Be aspirational but authentic and relatable to your audience.
5 min read
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In this series called Member Showcase, we publish interviews with members of The Oracles. This interview is with Nick Onken, a personal brand photographer who gets results for entrepreneurs. It was condensed by The Oracles.
Who are you?
Nick Onken: I capture “GQ style” images for entrepreneurs who want to elevate their personal brand and connect with their audience deeply through visual storytelling. I’ve photographed celebrities like Justin Bieber, Usher, and Jessica Alba and entrepreneurs like Tony Robbins and Lewis Howes. I’ve also worked on global advertising campaigns for megabrands like Nike and Coca-Cola.
What are you more skilled at than most people in the world?
Nick Onken: My style is what I call “Elevated Realism,” which captures the highest version of someone in a photograph and speaks more than words. The image is aspirational but feels authentic and relatable to the audience.
How did your business get started?
Nick Onken: My personal branding photography for entrepreneurs exploded after I worked with Lewis Howes, the former professional athlete and entrepreneur behind The School of Greatness. We became friends after meeting through a charity we both support, Pencils of Promise. A few years later, we did a photoshoot together for his website and social media.
I created storytelling assets that captured his brand of “greatness,” which generated word-of-mouth demand from his community. From shooting celebrities and big brands, I learned that an entrepreneur’s personal brand is the product, and you sell yourself through visual storytelling.
What book changed your mindset or life?
Nick Onken: As I am an artist and entrepreneur who is paid for creativity, “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield has been monumentally influential to me. Each day presents challenges: procrastination, laziness, fatigue, and distractions in your personal life. Pressfield explains that the act of creating involves stepping back to identify the “resistance” before pushing through it.
The biggest takeaway was the importance of understanding that the resistance exists. When you become aware, you can then choose to push through. As with everything in life, awareness is the key.
What was your biggest challenge starting in business? How did you overcome it?
Nick Onken: Finding the joy of the journey while paying the bills was my biggest challenge when starting as an entrepreneur. In a creative profession, it takes years and at least 10,000 hours before people are prepared to pay for your craft. It takes a great deal of dedication and continual iteration to make your business commercially viable. So, I learned how to be patient with myself and the process. The consistent “wow” feedback from clients fueled me. Gradually, I stacked up the wins and took on more prominent campaigns, brands, and celebrities.
How do you define great leadership?
Nick Onken: Someone who leads from service, not ego. Great leaders build others up, live with integrity, and lead by example. They don’t need the position or title; they lead naturally with who they are.
How do you evaluate a good business deal?
Nick Onken: A good business deal must be mutually beneficial. The client must properly recognize the value of your service and in turn, you must execute with excellence. I enjoy working with people who want to create value together and view photography as more than a commodity.
What’s your daily routine for success?
Nick Onken: Your mental game is the biggest test, so I believe in winning the mornings. I meditate every morning right after I wake up, ideally before I check my social media, messages, or emails. Vedic meditation has been my daily anchor. It releases negative thought loops and is like brushing your teeth, but cleaning your mind instead.
After meditation, I work out to get my metabolism going. Then I have a protein shake with supplements before starting work. I also practice gratitude and set the intention to create magic throughout the day.
What are you working on right now?
Nick Onken: I’m primarily working on personal brand photography for entrepreneurs. I love helping them create storytelling assets to connect with their audience. I also make custom hats for hat enthusiasts and have a podcast for creative entrepreneurs called NIONradio, which decodes creativity through lessons and stories from interviews with today’s top creatives.
What do you want to be known for, or what do you want your legacy to be?
Nick Onken: Creating art that inspires and empowers people to live as their highest selves, whether they’re part of it or viewing it. I want people to become deeply connected with who they are through my work, whether it’s a photograph, interview, or artwork.