Interview with Wedding and Landscape Photographer Zach Nichols | SLR Lounge Artist Feature
Finding success within a single genre of photography can prove difficult enough, but award-winning photographer Zach Nichols of Zach Nichols Photography (Spokane, Washington) has accomplished that feat twice over. As you’ll discover in the following interview, Zach specializes in both wedding and travel photography. Below, Zach shares how he wound up pursuing a career in multiple genres of photography and he discusses the gear he uses for each while also offering helpful advice for aspiring photographers.
Zach, you primarily work in wedding and landscape photography. How did your journey into those two genres begin?
My photography story started in 2016. My girlfriend (now my fiancé) had a camera and I loved taking photos on it when we travelled and hiked outside. I had grown to love the outdoors in college and loved taking photos on my smartphone or whatever I had at the time. In the spring of 2016, I decided to buy my own entry level camera (a Nikon d5300) which opened up seemingly endless possibilities.
I instantly fell in love with taking photos of nature and the outdoors and started posting publicly to my Instagram account. Around that time, outdoor travel and landscape photos were very popular and my Instagram took off, hitting 10k followers in only a couple months. However great that may seem, it was actually the most harmful thing that could’ve happened to my photography. I began taking photos for other people and not just doing it for myself. My passion began to feel like an obligation and so I decided to deactivate my account.
After deciding to step away from sharing your photos on social media, how did you continue to develop your skills and earn an income from taking photos?
Right around when I deactivated my account, a wedding photographer from Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho named Brent Looyenga got in contact with me out of the blue and asked me if I would be interested in photographing weddings as his second photographer. It paid pretty well and I knew weddings could be quite lucrative if you find success so I said yes. I spent that entire year shadowing him and asking questions, soaking up all the information I could. In the process, I fell in love with weddings and decided to start my own business, Zach Nichols Photography, in the fall of 2017. Thanks to the portfolio and expertise I had built up while second-shooting, along with competitive pricing, I was able to book 19 weddings my first season. It was a whirlwind of a year. This current season I am photographing 36 weddings and still love every moment.
[Related Reading: Interview with Tanya Parada, of Parada Studio | SLR Lounge Artist Feature]
What gear do you take with you when photographing weddings vs. landscapes? Do you use the same gear for both?
For weddings I use my two Nikon Z6’s with a Sigma Art 50mm, 85mm, and 135mm, of which I use the 50mm and 85mm the most. I also bring a Tamron 70-200 G2 but only shoot at 200mm at f/2.8 as it matches my style the best. For weddings, prime lenses are invaluable in the extra light they let in during tough lighting situations, and they also represent a stylistic choice of mine in separating the subjects from the background.
For landscapes I use my Nikon D850 with a Tamron 15-30mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm. I also tend to bring my Sigma Art 50mm for travel portraits, subjects, and outdoor product marketing. Lastly, I also own a DJI Mavic 2 Pro, which I use when and where it is legal.
After jumping heavily into wedding photography, how or when did you make time to reconnect with your love of photographing landscapes?
After deactivating my Instagram, I began taking photos of whatever I wanted and doing it more out of enjoyment than necessity. Over time, the passion began to grow once more. I started selling prints of my work in my local area, which further ignited my passion. There is something completely different about seeing your work in print versus simply seeing it on a screen. It gives one’s work a whole new life. After a year and a half away, I reactivated my Instagram. However, this time I did not feel the same draw or need to post like I did before. It is something I do when I want, but it doesn’t feel like an obligation.
One of the more unique things about your photography is the overlap of landscapes and weddings in your work. Is that something your clients ask you about when they hire you to photograph their weddings?
It is actually one of the largest draws for my clients in the wedding industry because there is a large overlap between genres for me. One of my favorite things to do with weddings is to include couples in amazing outdoor scenery. However, therein lies one of the largest issues that I think most hybrid photographers struggle with – how to include the couple in amazing scenery while balancing the scenery with the couple. It has taken me years of practice to perfect and it’s still something I work on all the time. On one side, if you are taking photos of a couple, it can be easy to blur the background too much to where the couple are the only focus. On the flip side, it can be easy for the couple to be lost in the beautiful scenery. In my mind, I want the couple to be the first focus, directly followed by the landscape.
When shooting landscapes, how do you choose what to photograph and how to capture it?
When I ask myself that question, the first thing I think of is that I always have a subject in my photographs. It is VERY rare that I photograph an entire landscape without a focus on a particular subject. I think this is where my carry-over from weddings comes from. One of the ways I prefer to bring focus to that subject is that I tend to shoot wide open 90% of the time, rarely going above an aperture of f/4. This is very uncommon for many landscape photographers but is something I do very consistently. Another thing I take from weddings is that I tend to start big and work small. I love taking photos of the larger scale and then working my way down to taking photos of smaller details or “parts” of the landscape.
To expand on the previous question, how much planning goes into capturing your landscape photos?
Many times when going on a trip, I have particular places I want to see or a list. I scout things out on the internet as much as I can and ask friends through social media if I am trying to get to a hard-to-find location. I tend to travel light and take only what I need. When on location, I live by two things; being open minded and being patient.
What I mean by being open minded is that, often times, I may have one or two photos in mind in a certain area. A good example of this is my most recent trip to Mt. Rainier. I did a hike that overlooked Mt. Rainier and wanted to get a beautiful shot of the sun setting behind the mountain. Right before the sun set, clouds rolled in and covered the mountain and enveloped the area I was in with fog. A lot of people would leave in dismay but I stayed and looked for other forms of inspiration. I took some beautiful photos of fog covered trees and even one of a raindrop falling from a branch that is one of my favorite photos to date.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring wedding or landscape photographers?
Patience is one of the most important aspects of taking photos in nature and what I believe sets some of the best outdoor photographers apart from the rest. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in one location for hours or returned days or even a year later to the same spot before I got the photo I wanted. Some of my favorite photos took days or months in the making. It is rare that nature provides the conditions or photo you want when you want it.