Feb 15, 2010


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My good friend Nick Onken continuously blows me away with his drive and brilliant ability to take a concept to reality.  This guy really makes things happen.  (read his great post on it here)  His images are remarkable, his work ethic is like no one I’ve ever known, and his innate sense of branding is spot on.  He just launched a brand new site and blog that has garnered rave reviews.  I remember sitting in his office seeing unfinished previews and having to pull my jaw off the floor.  It may look simple and sleek, but it’s a beast of a site!  My favorite feature (besides just the ridiculous images): click on any image and add it to a lightbox, tweet it or download a larger version.  Simple.  Perfect.

On a personal note, he inspires me to truly live with all five senses.  I share Nick’s love for experiencing new places, tastes and laughter with great friends.  When we get the rare chance to see each other and go out to dinner with friends, Nick does all the ordering.  This has been officially titled “Onken Family Dinners” or “OFD”.  If you get the chance to experience an OFD with Nick, run to get your seat.  My mother is a trained French chef, so I grew up with adventurous taste buds, but Nick blows mine out of the water.  Jeff, Nick, Sandi, Ari and I recently had what I have dubbed the best meal of my life thus far.  After eight courses at NY’s Graffiti, I was in foodie heaven.  This place was the size of my bedroom.  There was no walking room between the some 40 people that were packed into this little hole in the wall.  The food was expertly prepared and plated and, just like much of New York, you would never know this place existed or that one of the best chefs in the city was behind it.  Did I mention he also waited on us?  Best.  Meal.  Ever.

OK, my stomach digressed.

I’m excited to fly to NY in March for Nick’s book release party and I’ve asked him to be a featured speaker with Jeff and I at Making Things Happen New York that week.  His book, Photo Trekking, has been a labor of love for him and the result is incredible.  After seeing an advance copy on a recent visit, I asked Mr. Onken to shed some light on the creation of his first book and share a few favorite images…

What is Photo Trekking about? Photo Trekking is an educational travel photography book that gives insights to a range of audiences from the amateur looking to take better photos, to photographers wanting to learn a little more about the travel photography business. The book is written from my perspective of how I shoot travel work and what I see. It contains stories of images I’ve shot from around the world. The book is derived from my passion of travel and photography combined.

Why did you decide to undertake this project? I undertook this project in big part because it’s a lot of who I am and what I love. My biggest passions in life are travel and photography. Sharing what I’ve learned along the way is another part of who I am as a person and a brand. When someone threw the idea at me to write an educational book on travel photography it was everything combined.

What was the most difficult part about the process of making Photo Trekking, from beginning to end? The most difficult part of the process was not realizing how much of an undertaking this project actually was. Curating images, prepping them for press, and most of all sitting down to write the manuscript. All these things proved to be more time consuming than you could ever think. Isn’t that always the case for us artists though?

What was the best part about making Photo Trekking? The best part of making Photo Trekking was curating the images, because it conjured up all the memories around the images. Where I was, the people I was with, the smells, the sounds etc. That is the amazing thing about being a photographer and experiencing new places. The photographs take you back and paint vivid memories. In creating the book, I had to look at these images and remember the stories that took place around them. It became very reminiscent.

Who is Photo Trekking for? There are a range of audiences the book can appeal to, the amateur photographer looking to take better photos, avid travelers with that desire to learn to see travel in a different way, and prosumers who want a glimpse into the business of photography. Also, people who just enjoy looking at pretty travel photos from around the world.

Would you like to put together another book?  What about? I would love to put together another book. About what I haven’t quite decided yet. I’m still working on getting this one out the door which has proven to be a lot of hard work. My next book will probably be a more specific project in the travel realm. We’re looking at doing a book on the charity project I just shot in Laos.

Why Pencils of Promise? Pencils of Promise is the charity I just shot for in Laos. They build schools for kids in Laos, and are spreading to countries around the world. A big part of my philosophy which is talked about in the book is teaming up with NGO’s or non-profits to A: give back and B: to travel to places deeper in a country that you normally would. When I met with the founder of PoP we clicked right away. We both have similar outlooks on life as well as passions. After talking to him, I was pumped to be a part of the organization and work with him. We set up a time that he would be there to go travel and do the 6 day shoot. We went to the little villages where they have schools built and are building them. We went to document and build branding imagery for them. It was an amazing experience. See images from this shoot at: https://bit.ly/nickonken_PoP

What most excites you about the months ahead? I’m excited for more travels and more adventures to come. My commercial career is really taking off, and another passion of mine. I’m really loving the big productions for big brands and the energy that goes along with the shoots. I’m excited to experience more of the world, new foods, new cultures and the unknown to come. The beauty of my life and career is that I’ve designed it to be able to do what I want and love. I can choose to hop a plane to another country in the drop of a hat if I want to. It’s taken a crazy amount of hard work to get to this point in my life, but it’s been worth it. It will always be hard work, but if you choose a job you love you’ll never work a day in your life.

