RV: (00:01) You are about to meet one of my favorite friends, one of my most creative friends, and in, in in some ways one of my most famous friends, but I think it’s like he’s, he could, he’s like the,, the person that is still in some ways undiscovered outside of his trait, which he is a legend in a Nick Onken. And I just think Nick is the coolest guy, has the coolest brand. He’s a world renowned photographer, so that’s his trait and he is a legend in that space. He has photographed personalities like Justin Bieber and Tom Hanks and little John and Jessica Alba. He’s done shoots for global campaigns for international brands like Nike and Coca Cola and Adidas. His work’s been published in magazines like Conde Nast traveler. Cosmo Marie Claire. Like he’s also the host of NION radio podcast where he’s interviewed people like Usher and Scooter Braun and Donna Karan. RV: (01:06) He’s been featured in Fast Company, Huffington post, MTV, and literally his work has just been featured everywhere. He’s also traveled to over 60 countries, seven continents. He’s an author, he’s the author of the travel photography book called Photo Trekking. He is, you know, probably the primary, I guess I would say primary photographer for Lewis Howes, of course, a close friend of ours. And I think yeah, Nick’s just entire personal brand is devoted to inspiring the world to activate their creativity. And it’s like he’s just amazing and you’re about to, you’re about to meet him. So, Nick, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. Nice to meet y’all. So buddy this is one of, one of the, one of the many reasons why I love you is I feel like you’re really good at something that I don’t consider myself naturally very good at, which is just the visual identity. RV: (02:03) You know, not even just photography, but the visual expression of a brand. And there’s a concept that you shared with us. Well with me about elevated realism. Can you talk about you know, and you know, we don’t have to just stay in the lane of photography, but I’m kinda thinking about just, you know, the, the people listening their, their personal brands and just like building their, their visual presence, whether it’s online or in print or everywhere. But I think one of your uniquenesses is this concept of elevated realism. Can you just explain what that is? Yeah. So, and this is great because I think this is kind of a concept that we, that I’ve used a lot in advertising for big brands for like Coca-Cola and you know, in that world it’s called lifestyle photography is certain to NO: (03:00) A certain extent where you’re kind of manufacturing this, this aspirational world, but lifestyle, like you’re still kind of doing everyday things. And then you combine that with celebrity portraiture in editorial and, and you kind of get this mix of like elevation. You get this mix of, of, you know, authentic realism. So I kind of translated that over to the personal brand from just from doing all this work and what I learned throughout working with all these people. And so, and these brands. And so elevator realism really is that creating an aspirational look which you’d find in a magazine or an ad but also feels real. It feels authentic because you know, as you know to be, to build your personal brand, you want to be guiding people through a process. You want to be seen as a guide and you know, you want, you don’t want to be too far out of reach, but you also want to be relatable. And so that’s kind of the idea of elevated realism is like you’re creating an aesthetic that’s aspirational but yet relatable at the same time. And you know, for me, I, I like, I create storytelling assets around this. So we build, it’s usually driven around a concept of who you are and your brand. So after they’ve worked with you to develop you know, to develop these, these ideas, these concepts of who this person, you know, who they are authentically, then we kind of, we come and create the the creative from that. So RV: (04:27) Interesting. Yeah. So do they come to you like, like one of the exercises we do with people in phase phase one of course you’ve been to our phase one event that we at the very end of phase one, like post that phase one event, we go through brand characteristics lists and we just kind of come up with like words that sort of capture the essence of a person. Is that kind of what you’re talking about here is like, like how do you capture, or what exercises do you go through or take someone through to kind of like clarify what, what energy or what emotion or what they’re trying to convey. And it sounds like you do that first and then you figure out how to stage the shoot. NO: (05:11) Yeah, absolutely. So I have a story diagnostic sheet that I start with, which is probably about 10 to 15. I think it’s 10 to 15 questions that the client fills out and it’s, it’s everything from around like what’s the, the message, the vision, the mission, the message, how do you help people. And it kind of gets people thinking within that. And a lot of times sometimes they’ll work with your team or you know, if they’re working with other people or they’ll just fill it out themselves. It kind of depends on who. But then some of the other questions that come into it are like, you know, what are your activities? Do you love? Like what what kind of locations, tell your