Nicole knew from an early age that she wanted to be an artist, but it wasn’t until high school that she discovered photography after taking a darkroom class and soon developed paying clientele as a junior, photographing her classmates’ senior portraits and teachers’ weddings.
It’s no surprise that during this time that she began exploring the work of portrait and fashion photographers she admired such as Annie Leibovitz and Patrick Demarchelier. An active member of the local ASMP chapter, Brandi voiced her interest in becoming a fashion photographer.
“Well, you have to move to New York City,” she was told. And she did, “Four years ago, right after graduation I drove out with my father to NYC to move despite never visiting before. I have not looked back. It was the best decision I ever made.” The excitement of moving to NYC overcame any fears she had.
Currently based in Brooklyn, Brandi’s style has evolved over the years and while she still does a lot of commercial work and weddings, she loves photographing people and considers herself, first and foremost, a fine art and portrait photographer.
“I used to experiment a lot with my style, trying to find my voice and where I fit in the photography world. I started to think about who and what inspires me, paintings, fashion or nature and try to morph my photography to fit that aesthetic.”
Brandi has “honed in on a very feminine, whimsical style,” explaining that, “I feel that it speaks my truth.
It represents ideals I believe in; embracing femininity, expressing inner beauty, and empowering the subject while also expressing myself creatively as an artist.”
“Ultimately, when I’m in the studio, I’m getting inspiration from the model’s energy, how their outfits flow, the props they gravitate towards,” she says. “It’s very collaborative.”
While you can find just about anything you need in New York City, the one commodity that’s always challenging is space; Brandi shoots in her apartment’s tiny bedroom, living rooms, or rents a studio.
“Usually when I get inspired I have to shoot right then. I once got gifted a ton of flowers from a wedding and spent the next day photographing self portraits for hours, changing makeup, props, and lighting.”
For lighting, Brandi shoots with the compact Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL Dual To Go Kit, a two head kit that’s ideal for the small spaces she shoots in.
She discovered the ELB 500 TTL while looking for a lighting kit to use for a commercial shoot. Contracted for an ongoing job with a large tech company she was “tasked with photographing professional headshots and needed something I could easily carry from my apartment in Brooklyn to Manhattan.” The ELB 500 TTL fit the bill, the entire kit can fit in her Tenba backpack or in a wheeler bag with her computer, camera and lenses. “The kit is so small,” she says, “it blows my mind.”
In addition to the Nikon D850, Nicole prefers to shoot with the Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8, the 85m f/1.4D, and a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens. A Fujifilm Instax Wide Instant camera is also never too far away, which allows her to grab quick prints of a shoot (and give a copy to the model). She often adds textures and grain to her images in post-processing.
After that job, Brandi took some time to do some personal shoots with the ELB 500 and has been using it ever since. A 3-foot Rotalux Octa is her modifier of choice and she will usually attach one ELB 500 head to a boom arm for overhead lighting. “The unit is so small and light, sometimes you don’t even need a counterbalance, it’s not going anywhere,” says Brandi.
While compact size and portability were key to her decision (“Their size and weight was a major factor in purchasing the lights”), Brandi also appreciates the kit’s ease of use and the Skyport control to remotely change individual power settings. She usually shoots wide open so the ELB 500 is generally set to low power and are exceedingly fast with almost non-existent recycling time. Yet she pushed herself to do something a little different during a recent shoot by using the ELB 500 at full power to backlight a subject noting that “I can get a variety of different types of lighting with this one little kit.”
And the inspiration to go to new places with the ELB 500 TTL doesn’t stop there. Brandi hasn’t yet shot with the lights outdoors but given their portability and rugged build to protect the pack against the elements, she has a long list of photos that she would like to capture. “I’m dying to shoot a ballerina in a wooded area or a meadow or even near the water and these are perfect to take on location. I can even shoot self-portraits on location now which was never possible with other kits because they were too cumbersome.” But those self-portraits may have to wait; she’s currently planning her outdoor ballerina shoot.