We had the privilege of chatting with Liz Nichols, the wanderlust-ing artist behind Lizard Nickel Photography. She’s from Midland, Texas, but she likes to “do my living everywhere.” (We love that sentiment!) We talk about how she got into wedding photography, her must-capture moments, and what joy means to her.
How did you get into photography? Are you self taught or formally trained?
I never know how to fully answer this question. (The short version is that while in architecture school, I started photographing buildings and furniture, and just fell in love with the camera.) I come from a family of math-loving engineers and the like, and for a long time I figured I would study physics and become a teacher. But I was always always always drawn to art, in all different forms.
I decided to pursue a degree in Interior design from the University Oklahoma’s College of Architecture (boomer sooner), and I really did love that. I decided I would work at an architecture firm after college while pursuing furniture design on the side.
But every time I went to any type of arts festival or museum, I was deeply drawn to the photography there. I felt that I completely understood the why behind those pieces, more so than other formats, and I found myself thinking about those pieces long after I’d seen them. I started taking my little Olympus point-and-shoot camera everywhere and photographed EVERYTHING.
After a while, I realized that I really wanted to do this professionally, in some way. So I borrowed my dad’s DSLR Canon camera and made my youngest sister model for me all the time. Those photos are so fun to look back on! Toward the end of my junior year of college, I’d saved enough money to buy my own nice camera, and I got a Nikon D7000 with a 35mm and a 70-200 mm lens. That’s when I started charging to shoot portraits.
I read EVERYTHING, and practiced every day. After graduation, I moved to Houston with my brand new husband and very slowly started photographing weddings and fell in love completely with wedding photography. I worked REALLY hard learning everything I could about photography, but also about SEO strategies and social media. I think anyone is capable of learning any skill if they work hard enough! And with all this information at our fingertips nowadays, we have no excuse.
How did you get into wedding photography specifically?
When I moved to Houston, fresh out of college with a degree in Interior Design and ZERO photography clients, I knew I wanted to shoot weddings. So I got a job at the very first BHLDN store (Anthropologie’s wedding brand) so I could meet brides. It worked! Several of my early clients were brides that I met through that store. And they were my ideal clients: Artistic and unique!
Describe your style in one sentence.
Ha! Umm…Can it be a run-on sentence? I guess I would say that I hope my style is received as raw and deeply genuine… with a flare of boho free spirit.
What has been your favorite experience as a wedding photographer?
I have genuinely loved every wedding I’ve shot, but I think getting to be part of my three sisters’ engagement, Bridal, or wedding photographs has been the coolest. My 4 year old thinks my job is awesome, and that’s a pretty cloud nine feeling, too!
What do you love most about photographing weddings? Why do you photograph weddings in particular?
Well for one thing, I get to travel all the time! 90% of my weddings are out of town, and sometimes even out of the country. I really love getting a “backstage pass” to such an intimate day, and I just get so genuinely excited for every couple. My job surrounds me with people who are happy and in love, and obsessed with weddings. I also know that these photos, above other major moments in peoples’ lives will passed down for generations.
So I guess photographing weddings is my way of leaving a “Liz was here” stamp on the world, even after I’m long gone. After some time, I’m sure no one will remember who Elizabeth Nan Oestmann Nichols was, but those photos will still be around, with a whole lot of my love and my spirit attached to them.
Where is the most interesting or unique place you’ve photographed a wedding? Was there anything especially challenging about it?
Two places really stand out to me. Actually just recently I photographed my youngest sister’s Bridal session in a Mississippi mansion that has been abandoned since the 1970s. It was on the brink of falling down, but there was still furniture and all kinds of decor inside, along with ivy growing on the walls. It was absolutely magical and so much work making the shoot happen. I’ll never forget it.
The second was a wedding in the redwood forests of California. This bride happened to spend less money on her wedding than any other I’ve shot, because so many people just donated things for the day! And yet it was one of the most gorgeous weddings I’ve ever seen. She was so loved by so many people, and it was such an amazing reminder that you don’t have to break the bank to have a perfect wedding day.
