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An Interview with photographer Nico Wills

During this series we will be interviewing some of the most inspiring and talented people, all of whom have faced many challenges to achieve the success we see today.

Kick starting this series is the phenomenally talented, Ex Army Officer Nico Wills, who fast becoming one of the most recognized photographers of the day and famed for his portrait, travel and conservation pieces.

(Captain Guy Disney, Amputee, successfully completed but the Walking with the Wounded North Pole (2011) and South Pole (2013 challenges).

When did your interest in photography start?

Growing up my Dad had an Olympus 35mm film camera that went everywhere with us. I remember the first time he showed me how to line up the little prisms through the viewfinder to focus. I remember at the time just loving playing with that and changing the depth of field, it was like magic to a small child! What got you hooked?

Learning how to compose and then that satisfying ‘click’ as you take a photo and the shutter does its thing; it is like the camera speaking. Then the long wait as photos disappeared to be processed and that excitement of waiting for them to return. Digital has changed a lot of this with the ability to more immediately reward yourself with seeing the photo on the camera but there is still immense satisfaction to be gained when you look back at what you have just taken and know you have ‘the’ shot you wanted. What would you say is your favourite type of photography?

This is one I get asked the whole time and I am never 100% certain of the answer. I love portrait photography, the building of a rapport with your subject, creating a connection into which you insert a camera and capture that moment. Plus I have been lucky enough to photograph some fascinating people which always helps! This year I have photographed everything from the worlds most iconic musicians and actors all the way to portraits of children, adventures in Norway and Greenland, and corporate headshots! A lot of the truth is that I feel incredibly fortunate to be making a living as a photographer and therefore regardless of what I am taking pictures of I am enjoying myself. I have a background as both a zoologist and a soldier so ideally one day I would like to combine these aspects with photography to take pictures and portraits that meant something; pictures that give a voice to issues that need exposure. Later in the year I am working with the charity Earthwatch to do just this, documenting conservation work out in Malawi, I can’t wait!

What product could you not live without in your professional life (other than your camera!)

A good bag!! While kit will vary hugely between a corporate headshot in Mayfair to adventure photography in Norway, the one thing you always need is something robust and comfortable to carry your gear from place to place. The soldier in me always likes to plan to the worst case scenario so whichever bag a take I love the ability to have a place for everything and for it to be more than just a camera bag. In the UK I have an old Billingham bag which has seen better days but in canvas and leather it looks the part from parties to fashion portraits. If I am going further afield I cannot recommend a company called F-Stop enough. They make great outdoor rucksacks that neatly combine with camera carry. The long and short is that you can put your camera, tent, warm kit etc on your back and never feel unprepared! What product / accessory could you not live without in your day to day life?

As cliche as it is my iPhone! I cannot believe how much technology has changed over the past few years and the iPhone is front an centre of that. It is a diary, communications system, navigation device and even a camera controller all in one. The ability to link your camera to your phone now is incredibly neat. I remember doing a shoot with a Principal from the Royal Ballet. She was a perfectionist and wanted to make sure the shots conformed perfectly to how a ballet dancer would move and pose. We hid my phone under her tutu and after each shot she could review the image to make sure her deportment was perfect. Incredible that you can do that now on a device that not long ago had Snake as its major highlight. Why do you use notebooks over digital?

There is a solidness to notebooks that digital can’t replace. A lot of people feel the same way over paper books vs e-readers like the kindle. A good notebook is a tactile repository for your thoughts and ideas. It is your to-do list, a sketch book, a spare bit of paper to leave a note with even! The majority of the Army are formidable note takers and that has carried on with me now into civilian life. Especially in the field notebooks are waterproof (or can easily be made so), foolproof, and have an unlimited battery life! The only problem is when your pencil runs out! Whats special about your Rollo London notebook?

There are lots of A5 notebooks in the market today; I was a fan of moleskins for a long time! What really impressed me about the Rollo London books are two fold; one superficial and one just plain useful! First they look good. Simple. It is nice that when you produce one from your bag it is a style that most people have not seen before. Building a photography business that is all about service, professionalism and quality, as silly as it seems but producing a dogeared notebook would give utterly the wrong impression. Producing a smart leather notebook with your company logo neatly embossed on it gives the right impression. What is also great about the Rollo notebooks is that each one has a dedicated place for date / referencing on each page. Working on multiple projects which each involve maybe a couple of meetings to talk through ideas and concepts, more pages to annotate lighting and location diagrams and settings, it is a nice touch which enables quicker and more seamless referencing. The notebooks also have a pouch at the back which is great for chucking in loose items such as call sheets which you obviously don’t want to loose but at the same time don’t really want to be sticking in to your notebook!

(Nico on Location in Greece with his Blake, A5 Hardy Notebook)

Which project has been your favourite to date?

That is really tricky; as I said above I am lucky enough to be doing a job a love so most things fall in to that category. Taking pictures in a snow storm in Norway with IGO Adventures was pretty hair raising. Flying low over the Polar Ice Cap in a helicopter was incredible and surreal due to the horizon being flat and white in every direction. Getting the Kaiser Chiefs to stand still in a makeshift studio in the middle of a field was just awesome, even more so when they loved their photo and started sharing it with everyone. However, among these moments I think I am most proud of being involved in the Great Traits Project. Launched at the end of last year (and available on Amazon!) my friend Toby (Tobias Harwood) wrote an stunning book focussing on a select group of Great Britons who had all achieved pinnacle heights in their careers. From adventurers, olympians, entrepreneurs, soldiers; all had conquered great odds to get them to the tops of their professions. The inspiration for the book came from his friend Guy Disney, who having had the lower part of his leg amputated after his vehicle was hit by a rocket propelled grenade in Afghanistan, 18 months later set a world record walking to the North Pole (and the year after the South!). I was brought in as a (at the time) serving soldier who could take pictures! I met and took portraits of some truly extraordinary individuals who’s stories still leave me aspiring to do more with my life. Whats more is that all the proceeds of the book, every scrap, goes to the charity Walking With The Wounded. Truly it is a great book so please do give it a go! I liked the thought that in a few cases it was the scenario of a soldier taking pictures of other soldiers in order to raise money for wounded soldiers. Through it I also met some great individuals who have since taken time to give me some great advice and guidance, particularly Pen Hadow, George Bullard and Levison Wood who have all been great encouraging the adventure photography side.

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