story, what kind of props help tell your story, what kind of, you know, one of them is like, what’s your favorite emoji? Like just cause they get people thinking expression, you know, some things. And then we kind of take that sheet and we’d go over their answers and then we build a week, RV: (06:03) Build the creative of the shoot out of that. So say like, see, like I mean with Louis, with our, our last shoot was in Turkey. Yeah. With all the balloon, the hot air balloons and stuff like, and the HELOC was the helicopter helicopter. I mean y’alls freaking shoots are Epic dude that the Iceland shoot. I mean he still uses pictures from that Iceland shoot from a few years ago. And that the Turkey shoot with the hot air balloons was so NO: (06:30) Just like magnificent. Thank you. Thank you. And the whole idea behind that was like rising to your greatness. And I pitched him that kind of, you know, he was like, we’re going back and forth around it. And I was like, well what about the idea of shooting with you in capita, Nokia with all these hotter balloons in the background? Because the whole concept of rising to your greatness is really up yet obviously you know him. That’s like who he is, helps everyone rise to their greatness. So that’s, that’s the concept that we pulled out of that. And then, you know, we did some other Epic James Bond type of stuff with the helicopter and things like that. But then, you know, I had, you know Bo Easton? RV: (07:04) Yeah. NO: (07:04) So, yeah, he hired me to do a shoot and we did, you know, his whole football thing. But he’s also got as busy, you know, he’s more his business and like his, his thought leadership now. So one of the concepts that we created, cause like family is so big to him. Mmm. And so we were like, okay, well let’s shoot you with your family on a football field. So we’re not like saying, Oh, I’m like fuck totally football, where like hinting at that background, not story element, but we’re focusing on him with his family. And so we kind of, you know, and he was the hero of all the shots and in a certain sense in terms of like what the focus was and how we were, you know, composing the shots and how we were organizing and how I was directing everyone within the shots. And then, you know, so they’ve used a lot of those to kind of like show that family man concept that, that story that we’re telling. With that. So, you know, it really comes down to simple. RV: (07:58) It’s like as simple as that. Like you’re, I mean that, that’s just such a simple idea of just like you’re telling a story of who the person is or like what, like who either who they are, what they’re about, just sort of subtly like with the background or where the location is. And you know, like the kind of props maybe that show up in there. NO: (08:18) Yeah. So the, the location and the props are all kind of just hinted in the space in the background while the focus remains on the person because obviously like the person is the product and the hero. So we, we we focus on that, but we utilize the environment to tell that story. So say for instance, like Chris harder, he’s a super book nerd. He loves books. And so we had, I came up with this idea, it was like, let’s pull all the books off of like all of the shelves and put them in his, in the living room. And we just books all around him. And then we just had him sitting there reading reading books, reading one of his favorite books. But then, you know, I’d have him look up at, so it was like RV: (08:55) We had this like eye contact, but he’s surrounded by books. Right. So it’s still focused on him. And that’s one reason why Chris and I get along, we share that, we share that, that passion for learning and reading. I love, I love Chris. What a cool, that’s so cool. Yeah. So you know, and that’s kind of a big piece of, that’s the elevator realism that I’m talking about. It’s the, you know, the way that I shoot it also comes through in like the lighting that I use, the way that I direct, the way that I, you know, there’s all these little pieces to it that come together in the moment of the actual shoot. So you have the prep and then you have the actual shoot. I mean we’ve worked together so like you’ve been able to experience kind of the of bro and like, and this is crazy. RV: (09:37) Like, I mean, the photos you took of me, we’re so good. I mean, I, I, I don’t know why. Like, I don’t, I don’t have a trained enough eye to go like, Oh this is the difference between my shot with Nick and my shot with other photographers. But it was just like somehow you captured like my energy, my personality. And it was like businessy but, but, but conversational like it just just blew my mind. So talk about directing the shoot a little bit and you know, not everyone’s going to be able to work with you. So, so I mean if some of y’all are listening, if like if you can, if you can do it like just freaking hire Nick, it’s unbelievable. But the concepts here I think are also like you could shoot it with your own, you know, like some people are just starting out, they don’t have a ton of money or whatever. RV: (10:29) Like you have a process here that I think it’s cool about the story part. And then when you get to the direction, talk to us about the direction and, cause here’s one thing and I’ll share this tip with everybody. I mean I’ve done, I’ve