Favorite moment you’ve had on a shoot recently. One of my favorite moments was on the Pencils of Promise shoot. We rented motorcycles and drove to one of the villages about an hour from town. You don’t really feel like you’re traveling till you hop on a motorcycle and weave through the madness of a third world country’s roads.

Favorite moment shooting something other than work recently. One of my other passions is food. If eating was a sport I’d be a pro. We’ve created a little thing called Onken Family Dinners where we get a small group of people together and go to a great restaurant. Good food, good wine and good people create great memories. We’ve had a few great ones recently. Other moments that stand out are New York moments. It’s a great phenomenon where you stand beside yourself in this city and you feel like you’re in a movie. I’ve had many of those in the last 7 months of living here. Sometimes it’s the being on a train, walking down a classic ny street, or sitting in a quaint little ny restaurant with great friends as the snow is covering everything in white outside the window. I love experiencing life with the five senses.

You are close friends with some phenomenal photographers.  Tell us about how those relationships have affected you. I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with people that push you to be a better person, and better at what you do. I enjoy having friends that are talented photographers because it pushes me to take better photos and be better at business. With all higher profile photographer friends Jeremy Cowart, Joey L, Stephanie Rausser, Chase Jarvis, Jeff Lipsky we all inspire each other by doing what we do and all in different ways. Mad respect to them for doing what they do, and doing it well.

Tell us a funny photography story. When Jeff Holt and I were traveling in Iceland, and deciding to forge rivers in our rented Ford Escape. I decide to video him driving through the river. He decided to floor it in the middle causing the front end to dive under water and almost submerge the vehicle. It almost killed the engine and we would have been stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Dream celeb client. Here’s four: Sienna Miller, Jessica Alba, Brad Pitt, Johnny Dep.

Describe your work in one word. Moments.

Finish the sentence: I’m dying to shoot Sienna Miller.

What you feel you’re good at: taking pictures and business development/branding.

What you feel you’re bad at: Administrative work.

What inspires you? New cultures, new experiences, great food, passionate, smart, motivated and driven people.

What is your most significant photography achievement thus far? I would have to say this book. It’s not every day you get a book published by a major publishing house like Random House.

What’s in your camera bag? Smart answer: Cameras.  Tech answer: Canon 1Ds MKIII, Canon 5DMKII, Canon 20mm f2.8, Canon 35mm f1.4L, Canon 50mm f1.2L, Canon 85mm f1.2L, Canon 70-200mm f2.8, Sekonic Light Meter, Sharpie Pens, Customs form, a couple of pocket hard drives, lens cloths, battery chargers, model release forms, flashlight, card reader, gum.

Tell us something we don’t know about you. I used to be a knife salesman.

Three most valuable things to you in business. Talent, Hard work, Branding

Best advice for photographers who want to learn. Keep shooting, work hard, and know you want it.

What’s next for you? More travels and more adventures. I don’t plan much more than 2 weeks in advance because the commercial world is so crazy like that. I could be in Brazil next week for all I know.

Lastly, Nick… this image is from me to you. Thank you for inspiring me daily and for always creating the best party in my tummy ever.

Win an exclusive autographed copy of of Nick’s new book before it even hits shelves! How to enter:

Requirement 1: leave a comment here with the link to your favorite image on Nick’s new site and why you love it.  I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!  I had such a hard time picking a favorite, but the header image in this post always makes me happy.

Get bonus entries by: Tweeting your favorite image (it’s easy- just click the image and click “tweet”), leaving a comment on Nick’s facebook fan page, following @NickOnken, or tweeting this post (that’s easy too… click the link below to tweet this!)

The winner will be chosen at random on March 3. Get inspired. Get on it!




  1. Noa on February 15, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    I love this photo because it conjured childhood memories o playing this game with my siblings……. LOVE IT!


  2. feuza on February 15, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    hi which link should we be RTing?
    love finding his work here, so inspiring

  3. Lara on February 15, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    Hi Fueza! You can RT or tweet any link to this post. So glad you love Nick’s work!

  4. Josh on February 15, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    I got turned on to Nick by @brand_envy and @fredegan, and I’ve been obsessed with his work ever since…brilliant! The new site is amazing, but it was tough to narrow it down to one favorite image… https://bit.ly/925YkI The relationship of parents to our children is unique and universal, and I love how this image conveys that. The joy of a simple moment between a child and his parents half way around the world could just as easily be me with my kids…perfect!

