then I shot for a fashion piece in Idol magazine. so that was another late one, till about eleven.  And I worked all day doing celebrities so it has been a bit flawed this week.

What does a normal day for you consist of?

There isn’t one, every single day is different. That is what I love about my job. It could be a four am start or it could be a ten o’clock start in the morning. It could be not working all day but working at seven in the evening. The only thing you can never do is try and arrange social things in advance because I always have to cancel...

...Same with me.

Yeah it is a nightmare

Tell me a bit about your background?

I grew up in Liverpool. I have two brothers. One still lives there, my dad is still there, my mum died about 15 years ago.

I am sorry.

Ah thank you. So they are still based in Liverpool and I went to school there, I had a fantastic time at school, loved it. Went to comprehensive. I am still in touch with my junior school teacher.

Ah that is lovely.

Yeah, I still see her when I go home. She never looks any older. I said to her she you must be 150 by now and she looked the same. She obviously had a face-lift.

Yes obviously.

She probably also had a body lift by now. She looks amazing! So yeah, I moved to London to go to university.

What subjects did you study in university?

Well I was going to study Chemistry, at university because I have always loved Chemistry. Then a friend of mine said why are you doing Chemistry? You love photography! So I compromised and I got a place at London College of Printing, to do their BA honours in photography arts; and I turned that down. The only reason I turned it down is because I came out of the tube in Elephant and Castle. Where I thought oh my God, I can’t come to college here. Which is ridiculous I know, but that is the only reason, I never went.

So what did you end up studying?

So I ended up doing a photographical Science degree, which is the scientific side of photography because I loved Chemistry. It was at Westminister University, which then was Polytechnic of London. Which was only in Regents Street and my halls of residences was off the corner of Regents Street.

Oh wow!

So I was in heaven and in those days, you would get a full grant, it didn’t cost anything and they paid you! So I was like Oh My God I was 18. I was shopping in Bond Street every week. Spent all my grant in a month.

Yeah I am trying not to do that now!

Yeah but you don’t even get grants, you get loans! Back then it was nothing, it was just free and they gave you money. So it was amazing and I realised half-way through the course, that I didn’t want to be a Photographic Scientist, but my theory was if I didn’t make it as a Photography I could make it into research; but fortunately it worked out, so I didn’t have to do that.

When were you first introduced to a camera?

Through my dad who was a part time wedding photographer and when I was about 12, 13 I started picking this camera up and getting him to try and explain to me why, and what was the aperture? And how does this work? I used to drive him mad! And he bought me this little book with match-stick men in it, explaining the aperture and the shutter and it was fantastic. So it was through my dad really.

Ah lovely. How did you become established?

I think it is just a very gradual thing, I was very lucky, when I left college I assisted some guy for nine months, doing still life photography and it was just terrible. He was just vile. Everything I did was wrong and he was just a horrible person to work with. Then a friend of mine who was in the BBC and was the head of Graphics asked if I would come in and take some pictures for her. As she needed a building to go on the news at 9. So I started doing that, then they offered me a contract and I was there for 3 years. And I worked on everything from dramas to news programmes, Top of the Pops, Blue Peter. We used to go into all these different studios, when television centre was in its hay day. And I met loads and loads of people that way, doing portraits of presenters because they needed pictures doing.

Like Headshots?

Yes headshots, and things, then I would be able to do drama’s the next week. So it was fascinating to go into these studios and Top of the Pops studio. All these programmes, I grew up with and to suddenly go into them and take the pictures which was amazing! It was a fantastic time. I was there for three years than I left there and went freelance. Which was the time all the independent TV companies were formed. I don’t even think Channel 4. So all these people who worked for the BBC went off and set up their own companies. So I knew them, from having worked with them at the BBC. So that is when they would say can you come and do come pictures for us. So it was just the timing, I supposed that is how. Also I got my pictures published in magazine and people started knowing my name.

