Niki Simpson, based in Surrey, is an award-winning botanical illustrator and recognised author. Niki’s aim is to present contemporary botanical images in an accurate and detailed way, while pioneering the photographic movement in botanical illustration. Her images are beautifully inspiring. We hope you enjoy…
How did you get into photography?
It was completely by accident! I originally worked in the Botany Department at the Royal Horticultural Society Wisley Gardens doing some freelance botanical illustration. I managed to get some training funds from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, part of which included some money for some photographic training. However, this was purely so that I could take better photographs in order to record plant parts.
During one of the training days I was sent a digitised version of the photographs I had taken. From the moment I saw them I realised that I could see the plant parts fully and realistically, and that I could document a plant digitally by photographing it, cutting parts out and sticking them on a white background. I just needed to improve my photography.
How would you describe your photographic style?
I guess, detailed illustrative work or botanical composite illustrations. But it’s actually very experimental because it’s not being used in botany yet, I’m very much pioneering it.
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
After my father died, my mother gave me his old Canon SLR, but the one I use now is a Canon EOS 600D.
How do you light such detailed subjects?
In the past I have tried daylight bulbs but I found it gave me too harsh a lighting which I don’t want. I want the parts to stand on the page, I don’t want light coming through them. Now I just use pure daylight and a white background, however I do have to avoid certain times of day to avoid colour bias.
What editing tool do you use?
I just use Photoshop, it’s all I’ve ever used.
The best part of your job?
Probably learning about the plants, I’m always learning more. However well you think you know a plant, there’s always something new to learn, watch and observe. I also love experimenting because it’s such an experimental area of botany, seeing how far I can push the limits and new ways they can be used.
The worst part of your job?
Trying to make it pay and trying to manage the IT side on my own.
Do you make time for personal photographic work?
I do like architecture and architectural detail photography. However, I find that when I’m on holiday or out I don’t really want to be doing photography, I just want to get away. In fact, now when I go out I never take my camera, I just use my Iphone for snaps.
What is the best piece of advice YOU have ever been given?
I was once told that when you’re trying something new the worst thing you can do is to give up too soon.
If you weren’t a graphic illustrator, what would you be doing?
Probably retire, I would like to keep going for a bit while all my technical knowledge is up to date. It would always be something to do with plants though.
Are you a Mac or a PC lover?
I use a PC but simply because when I was at Wisley the scientists were on PCs so it made sense to carry on with what I was familiar with, but I love my Iphone and my Ipad.
What talent would you most like to have?
To be able to sing properly.
Your favourite botany book of all time?
“Drawings of British Plants” by Stella Ross-Craig, the whole series.
What do you love to indulge in?
I love designs and patterns, because I have all of these plant parts that I have been building up a portfolio of designs with, I might do something with them one day.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
I love where I am. I have no desire to be anywhere else.
First thing you would do if you won the lottery?
I think I would pay for a dedicated coder so that I can get my images working interactively, which is how I have always envisaged them and designed them.
For your business, what’s your favourite thing about theimagefile?
For me, without theimagefile I wouldn’t have crossed that threshold of an e-commerce website, but you have made it very easy for me.