By Katy Cowan
Nicholas “Nico” Goodden is an award-winning street photographer and micro video content creator based in London. Producing photographs, cinemagraphs and short time-lapse clips for top brands such as adidas, Amazon and Peugeot – Nico’s work is mostly used in social media marketing campaigns.
Savvy with social media himself, he has over 100,000 Twitter followers and a substantial audience on Instagram. He regularly writes for leading publications on the subjects of urban photography and the importance of social media. In 2014, he was included in a global list of the Top 100 Most Socially Influential Photographers and in 2015 – the 20 Most Influential Street Photographers.
On the side, he also runs Street Photography London, a popular blog on the very subject. And he’s even an Olympus Visionary – one of a few professional photographers handpicked by Olympus to test-drive their new products and share their expertise.
But he wasn’t always a photographer – Nico was apparently an underground acid techno DJ for 10 years and started his career as a chef. We chatted to Nico about his creative life and work…
Tell us how your career got started? Where did you study? What was your first job? When did you launch your own business?
“I studied to become a chef actually in a French school. At the age of 14 I left my parents’ home. My first job was at the age of 17 in a top hotel in Paris. It may seem unrelated but cooking is as creative as it gets. At 21, I moved to London (I was actually born in the UK). Now if we’re talking photography, I never studied it, I actually only started shooting roughly in 2008. In 2010 I launched my website, in 2014 my limited company.”
You specialise in cinemagraphs and time-lapse photography, and have been hired by brands as big as Adidas and Peugeot. How did you adopt this type of photography? Why the ‘moving image’?
“Cinemagraphs and Time-Lapse are one of my many specialities. We are conditioned to think we can only do one thing well in life… shoot weddings, shoot new-borns, shoot portraits… I like to experiment and constantly learn new things. It’s not stopped me from getting great commissions in various areas of photography.
“I like the idea of moving image. Not so much the idea of full blown video but a crossover between photography and video attracts me… and my clients. I keep all I produce under six or 15 seconds to stick to the Vine and Instagram limits. That way brands like Amazon, Adidas, Peugeot hire me to produce social media content.”
Do you think a ‘moving image’ can better tell a story? Do you think we’ll see more of this medium in future?
“I wouldn’t say better, I’d say differently. There is a time and place for photography, for moving images, for longer videos.
“Moving images like cinemagraphs or time-lapse can grab people a little more on social media by being different, they surprise people.
“We will see more of moving pictures, for sure. For example, cinemagraphs are really everywhere already, but like photography, lots of people lack the creative vision and produce cheap looking work with poor attention to detail. Like in any creative outlet, what stands out at the end is the very best work.”
What has been your favourite project to date?
“What really matters to me is to have fun. I regularly turn down boring jobs (yet that pay well) because they are just not exciting or I just don’t click with the people. I’m not into what I do to end up hating it because I do things I don’t feel passionate about. My most exciting work is often the ones I don’t get paid for.
“As I said, I experiment a lot. For example, at the moment I am creating animations from illustrations I create. For no other purpose than to have fun. I also work very closely with Olympus cameras for who I am an ambassador. They involve me in all their latest camera releases and just a few months back I shot the images for the brochure of their latest model and therefore had access to it months before others did. That excites me.”
Aside from moving images, you’re also a ‘street photographer’ and run Street Photography London. It’s proving very popular. What is it that you love about this medium so much?
“Yes Street Photography London is really gaining momentum, now in its third year. It’s a street photography website which has featured some of the most interesting street photography globally. We spend a lot of our time and energy promoting others.
“I love to wander so street photography just dawned on me. I often walk for hours around London observing people and society, when something cool happens or presents itself, I capture it. I love that no one can predict or reproduce a moment. You can copy my photos of the London Eye maybe… but not unique moments captured in the streets.”
Is there one photograph that you’ve taken that really captures the spirit of London? Tell us more…
“Wow, tough one because the spirit of London materialises itself in different ways according to different people. It’s a hugely diverse city and it’s why I love it.
“I think London is quite a random place and some crazy shit happens all the time, yet sometimes you come across things that are so beautiful it’s hard to believe they were not set-up. They’re like a gift from London to you.
“So I’d have to say my photo of the old couple. I passed by their garden one day near Notting Hill and they were there, almost waiting for me. It was one of my first ever (non-posed) street photographs, one of my favourite still and one that made me want to shoot more.”
Why do you base yourself in London?
“Well, I love London. And with London, the more time you spend here, the harder it is to move anywhere else. First, I have created myself a niche around it, so it would mean starting again from scratch, plus if I left there would be too many things I’d miss. Food, music, walks, architecture…”
Describe your typical setup / toolkit? What lens can’t you live without?
“I don’t really like to talk about cameras. It’s not what defines me as a photographer. Like asking a painter what brushes he uses. But generally I travel light. A small Olympus camera with a manual focus lens by Voigtlander is all I need. That’s the beauty of street photography, not much is needed to create amazing photos. What you need is that moment to capture… you can’t pack that in your bag.”
“”I think London is quite a random place and some crazy shit happens all the time, yet sometimes you come across things that are so beautiful it’s hard to believe they were not set-up. They’re like a gift from London to you.”
Tell us about a typical working day. What’s your routine look like?