probably done at least a few dozen photo shoots in my life. Maybe a hundred, you’re the first person ever that put music on during the photo shoot. And I re that stuck with me as such. A simple like that is such a simple, was such a simple part of directing where I was like, you are such a pro of just going like, what’s the music that captures the energy that you know, you’re, you’re wanting to like give off. So talk to us about direction a little bit. How do we do that for ourselves? Or how do we direct our photographer to do it? RV: (11:15) Or like what are just some of the things you think about? Yeah. Well, I mean that’s, that’s such an interesting question because there, I mean, it takes a long time to become, to understand how to direct and I’m still learning, I’m still getting better at it. But that’s one thing with, you know, hiring the right photographer, you’ve got to kind of see what, like their, you know, see their subjects in their work. I mean, as with anything to see what they’re pulling out of their subjects first. But when it gets into directing, you know, for me, I like energy. I like this, this constant flow of energy. That’s why I bring music into it because it loosens people up, it gets them moving and once they get moving, they start to get out NO: (11:54) Of their head. And then once they’re out of their head, then you know, then you can really kind of move. And the thing is, is everybody’s going to take a bad picture. You just shoot a lot more and then we just delete those. So, you know, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll a lot of times just get people moving, get people doing different things, even if it’s not a good shot. Because in, in that respect, if, if you’re moving, once you get people into that flow state of just being, getting used to being in front of the camera it gets, they get, they get, they’re able, they’re more comfortable able to, you know, feeling free enough to move. I also try to use a lot of positive reinforcement as I’m shooting as well. Yeah. And then, and then I also have to keep in mind what I’m trying to like, how to compose the shot, what lighting I’m trying to use and what the lighting’s doing. NO: (12:40) And so I have like a thousand things going on in my head as I’m clicking that camera. As I’m looking through that, the lens and thinking of like, okay, composition, motion, action. You know what, I don’t want this. What action do I want this person to do and do I want to look into the camera? You know? And so it’s like I’m constantly throwing different things out at PM. And that just takes practice. You know, for me it’s taken, I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I’ve worked in, everybody’s different, every subject is different, you know, different people have different energies. Some people just like walk on and they just like bring it and like bring all the energy. And I’m like, not even really doing much, but then there’s other people who are not as experienced. And so can we talk about that? NO: (13:20) I want to talk about that cause that, that fear of being in front of the camera, like that’s a real, that’s a real thing. And I don’t know why, but it’s like, why do we have such a fear of being in front of the camera and what can we do, whether it’s on a photo shoot or if it’s just like, you know, doing a video blog or, or, you know, shooting a selfie that we’re going to post on Instagram or something. Like what are, why do you think, why do we have that fear? And like, do you have any ideas for how to move us past that? Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest thing is the fear of being seen right? And the fear of being like almost in a vulnerable state. And especially because the camera captures who we are, right? And in this state. NO: (14:03) So I would say first thing is just like, you know, take care of yourself and you know, the camera’s going to, I typically add like a, like 10 pounds, a few pounds, I want to say 10 pounds. That’s a lot. But just the way he is. So that’s why you say like no baggy clothes because they look super baggy, you know? That’s what I’m saying. You know, it’s like if people don’t feel comfortable with the way they look, they either got it yet either just rock the way with confidence, the way that you look or do something about it. You know, I, I, you know, I can only do so much of capturing, you know, we can do stuff in posts, but then it gets, starts to get like inauthentic if you’re like heavily retouching things. So, you know, I think it’s just like thinking about what, you know, really getting down to what makes you fearful of being in front of the camera. NO: (14:48) And I think so pick it outfit. Just don’t pick your newest outfit necessarily. It’s like pick an outfit that you feel confident in and like pick an outfit that you like the way you look, like something as simple as that. Yeah, absolutely. And if you really want to go to the next level, hire a stylist to help you revamp your wardrobe. And if, you know, if, especially if you want to take your personal brand to the next level, it’s like you got to think about all these things because all the aesthetics say something about who you are. So if you’re just like schlep, you know, wearing sloppy stuff, you know, what is that going to say about you in the photos? You know, what is