There’s no denying that there is no shortage of photographer these days, but it’s always pretty easy to spot the guys who have been putting in the time and work to make their photos look amazing. Todd Nichols name is one that might ring a bell, between his work we have featured on the site in the past or by bumping into him while he has been out on the road. Todd has been riding BMX and shooting photos longer than a good number of you reading this and with all those years comes a lot of experience, miles and snaps of the shutter that have lead to some great photos. We were thinking it would be rad to get to know Todd a little better and showcase some of his work over the years in a new interview and PHOTOGALLERY! Check out the interview by making the jump and then after, get a look at 29 of his photos in the photogallery! Ready? Let’s do this!
Name: Todd Nichols
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Years riding: I got my first BMX bike in 1988, so I guess 27 years it’s been.
Years shooting photos: Maybe 17
How did you get into BMX? Any early memories coming to mind?
My stepmom was the bicycle assembler at TOYS ‘R US and brought home a Jumpin Joe Hendricks Huffy Freestyle Expert with custom paint splatter (no two alike) for my 7th birthday. I did my first wheelie, went off my first curb, and busted my first lip on the neighbor’s driveway going over the bars doing an endo on that bike. It probably wasn’t until about 9 years later when I was living in Wichita, Kansas that I really got into BMX, though. One day I was just cruising through this trailer park where I lived when I came across these kids that all had race bikes while I’m sitting there on my neon pink Haro with chicago’d out bars, 4 thread on pegs, front brakes and gyro. I asked them if there was any places around to ride since I was new to the area and they told me about the BMX track just a mile up the road, so I headed there the very next day. The track wasn’t fenced in so I would just go up there everyday after school to practice or race and well the rest of the story pretty much writes itself.
What about photography? Was this something you picked up because of BMX?
I would say so. When I was in high school they offered a couple photography classes which I was very interested in and although they focused primarily on darkroom and film developement techniques rather than shooting and fundamentals, that was where I got my start. Like most kids who ride bikes and have a camera I gravitated towards shooting mostly just my hobby and friends.
What was your first camera?
My first ever camera was a Kodak Polaroid One Step, pretty simple you just point it push the button and voila an instant photo in your hands! Come to think of it nothing has really changed since those days thanks to smartphones. It wasn’t until I was about 16 that I purchased my first 35mm camera. My friend Phil was selling his old Minolta and I didn’t know anything about cameras at the time so I bought it from him. It was fairly tech for those days having auto focus and a top LCD. I still have undeveloped film in it from something I shot probably 7 years ago when I was feeling nostalgic about film which I still need to get developed. I do miss the anticipation of getting film developed and seeing your work on actual prints, what I don’t miss are the costs that come along with it.
What is your current setup looking like?
This is a question I get asked a lot and I have to laugh because most people who are fairly photo/tech savvy seem suprised I don’t have more expensive equipment when I tell them. One guy I was shooting along side at an event once even got a little upset cause he was using bodies and lenses that costs probably 3 times what I spent and wasn’t getting very good results. It’s mostly Canon in the bag, for bodies I have a 60D and a much older 40D both with battery grips. For Lenses I have a stock 28-135mm, a 50mm 1.4 Prime, and a Sigma 10mm 2.8 Fisheye. Flash wise it’s just two Canon Speedlites. Two aftermarket intervalometers for product, landscape, sequence and timelapse stuff. Three Pocket Wizard remotes. For light stands I just use two inexpensive tripods mainly because I can never find level ground at the trails plus they’re compact and quick to adjust on the fly. Software wise just Photoshop and my wife got me Lightroom for Christmas a couple months ago which is pretty awesome. Other than that most everything else I own is for video use.
Do you have a dream setup at all or are you pretty content with what you are working with?
I’m a firm believer in using what you have to it’s full potential because you don’t always need the most top of the line equipment to get great images. I’m laughing now because after typing that I realized that I would at some point really like to get another full frame camera body again. I really miss my old 5D and APS-C sensor cropping does suck. Maybe a couple Einstein’s with battery packs would be nice to replace my speedlites which have been knocked over more times than a Durham gas station. I’ve also been thinking of getting back into film and purchasing either a Hasselblad 500CM or maybe a Rolleiflex 2.8? There is just something about a quality built medium format waste level finder that has always intrigued me.
Who were some of the first riders you had the chance to shoot photos with?
