Interview: Nicolas Miller

"My name is Nicolas (@nickmillers on Instagram). I’m a photographer based out of New York City, where I relocated 3 years ago for my work. I started photography at the end of 2018. The beauty of the city was the trigger for me to pick up a camera.
My work is mainly focused on dark moody photography. I love shooting in heavy rain conditions or deep fog. I’m a movie addict and a huge fan of the neo noir genre, especially movies taking place in the gritty 70s or 80s’ New York. Taxi Driver, King of New York and The French Connection are among my all time classics. I find it very inspiring and this is the type of atmosphere I try to convey in my pictures."

Make sure to follow Nicolas on Instagram @nickmillers

Sure Thing: So recently you've been one if not my favorite street photographer. I've found that I shift focus to those who are shooting things that I typically slack at. For you, I see such a strength in exactly what you shoot - night, rain, mood, but you have a great eye for a story in these scenes. I rarely go out at night because I tend to struggle in finding a scene that "works". Night photos seems to be tough for many, you being still so new to photography, what led you dive into actually going out and shooting at night? Is it purely from movies you've been inspired from?

Nicolas: The first consideration is purely technical. I have a full time job which keeps me busy until 6pm so in winter (when have most moody days), I can only shoot at night really. 

The second aspect is more artistic. I really love exploring different color palettes in my photos and I feel like the city takes another dimension in terms of colors at night. Especially in moody conditions with rain or fog, whether its reflection of the lights on the wet road, or haze engulfing street lights on a foggy night.. I feel like the "Gotham" side of the city really becomes alive at night. I think that’s one of the reasons why most neo noir movies are shot mainly at night or during blue hour. The atmosphere is different, better suited to be the setup of a dark story.

Finally, I really like roaming the streets for hours at night, when most of the city sleep. It’s kind of an escape for me. 

Well said. I actually just saw in your story that you posted snaps from Joker so the love of a Gotham mood makes sense. It's incredible that you only started shooting in at the end of 2018. Crazy how fast you have seemed to pick up photography, it's very impressive. Did you have any trial and error when it came to shooting in these conditions, and exploring how light plays in such elements? Or did it come easy to you?

It’s actually much easier for me to shoot in those conditions than in a normal beautiful day. I feel like fog or heavy rain makes everything more dramatic and interesting (at least when shooting urban landscapes). The exploration of how light play in those elements came in naturally with practice and experience. But I also shoot burst, so for the one shot I will post on Instagram, there might be 15 other shots that are not as good of the same scene. Some photographers might consider this a little barbarian, against the essence of the street photography and capturing the “decisive moment” but I feel like it's ok to do so. I’ve also been studying cinematography this year (mainly watching videos on youtube and studying film grabs.) and I feel like it helped me to get a much better understanding of how light can play into a photo.

For sure for sure. I'm the same way - if I see the scene I want, I fire away and typically the shot I want will be within those 10/15 frames like you said. Times have changed and we're blessed with this equipment that helps us capture what we want to. I've also gotten shit from purist street photographers about photoshopping a "distraction" out of an image. How deep to you dive into your editing process? You're super consistent with your images in terms of color and atmosphere. Is a lot of that consistent conditions, or do you have a technique in post? Also - your street lights / headlights / subway lights are always super soft - whats your trick behind that? I portrays a very dreamy and ominous feeling.

Yeah I think most of the atmosphere in my work comes from shooting in those dramatic conditions. The soft lights you mention are due to shooting in deep fog or heaving rain, there is no real trick behind it. People often ask me if I use pro mist filters to get this effect but truth is I bought one but end up never shooting with it because its not needed in those conditions. But the editing process also plays an important role. I edit all my pics directly in Lightroom mobile. I’m part of a new generation of photographers that didn’t even need to learn photoshop or Lightroom classic because there is so much you can do already on the mobile version that it’s more than enough for me. I’ll only use photoshop sometimes for the clone stamp function if distractions can’t be removed with Lightroom but that’s it. And I edit a lot when commuting so Lightroom mobile is convenient for me.

My process is pretty simple. I usually know what I want to go for when I see a picture in terms of colors so I’ll go straight away in rbg curves and play with those until I’m happy with the colors. And then I’ll work on other adjustments and go back and forth a few times. I also like to rest on my edits and come back to it several times over a few days to make sure I like them through time.

I was actually going to ask if you used any sort of mist filter. This is impressive man. I messed with LR mobile so shoutout to you for actually utilizing it and pretty much mastering it. Your work is consistent as anything - if I see a photo and don’t see your name, I know it’s yours. Is your style inspired by anyone in particular?

My inspirations are very diverse. From movies to photo books to various photographers on instagram. One of my favorite photographers on the platform is Henri Prestes (@henrifilm). Every one of his picture is a true piece of art, almost like a painting. I’m also inspired a lot by music. When I Roam the streets I’m always in my bubble, listening to either some electronic music or some rap. I’m particularly fond of 90s New York rap, like Mobb Deep, Nas, Wu-Tang etc.

Dude I feel you. First off thank you I need to check out his work. But yeah I’m always plugged into some sort of music when I’m out. Funny because everyone I ask seems to not listen to music. They say it’s distracting. I know you said shooting is an escape for you. Is there a story behind that? And does that relate at all to what you project in your work?

I have quite a stressful job which involves hours spent in front of screens and seating in an office with little natural light. I love it but walking the streets of New York taking pictures is where I feel really alive.

Mind me asking what you do? And are you originally from new York?

I work in finance. It’s pretty boring to discuss so I usually don’t go to much into details :) I’m originally from Paris in France. I grew up and studied there and then lived for 5 years in London before relocating to New York 3 years ago.

Did you come to NY for work?

Yeah. I’ve always wanted to be here. I visited for the first time in 2009 for 3 weeks and I immediately knew I wanted to live there. So whenever there was an opportunity for me to transfer from London office to New York office, I seized it!

That’s a beautiful thing man. Alright well I won’t keep you. Last question - where do you see your future in photo?

One thing for sure is that I want to explore more. Explore more New York City and it’s many neighborhoods (I recently started to shoot much more outside of Manhattan and I love it). Explore and shoot other cities and countries. But also explore diverse types of photography like portraits for example. I’ve also been shooting a dozen rolls of film since this summer and I love the experience. There is so much more to explore in the photography journey and I’m very excited about it. Thanks a lot for having me here Colin!