So it is just a very gradual thing. I don’t think it is something you can force, it just happens.

How long have you been shooting for now?

About 30 years now It is a long time. Oh God.

That means you must be good at it?

Well I dunno, I still get booked so.

What camera, in your professional opinion are the best for getting iconic shots? Which one/s do you use?

I don’t think there is a best camera for anything I think it is the person using it. It really has nothing to do with the camera. I have loads of different cameras. My main one, I use for the majority of my work is my Cannon 5d mark 3. But I have lots of different compact smaller cameras that you can use for different things. You know thin ones, fat ones, bigger ones for all different ones. It is not the camera, cameras are useful for the facilities they have on them but it is not the camera that takes the picture.

How would you describe your photography style?

Well I don’t think I have got a style, but people say to me, that I have. Oh I recognise that as one of your pictures, but I don’t. I honestly think I don’t have a style. I have been doing more fashion now and some people have been saying I have one with that, but I don’t think I do. I do whatever I see I suppose. We all have different ways of working.

What was it like working with Lindsay Lohan on the cover shoot for The Mail on Sunday Event magazine? (Last year)

Oh Lindsay was great in New York and we had this location house, which was just amazing! It had real Picassos on the walls and I saw it recently on an episode of The Good Wife and I was like Oh My God that is the house we were shooting in. It was a party scene and I was like oh that is the house.

Everyone said oh Lindsay Lohan she is going to be a nightmare! But she wasn’t, she turned up 20 minutes late, which in New York is not bad considering the traffic and she was great. She did everything we wanted to do and she was really nice all day. Around lunchtime Piers Morgan came and did the interview with her. Then we shot a couple more shoots with her in the afternoon and it was great! She wanted to go off to Barney’s and take some picture there but we had hired all the equipment and the man had arrived to pick up all the equipment. So I told her Lindsay I can’t because I didn’t have a camera, because we even hired that! So we had nothing. She was fantastic.

What was the idea behind the shoot?

As it was an interview with Piers Morgan, I thought it would be stripped back instead of those gorgeous big fur coats!

Do you still keep in contact? As I know Lindsay is in London for her new play ‘ Speed-the-Plow’? Will you be seeing it or have you already?

No I haven’t been in contact with her but she was at Stand Up to Cancer event on Friday. And she was supposed to have her picture taken as I was the photographer from Heat magazine and she didn’t. She had to go off, she came in after the play or something. She was in the building for half an hour, did the on air thing and then she was gone. So that was a shame.

I saw you were backstage with Heat magazine for Stand up to Cancer on Friday night, how was that?

Oh it was fun, we had a backstage area and we had everything set up as a laboratory and we just got people in. Heat want really specific people, so we only did about 10 people in the end. But it was fun. It was late though. Till about half 12 when the show was finished and I was like ugh because we started the day doing another job in the morning. Then we finished at lunch with little bit of a gap. Then we went to that, so I was knackered.

I can imagine. All the people you have photographed seem so comfortable in front of the camera, how would you describe your affect on people?

I often imagine, if I was walking into a studio and there were 20 people in front of me that I have never met before in my life I would be nervous. Most actors and presenters, hate having there picture taken because it is different than being on TV or filming because they are playing a role or reading the news. So I often think, how would I feel if I walked into that studio. So I suppose you just need to make it not serious of heavy. You have to make it a nice light atmosphere. So they don’t think oh this is awful and I am going to be here for hours. You have to be prepared, the stylists need to have the clothes ready to show the celebrity, hair and make-up have to be as quick as possible and all the lightings and set-ups have to be ready.

There is nothing worse for someone sitting in as you are trying to start lighting there. I think it is really unprofessional because then they are going to get uncomfortable. I think you just need to chat to them and not necessarily about them or what their new show or play is like because then the focus is more on them. So involved them in the conversation of Oh My God did you see that crazy bitch of TV last night or something. Something that is not necessarily about them Interestingly people seem to like that, because then they are only joining in on the chat with everyone in the studio rather than like tell us about your life.

