Los Angeles-based photographer Nicki Sebastian loves the idea of seeing the world through the eyes of her children. “Their way of seeing the world is so pure and uninhibited, and if I can have just a fraction of their carefree perspective in my work, I’m accomplishing what I’ve set out to create.” The work she creates—from her beautiful commercial and editorial work with LA lifestyle brands like Jenni Kayne to her startlingly intimate family photography—has this organic and tender quality to it, as if we are being briefly welcomed into people’s everyday lives. We were so excited to meet with Nicki and have a tour of the stylish home she shares with her husband and two daughters. We discussed her minimal maximalist home decor style, the challenges of balancing her work with the joys of motherhood, and how all the different paths in her life have blended beautifully to lead her where she is now.
Your portfolio is quite impressive—can you tell us a little bit about how you got your start and what your professional life looks like today?
My path to now is anything but linear! I started as a kindergarten and second-grade teacher in New York City after majoring in visual arts in college—then worked in the fine arts museum world for years after pursuing my graduate degree in arts administration. I’d like to think that all of these roles play into where I am today—hanging out with lots of kiddos on sets and at family sessions, creating imagery for brands and private clients, and managing the ins and outs of my own business.
Are there any projects that will always stand out for you? A favorite?
I have several clients that have trusted me and worked with me for years, Cup of Jo, Mother Mag, Doen, Jenni Kayne, to name a few—and those relationships and resulting shoots are stand-outs. It means the world to have colleagues who have become dear friends that I get to see and communicate with regularly, especially in a job that can often be isolating.
How would you describe your home style?
In an ideal world, I’d love to be a true minimalist (I love a good closet purge), but with two kids and a tiny house, it’s just not realistic. So I guess I’m more of a minimal maximalist? I do cherish my things, but I also like an orderly set-up, and I’m constantly refining and organizing because we just don’t have the space to amass a lot of stuff. I also value living in a space that is a reflection of our family and brings joy to anyone who enters—lots of framed photos, plenty of pillows and candles since scent is so important to me, extremely kid-friendly furniture because my littlest is a bouncer by nature, and toys that can be seamlessly integrated into our living spaces.
Taking that perfect shot on the gram—any at-home photo tips for beginners?
Turn off all artificial lighting indoors, shoot with available window light, play with direct sun outdoors! Also, to ensure a clean backdrop, download the TouchRetouch app to remove any distractions, its cloning capabilities are magical!
Both aesthetically and energetically, what makes a space good for you to work or live in?
I’m an unapologetic neat freak, so before I work or even relax on the couch, my space has to be spotless, which admittedly drives my family crazy. My brain is so constantly scattered with to-dos and ideas and observations and shoot inspiration that if I am surrounded by clutter or even noticeable dust on surfaces, I’m truly not able to function. I also burn candles constantly (Jenni Kayne’s Topanga and Ash styles are faves), and I prefer all of our shades wide open in every room because my mood is so dependent upon the presence of the sun!
How would you describe your personal and home decor style?
I guess I’m eclectic in both realms. From a home decor perspective, I prefer a lived-in vibe where nothing is super-precious, color and pattern is embraced, my kids’ art is prominently displayed in every room, and cozy reigns supreme. And my personal style is very much the same—I play around with different looks and pairings depending on my mood, and nothing in my closet is too fussy because whether I’m on set or at home with my girls, I need to be ready to get down on the floor and play at a moment’s notice!
How has motherhood impacted the way you work creatively and professionally?
Motherhood right now is more complex than ever. I live for my two girls, but I have never felt more stretched and stressed and downright fried. Some days I feel like a master of multitasking and others feel like I can’t seem to succeed in any facet of my life. But the silver lining is that my children are my true home base, always bringing me back to exactly what’s most important—and they are my constant inspiration when making photos too. Their way of seeing the world is so pure and uninhibited, and if I can have just a fraction of their carefree perspective in my work, I’m accomplishing what I’ve set out to create.
Any tips for photography beginners wanting to break into the industry?
There’s no one single or right way to approach this career path, and while it’s obviously key to master your camera skills and create a solid body of work that represents you and your unique eye, it’s also so important to hone those people skills. So much of this job is interacting with others, be it clients, subjects, stylists, etc.—so I recommend putting in just as much energy into fostering lasting relationships as you put into your photography work, and you’ll stand out as someone that people want to be on set with and who others in the industry can trust.
When you're not behind the camera, what are some favorite activities you like to do with the family?
We moved to LA from New York for the weather, the energy, and the beach—so we make a point to take advantage of living near the ocean as much as possible. I also am an avid runner, it’s one of my anxiety antidotes, and I love a good backyard wine hang with lady friends.
Personal touches and home accents make a space. Tell us a little bit about the styling of your living room.
I created this space with what I had lying around—and then soon realized that navy and mauve are my power colors! I tend to buy things solely based on an in-the-moment gut reaction, and I also love anything with a story attached: art and objects from artist friends, rocks and shells picked up on a special vacation, a photo of my girls being their silly selves. I recently listened to a podcast with one of my biggest girl crushes, Jenna Lyons, and she reminisced about visiting a home where the owners’ entire bathroom was plastered with family photos from floor to ceiling, which made for a contemplative, memorable toilet experience—and as soon as I heard this, I thought, this is precisely what I’ll strive for in my own home!
Who is your dream client and project?
I just bought the first Domino Kids magazine the other day at the grocery store checkout and I’m completely smitten! Kate Berry, if you’re reading this, I would do anything to contribute—this publication is so up my alley, and my copy is already dog-eared and well-worn!
What is next for you and your photography?
Right now, I’m having a hard time thinking beyond this week, but if I had to project and think about where I’m headed, I want to continue to ride this wave because the future is anything but certain, as we’ve all learned this year especially. It’s not lost on me that this career is exactly what I’ve always dreamed of, from the content of my shoots to the people that I work with—and as cheesy as it may sound, it’s honestly hard to think of anything bigger or better at the moment.