Vulnerability & Visual Storytelling: A Conversation with Nicole Honeywill.

I remember first discovering Nicole Honeywill’s page on Instagram and being completely floored by how beautiful, and how well curated her page was. I was even more surprised when I found out that she wasn’t even an influencer from somewhere far away like the UK or the USA, but a South African girl living right here in the Eastern Cape. 

What stands out most, however, is her relatability. Nicole shares openly and honestly about her life, her faith, and her mental health. 

As a photographer, social media manager and content creator, the girl wears many hats. She also knows exactly what she wants, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind – a quality hard to get a grasp of when you’re in your early twenties.

After connecting through a mutual close friend, Jessi Barron, we met up for coffee a couple of months ago to talk about Nicole’s creative journey, her views on social media, what she wishes her younger self had known, and what she hopes to achieve in the year to come.

How did you first get into photography?

I started taking pictures on my iPod touch when I was 15 and it was terrible! I used to take bad selfies, and take a photo of a bush and be like, oh my goodness I should be Instagram famous for this! I only started on a camera in 2017. 

In 2016, I did a gap year and moved to Jeffrey’s Bay. There were all these beautiful restaurants, with beautiful food, and I was suddenly free to do my own thing, so I started taking photos of the food that I was eating. One of the photographers I know, Amy, who runs Sovrin Photography, introduced me to food styling. Our church coffee shop used to sell food sometimes, so we’d buy something to eat, and she basically styled it. She took everything off the table and showed me what to do, and that really got me, I was like that’s amazing

I started shooting on my phone more professionally. When I took portraits of people I’d follow the rule of thirds, and I started doing YouTube research. 

In 2017, I did Media Academy at Victory Gap year. I did the first half of the year there, and one of the courses was photography. I just transferred everything I learnt on my phone, to a camera. 

So I already knew how to frame shots, and how to take photos of people. I just fell in love with it. 

It took me 2 or 3 months to learn how to use the camera, because I shoot on manual completely. At first I shot on AV because it automated some of my settings, but then I started moving over to manual, so that’s what took me the longest. 

Learning how to take a photo? Not hard. Learning how to use a camera? A little bit harder. But it’s totally worth it. If you want to start training for a camera, use your phone. We have such good phones nowadays. 

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How did Sincerely Media first come about? What made you decide to start your own business?

Sincerely Media used to be called Nicole Rose Photography and Designs. I started because I wanted to get paid for taking photos, I wanted to earn an income, have a website people could go to, have a name that I could work under. I used to put quite a bit of my money into Adspend, I used to push really hard and it paid off. I used to run sales, and it was just a lot of work, and I was 20 when I was doing this, and I didn’t really know what I was doing yet. I hadn’t been in the business for long enough to know what the right price to be charging was, so I took a break from it.

I had my full time job for 2 years, and halfway through that, I started working on Unsplash. Unsplash is a free stock photography website, and I’m one of their top 100 contributors. With that, people would see Nicole Honeywill and type it into Instagram and Sincerely Nicole Rose would pop up. I had so many people messaging my private account, instead of my actual account because they were picking up ;Sincerely’. So I decided the best thing to do would be to actually change the name. 

So Nicole Rose Photography and Design changed to Sincerely Media, because my brand is Sincerely Nicole Rose. I’ve had it since I was 16, it’s my brand, so I decided it would be the best possible name I can give my business. It’s short, it’s punchy. 

At the moment, my business is a part time thing. I have a couple of social media clients, and I take on photoshoots when I have time. But I’m excited because in 2020 it’s gonna become my full-time focus. I’m planning on running social media courses. I want to empower people. I’m looking at photography subscription packages, and I’m really excited about that. 

What have you learned since starting your own business?

For the first 6 months, especially when you don’t have a reputation behind you, you’re gonna have to take cheaper jobs, just to attract people and get experience, because you’re gonna have to cost somewhere, but once you’ve built up a reputation, constantly be raising your prices, be looking at what the market’s doing. Charge what you’re worth, and if people aren’t willing to pay that, then they’re not the right clients. You’re better off with one client who is willing to spend the money, and really respects you, than you are with 10 000 clients who are busy walking all over you all the time. 

