Shooting from the Heart: Photo Inspiration from a Pro

For as long as I can remember, I have been curious about people’s stories and human emotion.

As a young child, I was quiet and cautious, yet observed everything and everyone around me. I grew up with a vivacious, outgoing mother who would talk to anyone she came across so, fortunately for me, I was often put in situations where I could take in many different personalities.

How I got started

I discovered my love of photography when my husband bought me my first camera in 2009. I had zero training or theory in photography. I spent countless hours online, researching how to do this or that, and finally put what I learned online into practice. I practiced a lot on my own, took thousands of photos, and second-shot with established photographers.

I had originally gone to school to become a therapist, and now found myself at a crossroads. I began to question whether to continue as a therapist or test the waters as a full-time photographer. I decided to take a chance and give photography my best shot.

From there, I grew and continued to observe what went into being the kind of photographer I wanted to become. For the most part I have operated under the maxim: “do what makes my heart beat.” Basically, I do what I like to do, and then just do it. It is the decisive, courageous part of my personality I believe in. The hardest part is determining what it is you want.

A few questions constantly rotate through my mind daily:

●  What do you want?

●  What makes you happy?

●  What do you dream about?

●  How are you going to make that happen?

Consistently challenging myself with these questions is the backbone of what inspires me in my personal life and work. I really believe we can all work out our point A to point B and achieve what we want. We have to ask tough questions in hopes that we can dig up the answers, and commit to being doers.

Surrounding yourself with the good stuff

Every day I find myself hungry to create and grow. If I am not creating I am not thriving. If I am not thriving, I am dying inside. Whether it is through photography, friendships, interior design, fashion, throwing a party, or attempting something new every day.

In college, I was given some sage advice that what you consume, you will become; you are only as good as the stuff with which you surround yourself. In essence, garbage in, garbage out.

Photo inspiration from people

As a quiet extrovert, I have always loved stories. Real emotion. Real people sharing their life stories. I shoot in a similar way as I make friends. I shoot from the heart, intentional while quietly observing. It is reactionary.

I don’t go in with a plan and map out what shots I need to get unless I am working with a team of art directors and there is a master plan. Stories are how I think. How I make meaning in life. It allows me to question, stay focused, and create genuine reactions.

For me, sharing another person’s story is best told through observations and connection. It is the best way for me to see an honest aspect in humanity. If you don’t listen and ask questions, it’s easy to capture preconceptions in photographs. If the connection is absent, it is a challenge for me to not check out quickly.

Inspiration from travel

I have an insatiable desire to understand the rhythm of life. Traveling helps me ask the question “How do I see the world?” Travel makes me uncomfortable. I enjoy the discomfort as it makes my mind work harder and see different things.

It’s easy to become lazy, stubborn, and carry on in our natural routines losing perspective of others around us. Experiencing new places helps me step back and ask “what am I doing and where am I going” on a more complex level.

The way we see our lives determines how we treat others. Experiencing distance and new places urges me to stretch my resources, ask questions, and encourage my curiosities. I call Seattle home, and during our late fall and winter months, I find myself more creative and idea-driven. I tend to think the weather has this affect on us; we all hunker down inside and spend more time working and dreaming.

Photo inspiration from films and fashion

These two are a tie for me. Content and storytelling are representative in all aspects of fashion.Some brands use famous faces or personal stories. Others have built their brand on extreme advertisements and videos. Whatever their brand is communicating, the messages ring true through the storytelling. The photographs are created to share a story of what it feels like to live in that world; to be somebody else or the person you dream up in your mind.

Dolce & Gabbana ad campaigns are one of the best in the business at creating magical lifelike stories. The setting is most often on an estate in a vineyard or on a simple backdrop creating scenes of life, culture, love, family, and celebration. It creates a strong illusion of that reality that the brand can be for anyone.

Films create a similarly compelling experience. One of my favorite films is “A Single Man,” directed by Tom Ford. Makes complete sense I would be drawn to it. It’s a story of tragic loss and how to cope with what the lead character assumes will be his last day before he commits suicide.

Set in 1962, the mood, atmosphere, and wardrobe are done to perfection and the art direction had me re­watching scenes a couple times. The camera work is so beautiful and complex. I walked around for weeks thinking about it. I am drawn to both films and to fashion which have a sense of emotion and novelty.

End game

The business I am in is photography, but the end goal is to understand the passion, love, and stories of people’s lives around me. The value is in telling a dynamic story.

You can find more of Nicole’s work, as well as her blog and social media feeds, on her website.

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Nicole Vaughn

Nicole Vaughn is a professional photographer based out of Seattle, WA. Her work has been featured at gallery shows and appeared in magazines, and her list of clients include Harper's Bazaar, Women's Wear Daily (WWD), Crate & Barrel, and Dolce Vita.