Well, because I started shooting photos in high school it was usually my friends that I rode with everyday. Since I grew up mostly in and around Kansas City, Missouri the first pro rider I ever took a photo of was Dennis McCoy. It wasn’t until after high school when I moved to Austin Texas that I would see pro riders on a more regular basis. At that point in my life I was having so much fun riding and progressing that I would rarely pick up the camera to shoot photos when I lived there which is still something I regret a little, but you know at the end of the day a memory is still more valuable than a photo.
Who are you shooting with on the regular these days? Who are some of your favorite people to work with?
I still shoot mostly photos of my friends and new riders that I meet along the way. For me it’s more rewarding to shoot a photo of a rider who has never really had a good photo taken of them riding than someone who has had hundreds of good photos taken of them, because to me that person is usually the one who will appreciate it and is probably going to be the most excited about the photo when they see it. I really like shooting with everyone I meet although there are a couple friends that make it really enjoyable for me and that’s just because they are great people to be around and they make taking a picture pretty stress free.
Are there any pros you have always wanted to shoot with but haven’t had the chance?
I’m sure there are plenty. I’ve always wanted to shoot with guys like Mike Aitken or maybe Brian Foster. The only photos I’ve ever shot of them were from when they rode for Mosh and Schwinn so you can imagine how old those photos must be now? I had a chance to take some photos of BF at Ray’s MTB Park a couple years ago but didn’t because I was too tired from riding there all day so I just watched him roast instead which was far better than dragging all my gear out. I love taking photos of guys that have great style on a bike because in my eyes that photo will always seem timeless. There are tons of other riders out there that I would love to take a photo of or just share a moment with but I guess those two were the first that came to mind.
Have you had the chance to travel much because of BMX and photography? Where are some of the places you have been?
I’ve been pretty fortunate to have traveled all over the country because of BMX and meet a lot of great and interesting people along the way. My camera has came along for the ride most of that time but my bike has always been the one by my side through just about everything and I’d never change that equation. I’ve seen just about every state on the mainland, countless skateparks, trails, legendary street spots, and even been to a lot of places that have long been gone or forgotten about but the one thing that has always eluded me my whole life is traveling abroad. For some reason I have never taken the plunge even though I’d like to.
Let’s say you got a fat budget to take any 5 riders of your choice anywhere in the world for a week to shoot. Who do you pick, where do you go and why?
This is probably the toughest question you could ask me because when I go on trips I want everyone I know to come with me so rather than dodge this question I’ll be honest.
First guy has to be John Rogers because his laid back no itinerary mindset is a perfect recipe for traveling stress free and having good times seeking out new adventures.
Second would have to be Zachary Kring from Florida because within the first 15 seconds of meeting him he instantly becomes your new favorite rider. His positive attitude and love of life coupled with his incredibly wild and unique style both on and off his bike makes him an easy number two pick.
Third I’m gonna say Darren Bouldin because he’s not only one of the nicest and most modest guys to step foot on 2 wheels but he can also ride anything you put in front of him from big trails to steep rails and do it all with a smile on his face the whole time.
Fourth is gonna be out of left field here but I’m gonna say my old friend Ty Johnsrud from Kansas because I’ve never been on a trip with anyone that can keep me laughing as much as him whether he’s slapping himself in the face outside the window of a car traveling at 85mph, or rocking the freshest undersized Eddie Money t-shirt you’ve ever seen or just making some of the wittiest jokes, he’ll keep you in stitches the whole time!
Last but certainly not least I would want to bring Lee Bird. Just to see him on a bike again would probably bring a smile to my face. Lee may not know this but I probably wouldn’t have stuck with racing and riding had it not been for him and his motivation to push me to have fun when we were kids.
Ok, so the who and why part wasn’t so bad as far as where we would go in the world to ride it wouldn’t really matter because with a crew like that we would have fun no matter where we were, and you would be able to tell by the images portraying this excellent adventure.
I know we featured some photos of yours from the Gold Rush Trail Jam. What do you like to shoot most? Trails, street, park? Why?
I’m not really sure? Each have their own pros and cons. For example I probably like being at trails the most but the lighting situation isn’t always ideal especially with a lot of trees and sunlight peeking through which makes for a lot of obstacles when shooting. Park is usually the easiest to shoot however riders don’t seem to enjoy the photos as much as other disciplines and if it’s a public park your flash stands are free game for any kamikaze skateboard. Street I feel like you can be the most creative with composition and lighting but it sucks lugging around 40-50lbs of gear all day up and down hills and I hate asking dudes to help me carry my stuff just so that they can ride. I’d honestly say it’s pretty even across the board with what I prefer to shoot, besides if I shot only one thing I’d get pretty bored with it and probably just stop.