Another thing I’ve learnt is to get yourself contracts. This is just a really simple piece of advice I wish someone had told me. Get someone to write up a contract, or find a contract online and do not do anything unless people have signed a contract that you are 150% happy with. Protect you, protect the clients – it’s worth it. 

Also make sure, especially as a photographer, that you include an expiration date for when you hold on to those photos. So I will keep hold of these photos for 6 months, if you lose them after 6 months, I am not liable for you losing those photos. When you’re around photographers, ask them what they think the most important thing that needs to be in your contract should be. 

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What prompted you to take the unconventional route and not go to university? What did you do after finishing high school?

I’ve just never wanted to go to university. My personality type is an ENTP, and one of the ways we see things is that if it’s not practical, it’s not worth it, and I see university as 4 years into a piece of paper that has no application on the outside world, because you’re basically getting all the head knowledge, with no experience. You’re so busy trying to earn that piece of paper that you don’t have time to earn experience while you’re there. 

I always loved the idea that back in the Renaissance period, people would apprentice with someone, they would go and learn a trade. So I went to Victory Gap Year. I did worship academy because I used to be an avid musician, I can sing, and I can play a few instruments. So I went there, and that was just a year of looking after my heart, figuring out who I was after school. That’s really what it was, self discovery. You can learn a lot about yourself in school, but once you leave, you have this thing of like, ‘Oh my goodness I have to choose my own clothes now, I have to choose my own haircut, how does one do makeup?’ I had to figure that out.

I did quite badly in music in matric, and that was kind of my life plan. When that started going wrong, I realised hey, I need to be looking in other areas, I can keep this as a hobby, but it’s not gonna be my life. It’s not gonna be my source of income, that’s just not viable at this time in my life, maybe later on something might happen but for now, it’s not viable. 

During my worship gap year, my stream leader saw a lot of potential when it came to event organisation, design marketing and really pushed me in that area. So we hosted 2 events, I organised one. I organised lawn chair sessions, and it was completely my baby. I organised the venue, the vendors, the food, the musicians and it was a massive success. It was my first event and I ran all of the marketing, all of the organising. I worked with teams, so I didn’t do everything by myself. 

After doing that I realised, hey, this is something I’m really good at.

So in my second year, I did 6 months of Victory Gap Year’s media stream, and halfway through that, I started an internship under the web designer at the church. 2 months into my internship, she moved to another company, and I took over her job. I was completely unprepared! But I took it over, and learnt on the spot. We kind of sourced things to make them as simple as possible. She was really organised before she left, so everything was really easy to follow, and easy to put together.

After that had happened, and I got a handle of everything, I started helping out with the social media designs, and running Victory Gap year’s social media. I used to do their newsletter – that was my pride and joy! We did a monthly newsletter collecting testimonies, taking photos, and designing the newsletter templates, which they still use to this day! 

The church was downsizing and I was an intern, so the man who ran the media house spoke to companies, a studio up in Humansdorp, and the agency I work for now, and he arranged an interview for me at both of those places. He gave me a really good recommendation and basically helped me have 2 opportunities and then I got to choose between them and I chose the agency I have now.

I worked my way up from arriving as just an intern with no purpose. I did whatever was needed except make coffee, because I make terrible coffee. 

I built websites, I helped edit videos, I did small design jobs – I hate web design though. Disclaimer: I hate it! I can do it, but I really don’t like it. It’s hard, and I don’t completely understand how it works. I can get stuff to do things, but probably not the right way. There’s a right way to do things and I don’t really know the right way. I can just get it there somehow. 

The social media manager at that company left, and I went to my boss and I was like, this is what I really wanna do, this is what I’m really good at, and he started training me and I got that position, and I’ve been the senior social media manager for a year now. 

Its learning on the spot. I do constant training; Facebook training, Instagram training, speaking to people, hanging out with other social media managers, constantly learning from one another. 

