Holly Nicoll’s creativity and lifelong experience in agriculture puts her in a unique position to showcase the industry through a medium that everyone can appreciate: photography.
Her career trajectory towards her authentic Western and agriculture photography business, Holly Nicoll Photography, started early. Growing up in the ranching community known as Jumping Pound, west of Calgary, she learned at a young age the hard work it took to run a farm but also the opportunities and creative freedom that could be found out in the country side.
“My great grandfather homesteaded here in 1905,” says Nicoll. “As kids we grew up on the ranch, running around, doing lots of outdoor activities . . . Lots of chores and riding horses. Just having a good time being ranch kids.”
After graduating high school, she brought her rural roots with her to university, enrolling in a pre-veterinary program at the University of Alberta. She quickly realized, however, that her passion lay elsewhere, as she switched to a Plant and Soil Science degree.
Her degree landed her a job in sales as a Territory Manager for Syngenta, and it was there that she discovered the need for accurate agriculture representation in the media.
“As a sales rep, the marketing team would send out videographers and photographers to spend the day with me and capture content,” says Nicoll. “[But] I quickly realized that the people we were working with did not understand agriculture.”
This frustration only grew as she pivoted her career and joined the marketing team. The struggles for authentic agriculture content had her creative side itching to give it a try.
“I couldn’t find the images I was looking for online through stock photography sites,” says Nicoll. “It was disappointing to me to not be able to find that. So, I started picking up a camera more.”
As she worked on her camera skills, she quickly grew to love the artform of photography. It had a technical aspect to master and a creative piece to explore. And more importantly, she understood her subjects in a way that brought the best out of them.
“I can add a lot of value as a photographer. . . I have a good understanding of the industry and what they do, because I’ve grown up in it,” says Nicoll. “When I’m behind the lens, I always think: ‘what is the story that I want to tell about agriculture and this moment?’ [I want to] make sure that it’s real and authentic.”
Finding places and people to photograph proved to be of little challenge. Throughout her years working in the industry, she created many lasting relationships with its people. It allowed her to call them up and ask what they were doing and if she could come out to document it. As she built her reputation, she soon had them calling her!
“That’s the great thing: I have a lot of great people that allow me to come out and spend time and trust me enough to showcase what they do for a living,” says Nicoll. “And being able to promote that, it makes me really proud.”
She attributes her success to knowing when and where to be, not afraid to get cold or dirty if it means capturing a stunning moment. Her determination matches that of her subjects and truly gives her an eye for what makes a good image. And a knack for bringing out the story behind it.
“My favourite days with the camera are the most horrible weather days possible . . . because they just show the resilience of the people involved in agriculture,” says Nicoll.
“I think about the cowboy who’s put fourteen hours on the back of a horse, and he’s finishing up his day. He’s out looking over the ridge, and the sun’s going down. He stops for a minute. He thinks about his day, [and] he appreciated where he is. If I can grab [an] image of that, people appreciate that too—maybe not knowing that he’s put fourteen hours in the saddle, but just the appreciation of that lifestyle . . . It’s important for people to feel that image.”
Nicoll’s passion for photography and agriculture has helped her climb quickly within the marketing world. She is now the Head of Marketing in Canada for Nufarm and runs her photography business on the side. In the future, Nicoll hopes to delve deeper into Holly Nicoll Photography, expanding its reach and sharing more about the agriculture industry with those who aren’t from that world.
“Whatever it is in agriculture that’s happening,” says Nicoll, “hopefully [I can] educate people about it but also share the beauty of the image itself too.”
To learn more about Holly Nicoll Photography, watch our interview with Holly Nicoll here.
This has been a Home Grown segment, brought to you by connectFirst Credit Union, showcasing Alberta producers, artisans, and farming communities.