Interview #17 - Nicole Lim

Nicole Lim is a freelance portrait photographer from Malaysia. 

I just love how vibrant and subtle her portraits are. I have previously mentioned, I like how female photographers create beauty in their own perception.

You can check her Favourite Five here. You can see her portfolio, her Facebook page (The Pixel Bunny), her Instagram (@jesuistigerlily) and if you’re a Twitter geek, she is also there

Credit: Happyfingers Photography

Credit: Happyfingers Photography

Tell us about yourself? 

My name is Nicole and I’m a 24-year-old brand executive from Kuala Lumpur. I’ve been doing freelance photography for about 4 years now. 

What’s happening with you lately?

I completed my degree about 5 months ago and jumped right into corporate slavery. It’s been tough balancing work and creative stuff but I still try to make time to shoot and meet people. Easier said than done though!

What draws you into photography, specifically shooting portraits?

That’s easy – faces. I’m drawn to faces and expressions. My thing is taking someone’s away insecurity about their looks and turning it into something they can appreciate and think, “Hey, I’m just as beautiful as any model in a magazine.” 

I have many younger friends and I know what it’s like to be insecure about my looks (and still am), so I started shooting to prove a point and it turned out to be something I continue to pursue, even now.

Do you remember your first ever shoot?

Absolutely. It involved flowers and glitter and some really amateur directing but that was the one that started it all.

How’s the photography scene over there in your perspective?

I like that it’s becoming saturated with more ideas and perspectives but to be honest, my number one pet peeve is that anybody can be a ‘photographer’ these days without really understanding the amount of work and commitment it takes. While there are some who really shine, there are many others who drop this hobby because they don’t have the same drive as the rest do, and are just in it for five minutes of ‘fame’.

However, you can always count on great images from people who’ve been honing their craft for a while and are instantly recognizable by their style and the nuances in their imagery.

Are you comfortable shooting on your alone or collaborating with others?

A little bit of both is great. Being alone means it can go any way you want it to, but collaboration usually ends with camaraderie and some amazing variation in your images due to different directives and ideas from others.

What are your challenges being a photographer?

Not being able to deliver images to clients on time! My day job is relatively demanding and I just don’t have the motivation to work on deliverables even though I know I should. Time management is a bit of a challenge at the moment – still trying to strike a balance between work and other work.

Personally, I’m facing a bit of a creativity block at the moment. Being in a corporate environment all day doesn’t do much for my creative self and I’ve been trying to work on new processing methods and different perspectives. 

How does the environment you’re living in influence your photography? 

I have a pretty laid-back approach to life and I take things as they come. I would consider that a factor in my photography because I like things to appear effortless and as natural as they can be.

Define your style of photography

Ooh, this is a tough one. I struggled with my style for about a year before I kind of transitioned into something that people were saying they could recognize from the first look. That was great because it meant that I was getting the hang of things and becoming more consistent.

I think my style is subtly feminine and I do like emphasizing facial features like the eyes or bone structure. I have a penchant for fairly close up portraits with the subject fully engaging the viewer. The background also matters because I believe in an overall aesthetic, not just focusing on the subject alone.

Do you have certain aesthetics or method of shooting?

Try to fit everything you want into the frame, haha! Anything that’s not relevant, get rid of it. Honestly, if there’s something I’m good at, it’s making images look like they’re more than what they seem. I try my best to deliver a certain aesthetic to the viewer and I always have an idea of how I want the images to be processed, even before I start shooting.

Describe how do your approach your work

I’m quite methodical when it comes to preparing a shoot. There have been many occasions where too little planning went into the shoot and everything went completely off the rails. Total waste of time for everyone.

I look at Pinterest boards, other photographers’ work on Instagram and magazines to compile image samples and mood boards for everything from makeup to hair to poses. These are all really helpful platforms and I love using them because everything is already tried and tested, why not work with something that’s already produced stellar results?

As I said, I’m a pretty laid-back person and I’m totally cool if the idea doesn’t go as planned and shoot goes in a different direction. I usually have a chat with the model to explain the general idea and the look that I’m going for before getting some test shots done. I’ve also mastered the art of demonstrating a pose because there really is nothing else you can do to illustrate your vision! 

I take…a lifetime to post-process. I’m a Photoshop kind of girl and I’m so particular about processing that I will spend hours on one image to get it right. Lately I’ve sped up and started working more effectively but there are occasional relapses.

Do you have preferences for choosing subjects or models?

Yes. Portraits make up the bulk of my photos, so an interesting face is a priority for me. Good body language and the ability to take direction also play a part in my choices – though the former is usually harder to gauge especially when you engage a model through social media just based on her looks.

Any other works or photographers that you follow?

I’m constantly blown away by Bella Kotak, Siiri Kumari, Lara Jade and Zhang Jingna. These are women who have created impeccable images and made an impact in this male-dominated industry.

Locally, I admire the works of Chuan Looi and Carlos Khu. What they do is something I wish I could and would definitely like to be in their shoes one day.

Do you value quality or quantity?

Quality, any day.

In what ways that camera gears or cellphone apps matter to you in producing the work?

I love cellphone apps. For a person who loves filters and layering, I never really fancied VSCO, but I paid for Afterlight in a heartbeat and never looked back.

Gears don’t matter that much but in terms of image quality, one cannot deny that a higher end body or lens will produce better results. 

Do you earn enough as a photographer?

I work in the PR industry to feed myself so; I could be earning a bit more from photography. If only clients understood the kind of work goes into post-processing.

Who do you think are the audience of your work?

When I started out (on Instagram) my audience was mainly teens and late teens from overseas like America and Europe. After some work with friends and word started getting out, my audience expanded to a local one, but I’m still relatively low-profile if you want to compare me with people like Jeremy Choy (@bboyrice) or Bryan Lim (@bryzoid)

How much you think people will value your work?

I get a fair amount of love from the general public and my friends (and boyfriend) are all very supportive. I am lucky enough to have them say nice things about my work to people they know.

How do you cope in getting the attention through social media or word of mouth?

Badly! I get slightly embarrassed when someone proudly introduces me to someone they know and tell them what they think of my work. More often than not, that person will have seen my work before and I get a very confusing mixture of pride and embarrassment, because I don’t really tell people things like “Oh by the way, my Instagram handle is @jesuistigerlily. Have you seen my work?” It’s super paiseh, but I am actually very happy to know that people appreciate my stuff.

How do you deal with people are uncomfortable looking at your work?

There hasn’t been much discomfort when it comes to my work, but I do get some horrible remarks from random people whom I have never seen on my account before and I get really defensive because they’re usually criticizing the model and not my work per se. 

I’ve openly told people off in comments and even through direct messages. I’m a big advocate of naming and shaming and if you don’t like it; don’t look at it.

Any music that you listen to lately? Books that you read? Movies that you just watched recently?

I’m into comedies and action flicks. Anything that keeps me engaged and entertained really. My boyfriend has started me on Star Wars (I’m a Lord of the Rings girl) and I’m enjoying it so far! 

I love books with intricate imagery. I draw inspiration from passages and descriptions. My favourites include The Historian, the Pendergast series, Wicked, anything by Haruki Murakami and at the moment, I’m reading Alice - a twisted, darker version of the original.

Anything that keeps you excited in the future?

I’m looking forward to editing my ridiculously large collection of backlog whenever time permits and curating submissions for each quarter this year. Also just booked tickets to Tokyo this spring and I will be sightseeing, shooting and working with several models that I’ve already contacted! 

Any last words?

Hustle while you can, hustle to get ahead.