Since her service in the U.S. Navy has been over, Nicole S. Young hasn’t stopped moving, nor taking still images. Originally from Nebraska, she’s had a stint in Hawaii, and is currently living in Utah south of Salt Lake City. Her sights are now set on relocating to Seattle, where she’ll reopen her studio and concentrate on professional food photography and lifestyle portraiture.
Transitioning to a career in photography was natural for Young after her military service. She shot digitally for the navy, and describes moving into her civilian career as “progressing slowly and organically.” She started shooting and submitting her photos to iStockphoto, and things grew from there. “They have an approval process for images, and when they get rejected, you learn every single time what you did wrong with your image,” she explains. “I really started pushing myself to make photos that I thought would sell.”
Young claims it took considerable time before she felt comfortable saying, “I’m a photographer.” Since then, she’s written several books for Peachpit Press, including Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots, Canon 60D: From Snapshots to Great Shots, and Canon 7D: From Snapshots to Great Shots, which have proven she knows what she’s doing.
Originally a Nikon shooter, Young exclusively uses Canon cameras and lenses these days. She has been an iStock contributor for almost five years, and they now solely represent her stock photography. Fully aware of the changes the stock photography industry has undergone since the advent of the Internet, Young takes her stock work extremely seriously and supplies the best quality images she thinks will sell in this evolving market.
“I really enjoy what I’m doing now and it’s this great lifestyle. I love what I photograph. I get to choose what I photograph and I’m not working for anyone but myself,” she says of her stock photography career. “Of course I try to come up with things I think people will want to use and license in their design, but I hope it doesn’t change. I hope things stay the way they are for me because I really love what I’m doing. It allows me to do other things. It allows me to have time to do books or other jobs or travel.”
Keeping a list helps maintain a steady flow of work into her archive on iStockphoto. Inspired by food, Young makes notes whenever anything catches her eye on television or in a restaurant. She often goes to grocery stores and puts together subject matter for her own photos. People she knows also help her with opportunities. A friend recently had a baby, and Young traded newborn photos for a signed release enabling her to sell some of the images in her stock collection.
Young also enjoys instructing. She’s done everything from podcasts to shooting helpful Photoshop tutorials on her site. Young is an accredited Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop CS5. An avowed “Photoshop person,” she still attempts to get her images as perfect as possible in-camera. “I like Photoshop as an addition to enhance the photo a little bit,” she says. “The stock photos I create are very traditional. I do food photos or happy people doing real-life things, and I don’t want them to look Photoshopped. My goal is to take a photo and make it look like I didn’t do anything to it. There’s a lot of Photoshop that’s involved to make it look that way, but it’s mostly just cleaning it up, and I don’t do a lot of composite work. It would be hard to live in a world without Photoshop.” Young also uses Adobe Lightroom for her RAW processing. She estimates she edits five hours for every hour of shooting she does.
Before getting to postproduction, however, it all begins with lighting for Young. “My goal is to light it so it doesn’t need a lot of changes later,” she says. “I don’t want it to be blown-out, but I want it to be bright.” She feels luminosity adjustments are fine to do sparingly in post, much the way a film photographer would do in a darkroom.
Using a Sekonic L-308s meter helps Young get the light values she’s looking for before she spends a lot of time shooting and reshooting to get her exposures right. She meters for both available light and her strobes, which she fires with PocketWizard Plus II radio triggers. “I do meter for the natural light,” she says. “That kind of gives me an idea of what my aperture’s going to be or what I need to push my strobes to. I did a little bit of a mix for a portrait yesterday, a mix of natural and studio light.”
“One thing that is good to have a light meter for is—especially if I’m in the studio—I’m almost always shooting at ISO 100,” says Young. “If I meter something and set my camera to it and it’s way overexposed, it’s because my ISO is too high. The meter is a good check to make sure your settings are correct, even if you think they are.”
“If you’re doing a portrait and you meter the face, you meter the hair light, you meter the background light. It’s so much easier, and gets you a good starting point, then tweak things if you need to. When you’re looking through the camera you can position the light. I love my light meter. I do a lot of simple set ups, like a food set up, and I’ll just need two lights. It’s so easy to just place the lights and meter. Pop, pop, pop. ‘Okay. I got a f/4, I’m good. Make it the back. OK. I’m done. Now I can shoot it.’ It’s exactly what I need.”
Add a little tasty subject matter, some measured light, and stock photography purchasers are happy. We hope this talented shooter continues to get what she needs after relocating and opening her studio in Seattle. Best wishes, Nicole!
Written by Ron Egatz