What advice would you give your high school self? What do you wish you had known back then?

Stop wearing neon colours, and get yourself a pair of female glasses. Not the unisex pair! No, I would say those things to myself, but the first thing I would say would be stop freaking out. Stop pushing yourself so hard, and start working on things that you’re passionate about, because in the end, the marks from when you’re 15 and 16 aren’t going to define who you are. 

School is not everything. It’s really important and you need to give it your all, you need to commit, you need to work hard at it, but don’t get so caught up in the fear of not doing well that you don’t leave time to figure out what you actually like. And don’t be friends with people just because you’re in the same area. That’s something I wish I’d known back then, that just because you’re around someone all the time, it does not mean that you have to be their friend. You can be comfortable around one another, and you can be acquaintances when you’re together, but you don’t need to push to be their best friend. You’re enough whether the people around you accept you or not, and if they don’t accept you, find other people. 

I did not fit in in high school at all. I was a bit of a loser, and that was always something that used to bug me because I wanted to be in, I wanted to matter, and as I’ve grown up, I’ve realised now, find 2 or 3 people that you really care about, and who really care about you, and invest in them.

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What do you love the most about shoots/photography? 

Capturing moments. I get to capture someone’s memories, and I get to show people off as their best selves, not as society wants them to be. 

In front of a camera is such a vulnerable place to be. You’ll hear so many photographers, well photographers on YouTube, saying that a camera is not naturally going to flatter you. If you just stand in front of it, flat in front of it, it’s not gonna do you any favours. So it’s about learning how to pose people, and how to make them realise that they are beautiful. 

Most people I’ve done photoshoots with step in front of the camera and feel Insecure and uncomfortable, and say ‘I don’t look nice in front of photos’, and it’s like, ‘that’s okay, what do you like?’ You like that? Okay let’s find a location like that. What do you like wearing? Let’s find that. 

That’s the point. Not every photo that you’re gonna take is gonna be this prefect, stylised masterpiece that describes exactly who you are as a photographer. Sometimes you’re just gonna catch people being themselves, and that’s a beautiful thing in itself. 

For me it’s all about storytelling. I always wanted to be a storyteller, that was my dream growing up.

What has been your favourite shoot so far?

I’ve done quite a few photoshoots with my friend Thirza Voogt. It’s not so much doing a photoshoot, but particularly her as a model. She listens really well when I give her instructions, which is phenomenal, and I have so much fun because I can take full control. I can pick the locations, I can style her how I want to – she’s great. I get so many beautiful photos. We’ve come a long way. I’m pretty sure I’ve had a more exciting shoot, but I can’t remember it at the moment! 

And then second, my favourite thing to capture is being on photography at church on Sunday. Because, I mean, what could be more of a privilege than capturing people loving Jesus? I know a lot of churches don’t see the need, or see the purpose of a camera in church. Even for me, when I got there, it used to distract me, but then people would be like, ‘No it’s part of our worship, it’s part of our worship’ and I’d be like, ‘I don’t see it’, but now I really do. 

I get to pull out my camera in the middle of worship and  capture someone encountering Jesus. I get to capture kids worshipping with their parents, I get to sit in the mom’s room and listen to the moms talk and speak about their kids, and I get to go into kids church and see how they’re having fun, learning things and going through the Bible together. I get to come back and I get to see the whole church, standing at the back disengaged, I get to see this huge room of people engaging with Jesus, and I get to take photos of that. 

It’s my favourite thing, because that’s the most beautiful thing on earth. What more of a privilege could you ask for as a photographer than the permission to photograph that? 

What do you like the most and the least about Instagram?

The most is the inspiration I get from it, there’s so much! I’ve met so many people who I absolutely adore, and developed so many friendships with women I’ve never met in person, online. Of course, be smart! These are people I have followed for a while and they’ve followed me for a while before we actually started DMing and talking to each other. If you’re a middle-aged guy and you DM me you’re just gonna get a straight up block. I am very comfortable blocking people and you should be too. 

Social media is your thing – block!

Please don’t go and start randomly DMing people, do not mis-hear what I am saying!