that going to say about you? I like the way that you’re, you make decisions the way that you care about yourself, the way that, you know, what are you preaching in comparison to that? NO: (15:31) So talk about that. Like the energy part. Yeah. Anyways, so just to, just to comment on that last thing that you said, I remember this blew my freaking mind when I don’t remember where we were. Somebody asked Louis this question, what is your number one secret to building a huge brand? And I was like, that’s an interesting question. I had never asked him that question. I was like, I wonder what he’s going to say right here. And I’m thinking, you know, like yeah, funnels or webinars or digital marketing or like networking. He said photography, he said photography is my number one secret of how I’ve built up a brand. And you know, it’s, it’s interesting cause I think of photos as like what you’re wearing and how you look. But the way that both you and him talk about it is it’s like, it’s more about the energy that you’re giving off that you’re capturing. NO: (16:32) Like it’s, it’s like it’s more about the energy than it is. I like the look. Yeah. Yeah. Because we all want to connect with somebody. Right. And photography connects you with that person. Like we look at, you look through magazines, right? And you see these celebrities that are, you know, they have like eight page editorials of them and you know, of photos like high, high end imagery of them, and then you feel more connected to them. I mean we see that everyday on Instagram. It’s like we get, we connect to people through photos of them. Right. And I think this is a very subconscious thing. And you know, the psychology of both, like graphic design and photography is, is huge as well. I was a graphic designer before I was a photographer and I went to school for visual branding and things like that. NO: (17:15) And you know, it’s the reason that we buy Coca Cola versus the, the the generic brand, you know, they might even be the same product, but branding different, different packaging. Well allow you, you know, make dif make the difference between the choice that you make. So photography plays a huge part of that. Graphic design plays a huge part of that. And when you project, you know, you’re basically creating the perception that you want people to see you as and you have that choice, right? If you’re not conscious to that creation of the brand and what you want people to perceive you as, then you’re not thinking about that stuff. That’s why photography, that’s why Lewis says photography is such a, one of the biggest key key things within his within his brand is that he’s creating this image that people want him to view him as. And so we create this higher level imagery. But like, he still feels super relatable. Like you would just, you know, it can be friends with them just from seeing them online. And so it’s, it is that elevated realism that really portrays him and like creates the elevation within, you know, and makes people want to follow him, makes people want to do, you know, have him as their guide kind of thing. RV: (18:30) Well, and it’s just like, it’s interesting to me because if somebody would have said like, if it, if it weren’t you and Louis, like if somebody said, I’m going to do a photo shoot with hot air balloons behind me, I’d be like, that’s the cheesiest idea that I have ever heard of. Okay. But the way you do it, it’s not that at all. And, and it’s, it’s almost like what you’re describing to me here, Nick, is like, that’s where the magic is, is it’s, it’s like do somehow tell your story if it’s authentic to you somehow you tell that story. Like how do you balance that? Like, Hey, there’s a place for creative genius here versus, no, that’s stupid. It’s cheesy. NO: (19:14) Yeah. I mean that all comes through the eye of the photographer. Right. So that’s the way that I see when I do photography. So every photographer has a different different point of view. But for me, like I’ve always seen things with this authenticity but also like this kind of cool, elevated edge. And so whenever I, when I’m out shooting, that’s the magic that happens within the moment is that like I can see from the lighting, the composition, the things that are happening within the frame that make it feel real and authentic and not cheesy. You know, that’s just the way that I’m built. That’s the way that I see. That’s the perspective that I take on photography. And that’s where the photographer actually really the vision of the photographer is, is what you’re also looking for. Cause it’s like somebody else could take, take these concepts and like shoot somebody with books and, and, and whatever. NO: (20:04) Totally. It’s in the moment. It comes down to the lighting, the photographer, you know, the, what they see, how they direct, how they envision it and how they pull out of pull, what they need out of the subject out of the the personality and the energy and all that stuff. And then, then it comes to post to like the coloring, the composition, you know, just in the backend, you know, creating an aesthetic look as well. So that’s, that’s kind of like the components, but that’s what it comes down to the photographer at the end of the day. So you want to hire the right photographer by looking at their portfolio and seeing like, Oh, do I see