During my career in corporate marketing and brand management, one of the assets I managed was photography. Working on tight financial margins, yet reliant on consumer perception, each image was planned in detail well in advance because every moment in the studio or in the field hit our bottom line. Strategically, our marketing and creative specialists managed the messaging, but we relied on professional photographers that were experts in their fields to deliver our vision to the customer.
It is because of this process that I have an immense appreciation for specialized photographers- from high fashion to food and from portraiture to action. When asked what I think are the most important investments a brand should regularly include in their budget, I always list professional photography near the top of the list. Imagery assists in moving brand perception from good to excellent and essentially communicates a feeling that the consumer can resonate with.
Many of you remember the positive reaction when the “new” look and logic of the Dover Saddlery catalog appeared in our mailboxes. The company's investment created a new connection with shoppers by visually presenting merchandise and the role it plays as part of an authentic equestrian way of life.
Under the creative direction of Sandra Ranke, one of the key photographers working on this project was Heidi Niemala. Last year I had the privilege of discussing her extensive career in fashion photography and how she was using this experience to differentiate her work in the equestrian lifestyle channel.
Currently, Heidi remains active in the fashion and beauty sector, but continues to grow the breadth of her portfolio by signifcantly elevating the imagery that couple the fashion and equestrian worlds. Of note is her recent work published in the exceptionally curated “coffee table worthy” glossy, EQ Living Magazine.
This work includes three impressive spreads titled "The Aristocratic Rebel", "Hunt Country Noir", and most recently "Destination Shetland Isles" (see below). These features set a new elevated barre of excellence for the U.S. equestrian lifestyle publishing industry regarding the presentation of fashion.
Below is Street to Stable’s interview from June of 2017 that discusses Heidi’s vision and experience. Reflecting over the last year, it is apparent that Heidi Niemala has developed a notable reputation as one of the most influential photographers, specific to the intersection of both the fashion and equestrian worlds. This achievement is possible as she continues to work in tandem with other talented creative visionaries that are presenting the equestrian way of life from a fresh and modern perspective.
Kristin M. Thornton
Name of Business: Heidi Niemala Photography
Interview: June 2017
Describe your expertise:
I am a fashion and beauty photographer with more than 20 years of experience at leading fashion magazines, as well as corporate clients like Neiman Marcus, Air France, Target and Brizo.
What makes your styles of photo unique?
With each photo, I try to capture a unique moment suspended in the mind’s eye – the kind of image that might flash through your consciousness 20 years from now. Editors have called my work “timeless,” “transcendent," and "creating tangible desire in the mind of the viewer.”
What is your connection to the equestrian lifestyle?
I’ve been slowly returning to my equestrian roots over the past few years. Not to be too corny, but after so many years in big cities, horses make me feel alive. Fashion photography is glamorous but limited – hot rooms, hot lights, teams of people talking at you all the time. I’d rather have mud on my boots any day. I love the freedom of it all, the vistas, the skies.
Someday I’d love to have a farm in Middleburg and ride every day when I’m not on location.
What inspired you to start shooting the equestrian lifestyle as a subject?
A better question might be, what took me so long? I was born and raised in northern Virginia, and horses were my first love. I’ve been an amateur rider since I was 12. Throughout my career, I’ve tried to find horses wherever I go. This year I was able to ride in Grand Cayman, Park City, Ocala and West Virginia.
Is there anything that surprised you when you started photographing horses?
There are plenty of similarities between horses and models – the long legs, the grace. Horses have better eyelashes (laughs). Seriously, the biggest surprise was the way that horses are in charge.
With people, I’m running the show, but with horses, I am following their lead. You can’t use too much equipment – it spooks them. You just need to follow where they want to take you. It’s like riding in that respect; the best work requires absolute trust.
I hope to work at the intersection of fashion and the equestrian world. My dream project involves haute couture models who can really ride. I’d also like to shoot all types of horses – thoroughbreds, warmbloods, draught horses, dressage.
UPDATE as of 8/11/2018: Over the last year, Heidi has actively continued to pursue her vision as a photographer that captures the intersection between fashion and the equestrian way of life. As mentioned above, she was behind her lens for three sophisticated spreads featured in EQ Living Magazine (available online and in print) titled The Aristocratic Rebel, Hunt Country Noir, and most currently, Destination Shetland Isles.
CONTACT: Heidi Niemala, E: email@example.com/ T: 917-834-9102.
AGENT: Barry Soorenko, E: firstname.lastname@example.org/ T: 301-996-6850
NOTEWORTHY CONTACTS FROM INTERVIEW:
Sandre Ranke, creative director, w: sandraranke.com
David Burnett, fashion stylist editor, w: davidburnettnyc.com
Equestrian Living Magazine, available online and in print, w: eqliving.com
ABOUT HEIDI NIEMALA
Heidi Niemala is a fashion and equestrian photographer best known for her timeless images. She has been honored with more than 25 Addy Awards from the American Advertising Federation. She is also a recipient of the prestigious Hasselblad Masters Award celebrating the world's most extraordinary talent. Born and raised in northern Virginia, Heidi began her professional life in front of the camera. After six years of modeling, she attended college in Washington, D.C. and returned to the fashion industry as a photographer. Current and past clients include Dover Saddlery, Neiman Marcus, Vogue and EQ Living. Heidi currently lives outside New York City raising her two sons, Jack and Griffin.
How do you stand out amongst a multitude of equestrian brands? You need to be easily differentiated.
To do this, you need to be authentically connected to your equestrian brand. Wholeheartedly and unequivocally you need to be fully invested in your core values, process and brand story to connect with your customers on both an an emotional and practical level.
Click below for five tactics provided by entrepreneur Eizabeth-Anne Rhodes, founder of the innovative branding agency and production company Saucy Piaffe, to better understand how to pass this authenticity along to your customers:
Recently, Izzy Baker’s The Kindness Movement, spurred a discussion with myself and a group of equestrians of varying ages. The topic of DIGNITY, and how it relates to kindness was introduced by a young equestrian. She commented, “Dignity, like kindness, used to be something that society considered to be extremely important, but nowadays it is thought to be irrelevant.” Upon further inquiry, she explained, “being collected and thorough with one's thoughts and actions. Those qualities aren’t valued anymore.” Wow, out of the mouths of babes.
Click below for insight on how to better integrate DIGNITY into both your competitive equestrian environment and everyday life.
Are you finding that you are short on time between balancing time at the stable and your have-to's during each day? Cross-training at the gym, specifically for enhancing your riding, is often one of the first items to be cut from a hectic schedule.
Click below for details and video:
Street to Stable®
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