My least favourite thing isn’t so much to do with the platform, but how people react to the platform. People treat Instagram and Facebook as a chaotic evil, and it’s not. It is neutral-neutral. It only has the power to do what you give it to do, and when people call social media evil, and they call all of it the devil’s work, I’m like ‘No, you just have no understanding of how to use, apply and be smart with it’

Yes, awkward things are gonna happen, you’re gonna get those weird camgirl DMs – we’ve all gotten them. You know what you should do? You block them. And you report them to Instagram. Block, report. It’s gonna happen. Stop judging the whole platform off of a couple of bots. It is a place for beauty, a place for community. 

If you’re comparing yourself to who you’re following, Instagram is not the problem, the people you’re following, are. 

It’s your social media, you are not obligated to follow anybody, to like anything or to see anything. You are not obligated to have a public profile. I do, and I think it’s phenomenal, I wish everybody did but y’know what? You are not obligated to live by my wishes. If you’re more comfortable with a private account, turn your account private and only accept the people you know. You’re under no obligation to accept anybody else, and you are under no obligation to post according to an algorithm. If you wanna be an influencer, that’s a different story, but if you want to just use the app to capture memories, then don’t do it. 

Girls, be shameless with that block button! If he’s creepy, and he’s not leaving you alone, block him, and boys, if those girls are sending you stuff you shouldn’t be looking at, block them. And you know what if it’s that much of a problem for you, turn your account on private so that they can’t send you a DM. 

Make the decisions that are gonna benefit you the most. 

Instagram has really strict community guidelines, and if you report something, your report will be looked at in the next couple of days. So if you see something that disturbs you, report it. Don’t delete the app and disappear, these are people who are violating the guidelines of the app, you need to delete them. You need to go and report them, and if you see someone stealing content, report it, put it on your story and get other people to report it as well. 

That’s what I hate most about the platform, seeing people misuse it and leave it because they don’t understand it. 

And then just on a practical note, I hate how long my Instagram takes to update. Y’know how people get all these cool updates? Mine always delays! Like when stories appeared, mine only showed up on my phone 3 months after stories were created and I was just like, Instagram what are you doing? 

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Who inspires you creatively? What’s the inspiration behind the way that you take your pictures?

The inspiration behind how I take my pictures is Mango Street Lab. They’re minimalist photographers on YouTube who do photography lessons. I look up to them so much. The way I lay out my photos, the way I’ve learnt how to take photos, the way I edit, is completely inspired by them. They are the people I learnt from. 

I’ve always loved bright, white things – it just comes down to preference. I don’t like colour. I’m a black and white girl, even in the way that I dress. I own a couple of colourful pieces, and navy is really like, the furthest I’ll go in colour! I have like, one mustard shirt, and it only gets to come out every 6 months. 

It really just depends on what you like. For me, I love minimalism. Pinterest is another big source of inspiration for me, and so is Unsplash. I love looking through the feeds and seeing all these different pictures to be inspired by. 

So Mango Street Lab is at the top of my inspiration list. They’ve taught me so, so much. 

I also have a couple of smaller accounts that I find really inspiring, like Anna Ricketts. She’s just someone who’s aesthetic I look at and I’m like, this is beautiful. Hannah Carpenter is another one. When I just look at her stuff I’m Iike ah, this is beautiful, I want to be able to do stuff like this

What are your top 3 favourite things about living in J-Bay and PE?

I can’t just pick restaurants? I was gonna say Victory Church, Nina’s and Infood but it’s okay, I can be more mature than that. Victory Church. I love the community, I love the people, I love that it is a small town. It’s quiet, it’s just really nice, and just for the vibe. 

I really do enjoy the Jbay Open when it happens. I don’t appreciate the traffic, and I do not like how they party and get drunk and destroy our town, however, I do love the surfing. I’m still learning how to understand it. I love how it brings us together, you’ll see everyone there. It’s such an adventure, everyone’s picked their favourite surfer, we’re all talking about it – I really enjoy that. If I can put in a 4th thing, I love the food. Jbay has got such a foodie culture and I love it. 