myself in their photos? Do I want the sustetic do I want, you know, am I, do I feel like I would be comfortable with them? RV: (20:48) Yeah, that’s a good question. Do I see myself in their photos like that? That feels somehow easier to me than do I like, cause like to me it’s like I can’t tell like I don’t, I don’t have like when you say how you see, when I see, it’s like I look at, I almost think I look at every photo I go, Ooh, that’s really good. Like that’s good. But then I see one of yours especially of me and me, like gosh that is so different somehow, but I don’t know why, but and do I see myself in their photos I think is super cool. I want to come back to what you were talking about a minute ago about you said something where you said that we connect to people through photos of them and that the more you see someone, the more you feel connected to them. RV: (21:38) And I’m having a light bulb moment here. I’ve always resisted posting pictures of myself on my social media feeds because not because I’m a F I’m self conscious of how I look because I’m self conscious of coming across as overly promotional or self centered or like arrogant of like, Oh Hey, here’s a giant feed of, you know, here’s a bunch of pictures of me. But the way that you said that was interesting where you’re like, no, it’s like, it helps the audience feel connected to you. It’s not about like promoting you. Have you ever heard anybody have that weird fear that I’m sharing and like what? Like what’s your initial thought on that? Cause that literally, I never realized that until you said that. And I was like, I hate posting photos of myself, but not for why most people do. Which is like, Oh, I think my, you know, I think I look silly. I don’t care. Like I’ve always been like, this is who I am, but NO: (22:41) I don’t want to be overly promotional. Yeah. Necessarily. Got a couple, like a couple things came to mind on that. RV: (22:48) A free coaching session between Rory Vaden and Nick on. Ken, if you’re just joining us, I’m getting free consulting advice here from Nick NO: (22:56) 105 so absolutely. So the first thing is, is this is kind of funny because like, so I was like four or five years ago I was at scooter’s wedding and we were all riding and Justin was there and Justin Bieber for that, for that. My friend Justin was there, so we were driving, we were riding around in the, in whatever his SUV and scooter pulls out as the scooters, like you’ll just need to follow Nick. And I was like, okay. I was like, sweet, awesome. And then Justin Luke pulls up my Instagram and he’s like, dude, why don’t you have any photos of you on there? And I was like, ah. I mean, I don’t know, I just like posting photos that I take. RV: (23:38) He still followed me for a couple of years, NO: (23:40) But that kind of stuck with me after a while. And this is kind of before really personal branding on Instagram was like kind of big, right? Like, this was just, this is kind of the earlier days of, of Instagram. And so I kind of started, you know, a few years ago, I’m just looking through analytics and things like that. I was looking at like the engagement of photos on my always highest on your personal photos. Yeah. People, you know, I get more likes on photos of me than photos that I take on my main account. And especially because it’s more like behind the scenes stuff or it’s conceptual stuff of me. And like they just kinda took me back to that moment of like, and then, you know, I was like, maybe he unfollowed me cause I was posting pictures of me. I don’t know. NO: (24:26) I mean he had followed everyone, but but you know, it’s, it’s, you know, you just got me thinking of like, okay, you know, people are following, like, especially with social media, people want to see what you’re up to. People want to connect with you as a human. I think that’s the biggest thing is they want to connect with you as a human to feel that human touch. And so I think that’s why photos of you putting foot posting photos of you on your feed really help people to connect with you. I think there’s also an element of like what story are you telling with that photo and how does it connect with that photo. So whenever I’m, I’m posting on Instagram a photo of myself, I kind of, I want to make the caption link to, you know, have some sort of context as to what the picture is. NO: (25:09) Hmm. And the story that I’m telling through that picture just to connect everything cause then you get into like the whole there’s, there’s a hashtag called girls without irrelevant captions and it’s like, it’s hilarious cause they’ll put you, it’s like, it’s unreal. They’ll post like a photo of them in a bikini by the pool and then have some sort of like really like esoteric, conscious, loving like quote. And it’s just, it’s just funny. It’s, it doesn’t make sense. It’s not congruent. It’s not. And then that just kind of like pulls away from authenticity of like, what are you talking about? Like you just want to show your, show your assets and get more validation through that versus like actually conceptualizing and telling a story through the photograph and aligning it with the caption. So I think that’s highly important. It’s like congruency and all the stories that you’re telling from your photography. NO: (26:02) Then stuff that you post online to the stuff that you