Los Angeles Magazine
Creative Director: Steven Banks
Art Director: Carly Hebert
Photo Editor: Amy Feitelberg
Photographer: Nicole LaMotte
Heidi: I know your astrology sign is cancer, how much to you think that plays into your love of shooting home/interiors and your philanthropic work?
Nicole: I definitely think my astrology sign plays into my love of interiors…cancers are home bodies at heart, always needing a home to call their own. Even as a child, I was always aware of my sense of home, rearranging furniture in my room to create a different feeling (or maybe just trying to get a better pov for camera ;)) As an undergrad I studied photojournalism at Columbia College in Chicago and without realizing it until later was the very first books I bought were interiors. I bought the “Family Houses by the Sea” by Alexandra D’Arnoux and then Isle Crawford’s “The Sensual Home”. I am drawn to the feelings that a curated space can provide. The philanthropic work really helps to balance me out. As a cancer, I am definitely sensitive and not just about my own feelings. The first time I traveled to Haiti and saw the looks in the the eyes of the orphans, I had a visceral reaction that compelled me to go back and find ways to help. One way was through my pictures, but I also recruited an artist friend, Rebecca Farr, to come along and bring the gift of art and self-expression to the children.
You were also a photo editor, where you always shooting and editing?
I have been shooting most of my life, it just has not always been my livelihood. In my twenties I had a career in the corporate travel world which not only gave me a great business background but also afforded some amazing travel benefits…and that is when I would do most of my shooting–while on my travels. I would love coming back from a trip and editing the pictures and making a book (the old fashioned way, with prints and albums). But, when I turned 30, I decided it was time to get back to photography which is when I transitioned into the magazine world. My photo editing career started at Santa Barbara Magazine and then ended at C Magazine. I worked with Margot Frankel at both places, she brought me down to LA to help launch C Magazine.
Is it hard to edit your own work? What’s your process?
Depending on what I am editing, the process can be very difficult. Shooting a story tethered is relatively easy, with the exception of portraits, as you are able to watch the story develop. When not shooting tethered, I will usually do a first pass edit with one rating and then wait as long as I can (depending on assignment due date) and take a second pass which usually consists of looking at the rated ones and knocking some down. Sometimes I find it helpful to look at a shoot in the “proof shoot” view, again going back to my photojournalism training, and looking at images smaller to see what grabs me. When editing for a show or my website, I always need an outside perspective as I cannot easily separate myself from my work.
When did you decided dedicated yourself to photography only?
After spending about six years as a photo editor, I decided that it was really time to go out on my own. Producing shoots became less fulfilling and I needed to focus on my passions.
What was your big break?
My big break really came from a dear friend, Andrea Stanford, who had come from the magazine world and was launching a new division at One Kings Lane. She needed a photographer to shoot the leading interior design tastemakers for online sales. I helped her to establish the processes and then began shooting regularly which allowed me to support myself. It was an incredible feeling to have such a supporter – someone that believes in you completely. I ultimately started working at the company full time, and did so for 2 years, which granted me incredible access to the interior design world. And I loved meeting all of the interesting people and shooting such a range of spaces from super layered to incredibly streamlined.
You have a strong understanding of the narrative arc, does that stem from your magazine editing work?
As a photo editor, I worked closely alongside an incredibly talented creative director, Margot Frankel. I would sit with her while she laid out stories, so I really did gain an incredible understanding of how images can tell a story and the need for scale changes; she has an incredible way of laying out images that is unexpected and fluid. Being on shoots as the photo editor also allowed me to observe the process of developing the story arc.
How often do you work for LA Magazine?
This was my first time working for LA Magazine. They had seen my other story on Lulu and wanted to house so there was not a ton of direction on the story. The writer was on set for this one so we were able to collaborate on the important elements of the house/story as it unfolded. It is always nice when you can get tidbits of the interview to help inform the richer part of the story; I find you can uncover a lot layers this way, like maybe a collection that isn’t full on display or pieces of art that are significant. The magazine asked for coverage and gave me a template of the house layouts to use as a loose reference. They wanted to be sure I covered as much as possible in both a horizontal and vertical format to help with the layout and maximizing the images for a four page story.
What are some key tips for shooting people in their environments?
When shooting someone in their environment I like to have conversations with them about their house and what spaces they use the most so that they are comfortable in the environment. Lulu is use to being photographed so I didn’t need to worry as much with her. Sometimes it is nice to have the homeowner in a space that otherwise might not feel complete, in the case of Lulu, I loved the front entrance with the rug down and the assortment of jars but felt like it would be much livelier with her in it (and to avoid a dark whole which the door would be).
What happens on a cloudy day when you have a job? Do you try and simulate sunlight?
Cloudy days are actually good, except when you are shooting people as it brings down the overall light. I try to avoid the harsh light when shooting interiors and move around the house accordingly. I really like the feel of natural light. The challenge is when I have to light someone and making it feel cohesive with the rest of the story which is natural light. So I work from my ambient and then add just a pop to to give a little direction without looking too lit.