  5. Kristi on February 16, 2010 at 12:33 am

    This was such a great interview Lara! Nick, your new site is amazing! My favorite image (today) is https://bit.ly/9f6PQK It reminds me to face my fears and to to just jump over them!

  6. Ulmer Studios on February 16, 2010 at 8:47 am

    This whole series is a fave of mine so I picked this image: https://www.nickonken.com/uploads/373onken_20090315COTomsCabin_340.jpg

    Would be stellar to win a copy of this book! Thanks for doing this interview Lara & Nick!

  7. Marissa Kloess on February 16, 2010 at 9:25 am

    https://nickonken.com/www/#/lightbox/817436591/browse/ LOVE love this image! Makes me laugh out load every time I look at it!

  8. Andrea on February 16, 2010 at 10:11 am

    This is definitely my fave image. There is something magical and freeing about letting go. As soon as I saw this image I felt that moment with him, the adrenaline right before he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and just let go. https://www.nickonken.com/www/#/lightbox/1080227334/browse/

  9. Lynn on February 16, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Lara, I love his pictures! I especially am in love with the world faces. It’s hard to pick a favorite. I do like this sweet unposed family moment though! https://nickonken.com/www/#/lightbox/225949195/browse/

  10. Ben Whitesell on February 16, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    I saw this one originally on the first incarnation of Nick’s website. It’s the color that gets me. The white to red color combo is amazing. https://nickonken.com/www/#/lightbox/817436591/browse/

  11. matthew morgan on February 17, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    Nick Onken is legit!. Here’s my fave image: https://bit.ly/amKifn i usually don’t like harsh light, but I like this one- there’s a real nice warmness to the tone and a relaxed feel. thx fort the post- cheers!

  12. julie h on February 18, 2010 at 12:53 am

    this is one of my fav’s. https://nickonken.com/www/#/lightbox/1040692576/browse/
    it’s mysterious and makes me want to venture down there to see what’s under the falls!

  13. Brian Crofts on February 18, 2010 at 1:01 am

    I saw this photo a while back when I first started to get into photography … it’s a favorite b/c it captures a family enjoying the simple pleasures of life, together … awesome. https://nickonken.com/www/#/lightbox/165354855/browse/

  14. Andrew Thibodeaux on February 18, 2010 at 2:32 am

    This image made me feel like I was hanging with my friends… It’s a beautiful moment captured. It doesn’t seem planned, staged, or posed…It just feels like it looks…AWESOME! Great capture!!!

  15. Maria on February 18, 2010 at 2:40 am

    Hey Lara, this image https://www.nickonken.com/uploads/252onken_20090820AvaitorSS10_1597.jpg, well, the whole Aviator Nation set is my favorite from Nick. I think as a photographer, you want your audience to kind of escape with you through your photos and that whole set did that for me.

    Great interview!

  16. Gina C on February 18, 2010 at 8:42 am

    I really liked this image because I also went to Iceland last year and had a great experience. His images are a reminder of the great experience I had there.


  17. Briony on February 18, 2010 at 9:00 am

    I love this photo. https://nickonken.com/www/#/lightbox/1646356966/browse/
    I love the flare, the toning and I just love how it makes me want to hit the road. I’ve gone on plenty of road trips and this photo takes me back to each of them. Nick is an amazing artist and I love his work.

  18. T.J. on February 18, 2010 at 8:34 pm


    Nick is one of my favorite photographers, when I am feeling “blah” I just take a look at his stuff and it fires me up and just makes me want to shoot everything.

    I love all his anti-gravity pictures because he has the ability to catch someone at the perfect point in the action, while still using light in a beautiful way.

  19. Harmony Loves on February 19, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    I love this one https://www.nickonken.com/www/#/lightbox/664227145/browse/
    very unique and I love the love and playfulness between them 🙂

  20. Leona Morelock on February 23, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    I love them all, it was very hard to pick a favorite! But I really like https://nickonken.com/www/#/lightbox/1397322570/browse/ I love the different looks in the boys eyes. Trying to “beg” with sad eyes, with mischievous eyes and with happy eyes.

  21. Mary Hines on March 3, 2010 at 8:29 am

    Awesome photographs – Nick’s art makes you want to get out there and live fully alive!

  22. Ati Tafao-Braganza on March 3, 2010 at 11:18 am

    My favorite image is https://bit.ly/dlZjdG because I am aspiring to be a better picture of health and the defying gravity series really speaks to that part of my soul… being healthy inside and out. I am also a huge fan of graffiti and break beats. Nick has captured the essence of the things I love.

  23. Catie Ronquillo Wood on March 3, 2010 at 11:19 am

    This is my favorite image from World Faces: https://bit.ly/8XMYof
    I love how carefree the kids look and how much fun they are having. I want my life to embody that emotion.

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