post to the captions that you write. And I think, you know, when it comes to, you know, the imagery that I build with people is like the high level like website banner stuff and you know, stuff for press. Like people use, like Lewis is like put my, use my photos of him in like success magazine and like all these different magazines. So you have like an an arsenal of assets to use as like high level stuff, but you can also put them into your Instagram feed. Well, mixed with other things. Like your Instagram feed doesn’t have to be all photos of you, but I think if you pepper them throughout, you’re kind of still helping build that connection for people to you. RV: (26:45) Yeah. So how often this is, this is going to be like, like if you do like how many shoots a year, if somebody was really like doing this, you know like I get, I get the idea of going, Hey you need to do a shoot for your website. One of the things we’ve gotten clear with our process of helping people build their websites and do their overall brand strategy is we take them through phase one. Okay. Which you’ve been through, right. Finding your uniqueness and then what we realized is pretty much the next thing that needs to happen is photography because you need to be able, you know, photography and copy cause you need to get the pictures before you design the website cause you have to be able to design the website around the pictures. That was something we always screwed up, which I feel like we’ve gotten more clarity on is like go get the pictures. So anyways I realize now and go okay you know the importance of photography. Sure. With your website or a book, you know like a book launch or something. But other than that, if you’re just like looking to like create a connection with your audience and like pepper, your Instagram feed, how often should we be doing this? Like where we’re hiring somebody to [inaudible] photos of us. Yeah. I mean I think NO: (28:00) Couple of times a year. It kind of depends on like the packages that you’re getting, who you’re working with and all that. And like how many different final images that you can get out of a shoot. But probably two, I would say probably two to four a year. Okay. Just to kind of once a quarter fresh. Yeah. Once a quarter. Keep things fresh. You know, you can keep your, your high, your arking over your high level imagery like on your website and stuff consistent for like a year. But like when it comes to like more social media stuff, you can probably do two to like one a quarter, I would say. RV: (28:33) Interesting. Okay. Man, there’s so much, I can’t believe how fast this went by. Like there, there is so much here. And like I’m saying, you know, if you can hire Nick and have him come shoot you, there’s other photographers we have in our community as well that, that, that we liked. But it was, it was really wild to experience a shoot with you. And the, the difference of just, I mean, I, you know, I’m not going to post any of these pictures, but there was a time back when Rory was in his early twenties that I did some commercials than I did. I did some modeling shoots. I might’ve even had some abs that I was showing off back in those days. And you know, so I’ve, I’ve, I’ve worked on sets, I’ve, I’ve had photographers, but you know, the shot with the doing the shoot with you was truly different. So where should people go if they want to just follow your work or just connect with you or like see some of your photos what’s the best way to connect up with you? NO: (29:32) Yeah, I mean Instagram is kind of the, like at Nick honkin on Instagram is kind of the hub for everything. So you can get to my, like my website photography website, my hats, my, I have a photographs by Nick honkin Instagram account. It’s just photography. So everything stems from, from there. RV: (29:54) Huh. And what’s your photographs by Nick on kin? Is it, is it that long handle? NO: (30:00) Yeah, it’s, yeah, it’s photographed by Nick honkin.com at the Instagram handle as well. And that’s just strictly photography, like curated portfolio. RV: (30:10) That’s, it’s incredible. Y’all like go look at this stuff. I’m telling you. It’s really, really, really wonderful. Well Nick, I really appreciate you sharing some of your secrets and just like helping us find the right photographers, ask the right questions, you know, prepare ourselves for the shoe, what to be looking for. And then overall, I just think, you know, a big part of your uniqueness is just this elevated realism is just like bringing, bringing our best to a shoot and drawing the best out of your subjects. And I mean, you’re, you’re, you’re extremely talented, my friend. I used to have like a really rare gift and I just appreciate you sharing it with us. NO: (30:45) Thank you. Oh, and one other thing, I do have a free ebook on how to elevate your personal brand visually. It’s Nick honkin.com/personal brand and it’s a free ebook. Talks about a lot of the stuff that we talked about today and a lot of visual examples and, and all the goods. RV: (31:02) Nick anakin.com/personal brand. I’ve walked through that ebook. It’s awesome. Super tactical and and useful. So we’ll put links to that in the show notes. My brother, we wish you the best until I can get back with you and get a shoot going, NO: (31:19) You know, best. Until then. Let’s do it. Thanks.