“I wake up very early…always, even on weekends. I don’t shoot necessarily every day, a lot of my time is spent marketing myself and catching up with old clients…
“I check my emails, send replies, check Twitter and Instagram, post on both, write articles, interview people for Street Photography London, do some business development, marketing, edit some of my work, sit down with a notepad and think about ideas, doodle a little to clear my brain… It’s very random. I DJ as well, so playing loud acid techno helps too… Sometimes I spend a day on a shoot. If not on a paid job, I’ll spend a few hours wandering…”
What have you found surprising about the photography industry? Explain why
“I think it’s not an industry where people are very clued up about selling themselves although it is changing. I often get emails from people writing ‘Hey’ or calling me ‘dude’ or something like that. I have a background working in high-end hotels and as much as it’s not always been a job I was passionate about, it’s taught me how to write emails without crossing the line of being a little too familiar with people.”
What piece of advice can you give to people just starting out in photography?
“Be careful taking all you read online as gospel. It’s possible nowadays for anyone to launch a website and be a self-proclaimed expert who’ll make you think it’s easy to succeed. It’s not.
“But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way, just take everything with a pinch of salt and use good judgement.”
You’ve been very successful on social media with 100K+ followers on Twitter alone and were recently named in the Top 100 Most Socially Influential Photographers. What’s your secret?
“My secret is hard work and being nice to people as much as possible. I also try not to just talk about my work on social media. I spend a lot of time promoting others and sharing useful tips and articles to my audience. The clue is in the ‘social’ of social media.
“If you just talk about yourself, you end up being like that person we all know who only talks about themselves… bit boring isn’t it?
“When others are sitting on their couch watching TV, I’m still working. I work long hours. But when you are passionate it doesn’t feel like work and it does pay off. It didn’t happen overnight, but if you keep at it every day, it’s possible.”
You’ve been on Twitter for over six years. Have you found it’s changed much? For better or worse? Tell us more…
“People in the past six years have definitely wised-up. The days are gone when people thought Twitter is pretty much sharing a 140 character tweet like ‘Just had a coffee, I love coffee #coffeeaddict’. Twitter has huge potential for businesses obviously, and for creatives for sure.”
You’re a master of your own PR and understand the value of getting great coverage, particularly online. How have you managed to get so much media attention?
“Not sure about master, but I try. If you love what you do, work had to get your very best work and only your very best out there – I believe people will take notice. It also works a bit like a snowball. Start with one article, then a second… and it will speed-up eventually and gain momentum.”
“My secret is hard work and being nice to people as much as possible. I spend a lot of time promoting others and sharing useful tips and articles to my audience. The clue is in the ‘social’ of social media.”
What other marketing tricks and tools have you found especially helpful in attracting new clients and getting your name out there?
“Email marketing is actually still alive and well. Build mailing lists and send email newsletters. Just don’t over-do it.
“I can easily predict that soon we will see Twitter needing to monetise since they are on the stock market and share-holders will want to see returns. How will they do that? Like Facebook or Google… tweets will rank organically or paid tweets will take first spot. You tweet – unless you pay – will not appear at the top of your followers’ feeds. Bye bye ‘free’ marketing via Twitter.
“Also, don’t put all your eggs in the same basket. Instagram is big too and my second favourite after Twitter. It’s all about staying up-to-date with trends. It’s ever changing so you just need to stay on top of it all.”
Any blogs that are worth a mention that you follow and/or have appeared on?
“I enjoy Fstoppers. It’s a great resource for photographers written by real experts.
“They have high quality articles and they don’t post their articles six times a day until all their followers get nauseous. I think the problem these days with blogs is that everyone is so desperate for content that many just repeat always the same articles, only written a bit differently. Plus so many are spelt really badly, which puts me off.”
What’s currently on your reading list?
“I just read The Alchemist, which was really excellent. Recently read The Martian, before I saw the film. That was good too. And Capturing the Light, a very good book on the invention of photography, fascinating actually.”
What do you do for fun?
“I draw… not so well. And then I create animations from it, which can be seen on my Instagram among other things.
“I also cook a lot for my lovely wife. I spin acid techno vinyl… And I drive a classic French 2CV in the Dorset countryside.”
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be and what would you be doing?
“I wouldn’t mind being on a beach to be honest. I’m lucky that I’m heading to Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand soon for three weeks and I will not be checking Twitter, emails or anything. You have to allow yourself a break.”
You’ve just launched London Wonderland – a collaborative project with your sister, who’s an illustrator. Tell us about the series and what drove you to create this body of work?
“My sister, Cecile Vidican, is a very talented illustrator based in the US but she hardly gets the praise and recognition she deserves. So I wanted to collaborate with her and see what I could do to help her get her work seen by more people.
“We jointly picked eight of my best London urban landscapes and I let her imagination do the rest. Free reign to draw all over my photos pretty much. I had no doubt she’d kill it and she did.
“Personally I look at the work we created and I’m very proud. I also feel like she’s done all the work… all I did was take photos… big deal!”
What’s it like working with your sister? Do you ever fall out and disagree? How do you make it work?
“I can’t count the number of times people have asked me to collaborate yet not one has ever been able to suggest any ideas or even follow up.
“With my sister it was a no-brainer. I knew I wouldn’t have to say a thing, she’d just get it. We get along very well and her having free reign means there is little to disagree on. Plus she’s in the US so we’re not on top of each other!
“She has two little kids who think I’m some sort of rich celebrity. Now that her work has been featured they asked her if that means she’s famous too. They’re cool kids.”
If you had the chance to go back and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
“Anything negative that will happen in your life will serve its purpose even if it’s not obvious immediately. When you are in a good place, think about all the bad times before that have led to where you are now. It’ll help you during future tough times.
“People who put you down and try to succeed by making you fail will make you stronger and motivate you to kick their asses… and you will.”
To find out more about Nicholas, visit nicholasgooddenphotography.co.uk, or follow him on Twitter or Instagram.