“Picasso once said ‘good artists borrow, great artists steal,’” photographer Niki Phillips told us in an interview. “And that’s kind of what we did with this photo. But definitely want to give the credit to Jordi (Koalitic) for having this awesome idea. He’s insanely talented and outrageously creative.” Niki is a duo along with his wife, Aubrey. To create this mesmerizing portrait, the two did some spur-of-the-moment work.
Niki Phillips and His Photography
Life hasn’t always been kind to Niki. 2015 and 2016 gave him some of the worst years of his life. Besides being in a scarring relationship, he was attacked outside of Baltimore. This left him with a broken leg and in a wheelchair for 6 months, let alone a metal plate and screws. Being told that he’d probably never run again, he picked up photography as a hobby during his recovery.
Then he met Aubrey, and this is where the story starts to put a smile on your face. “I needed to get my life together and become a better version of myself if I was going to give her and our relationship everything it deserved,” Niki tells the Phoblographer. “In February of 2017, I decided to go out on a 3-month road trip throughout the US. Wholly unprepared for this journey – I quit my stable, well-paying job, dusted off the camera, hopped in my 15-year-old car with over 200,000 miles on it, and set out on an adventure of a lifetime.” Niki, of course, fell madly in love with photography while photographing landscapes and people. All of it sparked inspiration in him.
“I slept in my car, ate very poorly, “showered” in rivers and lakes, but immersed myself in the different environments and cultures. I had so many great experiences, but a few of the standouts were: seeing the Milky Way with my naked eye in the desert of New Mexico, climbing to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion, hiking the Grand Canyon in all of its majestic glory, getting poured on in the forests of the Pacific northwest, relaxing and soaking in natural hot springs, coming face to face with bison and elk and other animals in Yellowstone, and meeting incredible people from all walks of life. Throughout that I photographed everything. I didn’t really know what I was doing but I knew that photography made me happier and that I wanted to create images that inspired me, pushed me out of my comfort zone, and gave me a tangible sense of purpose.
Of course, all of this enabled Niki to use any tool in his hand. “Different technologies require you to think and execute a shoot differently and can often spark something creative that you may not have otherwise thought of,” he says. “What’s important, though, is having the ability to create something, and any camera gives you that ability.” And, of course, Niki cares about lighting. He’s not a massive fan of natural lighting when photographing people. He says that this is because you’re so dependent on the sun that natural light photography often lacks depth.
Aubrey and Niki run a photography business primarily focused on weddings, events, families, and portraits. And photographing clients requires a different definition of essential. What’s considered essential gear for client shoots is dramatically different from when you’re just creating for yourself. They use
- Godox AD400 Pro to every single shoot.
- MagMod Maggrip
- Godox V860IIIs
- Sony a1
- Sony a6000
- Sony a7r II
- Sony a7r III
- Sony 24-70mm f2.8 G Master
- Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art
For them, the pandemic proved to be a huge spark of creativity. Both of them worked from home, so they had more free time and inspiration. Niki started seeing their own neighborhood in a different light. “The pandemic made me realize that you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars traveling to beautiful locations or buying the latest and greatest equipment – great images can be created with what you have right in front of you,” says Niki. “It also allowed me to take time to attend digital workshops to hone and refine my skills and improve on my process. It really accelerated my development and clarified my style.”
How They Made This Photo
According to Niki, sometimes, the best things you create are spontaneous. In fact, this photo was made with virtually no planning and about 5 minutes of work. It got started all because Aubrey is really into both astrology and TikTok. Then they came across a video by Jordi Koalitic doing this setup.
“We had recently had a ‘Pisces party’ for her birthday and still had the fish bowl that we bought for a cocktail creation sitting on our counter,” explains Niki to us in an interview. “I looked over at it and asked her to try out the idea. Jordi had the original idea and made a great photo, but when I looked at his, I thought we could improve upon on the result.” In Niki’s mind, Jordi’s image felt a tad empty, so he wanted to add to the scene. A collar was added around the helmet to give the photo more authenticity and prop styling. Then they added stars littering the background.
For Aubrey and Niki, this was refreshing. They both work full-time jobs and run their photography business. With that said, personal passion projects often get pushed to the side. Lots of us can both relate and agree. “Most of our clients are brides or families that generally want the same sort of photographs – that’s why it appears as a big deviation from what we normally produce,” explains Niki. Consistently delivering on that monotony can be creatively draining.
Niki draws influence from a slew of different photographers: Jordi, Danny Batista, GeoLeon, Liquid Verve, Calob Castellon, Jimmy Chin, and Chris Burkard are some of the folks he named. He’s also got a community of friends who are photographers and videographers that he likes collaborating with. Then there are also books, quotes, and music that inspire Niki. But Aubrey is also a significant help!
“My wife is an inspiration all on her own but she is also always down to do any wild idea I come up with and never complains. Even when she can’t breathe well because there’s a fishbowl on her head, or gets an acne breakout after I put paint all over her face. She also comes up with amazing ideas herself and she loves getting her picture taken! I got incredibly lucky to have met her.”
This project inspired Niki to consider other ways to turn this fun project into a series. The idea of underwater scuba diver stuff, retro motorcycles, and steampunk have all run through his head. Niki has also considered other household objects. In fact, they’d love to hear from you folks and want to know your ideas!
About Niki Phillips
We’re a husband and wife photography team, based in New Jersey; and together, with my wife Aubrey, we’re Niki Phillips Photography. As an event and portrait photographer, my style is very candid and non-obtrusive. I love to develop relationships with our clients and use my photography to tell the story of who they are, or deliver their message in a very natural, honest, and uncontrived way. Photography challenges me to expand my creativity and requires finding new perspectives, angles, and compositions to present a message, emotion, or moment. While my style is very simple and minimalistic, I’m a bold and adventurous person.
Time flies, memories fade, but photographs remain the same. They are sacred, powerful, and have the ability to bring us right back to exact moments in time. They live on forever to tell our stories.
Our focus and passion is preserving your memories for all of eternity.