Favourite things about PE? My family are number one, I absolutely love coming home and visiting them. Number 2, I love how beautiful PE is, especially the old, more broken-down areas near Govan Mbeki. Every time I drive past it I’m just floored at how beautiful the old city is. It just gives me such admiration for the people who built that stuff, even though it’s dilapidated and breaking down, it’s still beautiful. The 3rd thing is the climbing gym, the Valley Cragg Indoor Climbing Centre. I love climbing! My sister has won me over, I absolutely love it. I’ve landed on my butt quite a few times, and I’m not very climbing-fit, but I really do enjoy it! 

What do you hope to achieve with your creative journey moving forward?

There’s a quote that says “Give a man a fish and he has food for the night, teach a man how to fish and he has food for the rest of his life. 

Something I’m really passionate about is teaching people how to utilise social media, and to bring up the standard of social media within the local area. Tying into that, as the church of Jesus Christ I really think we can do better. We can do so much better on our social media channels. I’m ashamed when I look at churches’ social media. I’m honestly ashamed, like I don’t wanna send people to the social media pages. 

I would love to put together some courses, even a couple of free courses, to show people just basic stuff, like what you do on each platform, what filters you should not be using, and how to incorporate a photographer into your Sunday morning services. You don’t have to be like my church where we have someone going the whole service. You can talk to your eldership and work it in in such a way that hey, if we just take photos from the back during worship, then maybe just as people are coming in and then we turn it off for the rest of the service, is that okay? 

I would love to partner with local churches and create courses that are accessible and easy to follow to bring up the standard of social media, because that’s how we’re gonna reach the next generation. That’s how we’re gonna get them into the building. It’s not how we’re gonna share the gospel with them, but it’s how we’re gonna get them into the building. It’s how we’re gonna get them to speak to people in church, and I really want to see that happen. With the church we should be leading in everything, we should be the best at everything. 

A lot of churches try to use social media to try to spread the gospel and that’s not how it works. Social media is how you warm up people, it’s how you get them comfortable with the idea of who you are, it’s how someone who maybe hasn’t been in church before, will see it. They’ll see it, and they’ll see people having fun, they’ll see people connecting, they’ll see photos of worship, and they’ll develop questions like, oh, where is this? What are they doing? And then next thing you know, they came and visited, and did you share the gospel with them over social media? No. Did you show them what a gospel-centred culture looks like? Yes, and that attracted them. 

So that’s my biggest passion, I wanna see the church step up and I want to create resources that are affordable and available to everybody to use. 

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What prompts you to be vulnerable and open online about your faith and your life?

One of the things that I hold the highest value to in life is honesty – with myself, and with other people. You can get up to whatever you want to, as long as you’re going to be honest with me about it. It means the world to me. I have a saying that if you’re not being honest you’re wasting everybody’s time, including your own. So I just wanna be honest with people, I never want people to look at me and think I’m perfect, I’m not. I never want people to look at me and be like, gosh, I want her life – you don’t want my life. You really don’t want my life; it’s hard, I’m tired, I’m sick most of the time, which you don’t see on social media, and I struggle with my mental health. So I want to make it clear that while I love beauty, just because I’m good at creating beauty, it doesn’t mean that my life is perfect. 

I also want people to know that I love Jesus, and that I’m walking out my journey of sanctification, but I am not perfect. Never look at me and think, she’s got it all together – I don’t. I probably never will, but I love Jesus and I want to spend the rest of my life being undone by Him. 

Never look at my feed and think that that is the perfect representation of what my life looks like. I sit in an office from 9 to 5 everyday, I go home, I cook probably the same meal every night, because those chicken a la king sachets from Knorr are a game changer, so I cook relatively the same thing every night, and then, I go to bed. I watch a movie, then go to bed. Sometimes I wake up early to take photos, and sometimes I don’t, and that’s okay. 

Don’t look at people’s pages and assume everything behind it is perfect. I’d also love to see other people’s vulnerable moments. In my mind, you always start with what you want to see. Never expect it from people until you’ve done it yourself. 