Do you shoot outside of BMX at all? Do you get into weddings or any of that crazy stuff?
I used to be a video editor before moving out to the east coast and our primary business was weddings and commercials but after about your 100th one you get burnt out. I still will do the occasional wedding, it’s just not something I’d want to do full time again. I’ve shot product stuff also some real estate photography and once in a while an on site portrait shoot. I’d love to move more into some studio photography, it would be awesome to one day have my own home studio. I have done stuff for BMX brands here and there but most of them don’t want to pay you, so I try not to sell myself short too often. It does suck when you have a few really good shots of lets just say “big name” sponsored riders but the business side of you doesn’t want to just give them away or see them forgotten about on social media platforms. Whether I’m getting paid or not I’m still always gonna take photos because I love to.
What’s the weirdest thing you have been asked to shoot photos of?
Some of my friends always joke about this with me, but I was once approached by a guy in the adult film industry to be a filmer. He told me it paid $12 an hour and I wouldn’t have to worry about anonymity. I told him thanks but I already made more money than that waiting tables. In hindsight it could have been interesting but I didn’t really want to get involved with that whole world.
Who are some of the photographers that really inspire you?
Spike Jonze tops this list, for some reason that photo of Mat Hoffman doing the backflip in France on the cover of Go magazine and later on the cover of Head First will forever live in my memories! Spike was fearless when it came to getting in there where the action was with his fisheye and the fact that he could transition between BMX, skateboarding, photography, and film is a true testament to just how talented he is.
Next on my list has to be Mark Losey. I remember being just a teenager when I first met Losey. He would come to Kansas City to shoot with Dennis and he always had this look of excitement on his face that I’ll never forget. His photos really inspired me growing up. It’s funny thinking about it now because I used to be a manager at a home improvement store where Losey lived down the road from and he would come in from time to time and buy stuff, I remember getting so excited just to go up and talk to him even if it was for just a minute about something completely non-bike related.
I’ve also got to put Rob Dolecki on this list with his keen eye for composition and execution, he’s taken some of my favorite photos ever plus he still rips the trails! I wish I was half as good as him at both.
As for non-bmx work I’ve always been a fan of Jerry Uelsman and his use of post production prior to the days of photoshop to create images that are truly unique and works of surreal art through photomontages. I tried imitating his style in photography class in our school’s darkroom but I was not very good at it.
Do you shoot photos for a living or are you working a real job to pay the bills?
Right now it’s sort of half and half. I work for myself doing web commercials, the occasional bike video, and photography. But the other half of my time is spent doing carpentry and home remodeling. I actually prefer doing both because too much of one thing can start to feel repetitive and get stale. Plus I just really enjoy how different yet rewarding they both are.
Where do you want to take your photo work in the future?
I guess I’d really like to shoot more than I currently get the chance to. I love to travel and see new places and meet new people so if I could find something that can encompass both of those things that would be awesome. I would also like to do more studio work in the future.
How can people keep up with you? Are you on Twitter, Instagram and all the social media stuff? Do you have a portfolio website?
I never really used my twitter account, my instagram is @toddnichols and I usually post new and old stuff on there all the time. I have a Facebook, but I try to limit the amount of time I’m on it these days because it has stolen so many years of my life away already. I’m in the process of doing a new portfolio website as well as been talking with some friends about possibly doing a site for the North Carolina BMX Scene again because it’s always popping off down here. But if anyone is looking for some photo or video work I’m always out here on two wheels.
Do you have any shout outs or thanks?
I’d first like to thank you Kurt for even being interested in what I have to say. Then I have to thank my wonderful wife Jennifer who puts up with me traveling and being gone all of the time just so that I can still ride a little kids bike and never grow up. I’d like to thank all of my friends from over the years for allowing me to take photos of you and also for being so patient with me at times. Lastly I would like to thank anyone who has ever inspired me to either be a better rider or photographer or just a better person. I can honestly say that without you I wouldn’t even be typing this right now thinking of how great you all have been.
Anything else you want to say?
Life is full of amazing moments and if you don’t take the time to stop and be apart of them you’ll probably miss out on the best ones.