So many experiences come to mind, and I’m sure there’ll be more. I’m so blessed to have this job!
Do you have a favorite, must-capture moment for every wedding?
I have so many moments that I just can’t miss, but my favorite moments to shoot are just the candid shots. You can’t always plan for them, so I’m always trying to understand relationships as I’m moving throughout the day. I also try and have a lot of meetings with the bride and groom beforehand so I understand what’s going on between the lines. Maybe there’s an uncle who helped raise the bride, or a relative who has recently passed — I look for moments to capture that will make the end product above and beyond for the couple and the whole family.
What’s the most unique photo you’ve ever taken at a wedding?
I recently got to shoot an engagement session at one of those Lights Festivals and that was unlike anything else! It was a huge lighting challenge too, but so so worth it!
What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten at a wedding?
Ha! Food!!!! I’m a suckered for chocolate fountains and mashed potato bars. But honestly, I’m always starving by reception time, so everything always tastes so good – even if it’s cold before I get to eat it!
As a photographer, what has been your biggest wedding day challenge?
It can be pretty challenging if people get stressed out to the point where they’re not having any fun. This doesn’t often happen, and it’s never the bride and groom, but it’s an emotional day, and sometimes people lose sight of the sweetness of what’s happening. I do my best to bring a calming, in-control energy to the situation, but it breaks my heart if people are upset, because it will show in the photos!
I do my best to bring a calming, in-control energy to the situation….
What piece of advice would you give brides and grooms to ensure that they get wedding photos they love forever?
Well, of course photographer selection matters but also I would say just make sure you have a LOT of communication with the photographer so they know what to expect! Ask your photographer about when the best lighting is, and try to plan your most important photos for that time! Also, try to decide on a clear and simple vibe that you want to achieve through your decor and STICK TO IT.
What are your favorite wedding trends to photograph right now?
I’m loving the simplicity of the upcoming midcentury modern trend, and the exaggerated, free flowing florals! Black and white striped table runners should be coming back in style, as well as deep purple hues mixed with greenery and soft blush. (I’m no expert, but I have gotten pretty good at predicting trends in this industry!) Things are starting to steer away from barn/vintage themes and heading toward sleek, modern, minimal looks with bold florals. Yay! (I’ll miss you, Mason jars!) Also LOVING the rose gold rings and raw diamonds!
What piece of advice would you give to wedding guests who want to take better pictures at weddings they attend?
In a nutshell, use an actual camera instead of your phone, and READ THE MANUAL. Almost everything I teach in my beginner workshops is in a manual. People just hate reading them!
If you could plan your wedding all over again, what would it look like?
I had my dream wedding almost 6 years ago in an old wine cellar turned restaurant, with the reception upstairs in a restored 20s ballroom. It was loud and fun, and we opted for barista tables and lounge sofas near a buffet to keep people moving and visiting. It was perfect. And, yes, there was a mashed potato bar. I think if I did it over again, it would be completely different and identically unique. It was perfect for the look I loved then!
How do you think an app like Joy can help make weddings better?
Joy can keep the Bridal Meltdown at bay. Let’s face it: when planning a wedding, you have a million moving pieces, tons of people to please, and very little time to get it all done. Anything that can help you stay organized is a must!
If you weren’t a wedding photographer, what would you be doing?
I don’t know a world where I’m not some kind of artist. It took me a long time to use the word “artist” to describe myself, but it’s latched on to my soul now, and it won’t ever leave. My husband and I like to flip houses, so maybe I’d be using that Interior design degree a bit more if I wasn’t a wedding photographer.
At Joy we believe that even though a wedding lasts a day, joy lasts forever. What does that mean to you?
I think Joy is a feeling that only pops up in life’s best moments. Happiness and joy are two different things. Happiness is a daily choice — sometimes an easy choice, sometimes difficult — but JOY happens TO us. Like the day a healthy baby is born, or a wedding day – you can’t NOT be happy! And even though those moments come and go so quickly, every time you think back to them that feeling of joy rushes again. So I think in that sense, joy does last forever, even if you don’t feel it 100% of the time.