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What advice do you have for others who want to follow a similar route as you but are too scared to?

Make sure that university isn’t something you’re gonna need. If you are in any way considering working in sciences, music, fine art – those things – I would very strongly suggest that you go to university. I didn’t, but in a lot of ways I don’t think university is a waste if you’re gonna work in certain faculties. 

If you want to do anything within the liberal arts, I would strongly consider that university not be your first choice. Rather take a gap year that teaches skills, or, I’m speaking to the Christians here, take a gap year where you can study and learn theology, it’s something that you will never regret. 

Spending time dedicating a year to Jesus is something you will never regret if you’re still trying to figure things out. And if you wanna go the route I went, which is apprenticeship, my biggest advice for you is that you’re gonna need to be willing to work for free for a little while, and you’re gonna need to be willing to have really bad pay for a little while. 

You have no education, and to start with, you’re gonna have no experience, so you’re just gonna do whatever work you can get your hands on. In a little while, as your experience builds up, you become of value. I’ve been typing out my CV over the past few days and I’ve realised the amount of different things I’ve done for free have added up to such a point where I have a CV that is really valuable. 

So work hard, and do short courses. You can never go wrong in educating yourself. I just don’t think a 4-year, focused degree for media and arts is the best way to go if you want to work in the social media side of things. I’m specifically talking social media, because we don’t have a social media degree. So speaking into the only area I know, find online training. Rachel Miller’s courses are phenomenal, I’ve done 2 of them. I can vouch for her. They’re very expensive, but if you’re not gonna spend the money on a degree, you can invest in that. 

Rachel Miller’s “Grow your audience” and “Paid Strategies” courses are about 10 to 15 grand each. I know that sounds like a lot of money but when you add it up next to a degree, it’s not that much money. In context, it’s not a lot of money, out of context, it is a lot of money. You need to keep it in context when I say that. It’s not accredited, but you will learn so much, and you will have results to show what you have learnt. 

So that is important, and get yourself clients. Go and pitch to people! You’re gonna get rejected at some points, but go and pitch to people. Go up to restaurants, decide on your price list and charge what you’re worth. My price list has slowly gone up because when I started, I didn’t know what I was doing. Now I have some clients who pay very little and I have some clients who pay a lot, and I’m okay with that because my experience level has changed in between. 

Another piece of advice is to find people who you can intern with, and intern for free. Especially when you’re at university, if your parents had the funds to send you to university to start with and you chose not to go, ask them to finance you a year’s worth of rent and to give you an allowance while you intern. Treat it like a degree. 

And you know what? A lot of employers, employers have really good integrity, this is something I’ll say for them. They will not keep you on for free if you start bringing in value. If you start bringing in a lot of value, most people, or at least, most people I’ve experienced, will start to offer you some kind of pay. It won’t be a lot, but it will be a little bit, and that is something you can carry with you and it makes you feel proud. 

Once you do have experience, work on your price list. Up them, up them, up them. What I’m charging now is not what I was charging when I started. It took time, it took experience, and now, I feel comfortable charging what I’m charging. Back then, I feel like I would’ve been ripping someone off if I were charging that for my skill level. So, if you’re not gonna go to university and you want to get into the social media world, you need to buy courses, you need to complete them, you need to apply them, and you need to find someone to intern with. 

Paid internships are great, but if all you can get is a free internship, take it. And then, work is not gonna come to you, you go to work. Print out your price list, print out a business card, create pictures, and go and speak to the local businesses around you. Some are gonna say no, and some are gonna say yes. And then make sure you have a contract to work with them on, because just over the table talking doesn’t work. It’s not safe. 

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It was an absolute pleasure getting the chance to sit down with Nicole for this interview. She had so much valuable advice to share about pursuing a career in the creative industry, especially through social media. She has so much experience under her belt already, and I look forward to seeing what she will continue to achieve in 2020, especially now that she’s back in Port Elizabeth.

Hope you enjoyed the read! See you in my next blog post.

xx

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