We are not there to interview them they will do that after the shoot. The photographer role is different to the journalist role. They have to ask the elephant in the room question that no one wants to talk about. Whereas our role is just a light-hearted fun happy thing. I think that is how you make them more relaxed.

Do you always have a plan on how a shoot is going to turn out, or do have room for improvisation?

No there is always room for improvisation, obvious you need it because you never know how something is going to turn out. I mean say we are going to shoot someone in that chair there and we try is out with the assistant or stylist and if it looks terrible, you do have to have a plan. Often I would talk to the stylist and say I want this on that brown chair, what can work on that. She might go brown trouser suit or orange or whatever. So you talk to the stylist and work out what you are going to do. I don’t think you can just go oh I will just try something when they get here. As you don’t have the luxury of time. They might be with you for 20 minutes and you need to get 5 looks. So you have to be planned and pre-light everything. And you have tested it so you know exactly because time is of the essence.

You have shot with actors, athletes and musicians, to name a few professions but what I want to know is, who is the easiest and hardest to work with?

Well I have to say I had never had any nightmare clients but surprisingly the easiest to work with was Justin Bieber. He was absolutely adorable and everyone says he is an arsehole and he gets such bad press but he was absolutely charming!  So polite we had two hours with him in Seattle. He was just adorable to work with. Really simple, he did everything we wanted him to do and I wasn’t expecting that. I thought it would be difficult like I thought with Lindsay. They were the two people who really surprised me.

And the hardest?

I have a couple of actresses who obviously I won’t say there names who were incredibly difficult but mostly comes down to insecurity. It was years ago and I didn’t really realised that and I thought well they were a bitch! They are insecure about they way the look or the dress looks. Of course that was before digital and everyone knows they have get retouched so it has it’s plus and minuses. Which means I spend my life retouching people. It means they can eat roast dinner for lunch and it won’t show up later.

How do you keep your pictures that you have produced, that are perhaps unseen. Are they in an archive?

My pictures are syndicated to an agency called Camera Press who have been established since 1910 or something. They syndicate all my pictures for me then I get them back. Everything else is backed up onto hard drives, it used to be on the DVDs and they are draws of the bloody things. Before that, they are all transparency that are all in the loft. They have all been scanned and they are just millions of them.

If you weren’t a photographer, what professional do you think you would be? You did say about science?

I know yes when I was a student I really thought so but the thought of being inside the same building everyday, I couldn’t do. I know it is so funny friends of mine who work in offices they could never be freelance, they like that routine of being in the office at 9 and leave at 6. That for me is like my worst nightmare. I would last a week. I would say something terrible like Oh fuck off. I don’t know, I often think if it all went wrong, I honestly don’t know. What the hell I would do! I love gardening but I am not great at it. I honestly don’t know, I don’t have a clue what I would do.

Well that is good, it means you are meant to do this is that what is means?

Oh God I hope so.

What can we expect from Nicky Johnston to come? Do you have any exclusive shoots you have let us in on?

Well obviously I can’t, I am doing more fashion next year - which is great. My fashion stuff should be on my website in the next few weeks. I would like to do more fashion again and do some more trips. We have been to Spain we have a house in Spain. We have been there twice this year, in Cadiz – in southern Spain. We did a couple of shoots there for a week, so it is great shooting there at 6 o’clock in the morning, finish at 11 and you are off all day. It is lovely and warm. They do good wine. It was fab so more of that hopefully.

Have you done any Christmas shoots?

Oh since bloody February. See what happens Christmas come and I can’t bare to put the wreath around the fire. There was a massive fashion Christmas shoot here a few weeks ago, we had trees up, wreaths, 3 models. So I have done Christmas since February. So I hate it! 

Nicky's links:

I hope you enjoyed this post lovelies,
Until next time

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