Nick Ulivieri: If You Love What You Do, You’re Willing To Work Every Day of Your Life

Introduce yourself

What’s up everyone, my name is Nick Ulivieri, I was born in Brookfield, Illinois, grew up in the west suburbs. I’m 33 and I’m a professional commercial photographer.

When did you first pick up a camera and get started with Instagram?

Photography came relatively late in my life. I was always pretty creative growing up. I’d love to color and draw, and took art classes all throughout high school. Once college started, for whatever reason, I figured I needed to do something professional with my life. I studied business and when I graduated I worked in a PR firm but didn’t really like it. While working in PR, I felt like I wasn’t doing as much creative work as I wanted. My Dad was born and raised in Italy. He moved to the states when he was around 30. One time, for a family trip, he took our whole family out there for 17 days to see relatives and explore. As he told me about the trip, I thought I should get a camera and take some photos while there. I bought a Sony point and shoot and started taking photos on the trip…and kept taking photos on the trip. Next thing you know, two weeks into the trip, I figured out all of the manual controls and my family couldn’t find me because I’d be off taking photos while they’d be going on a tour. It finally hit me that this was the medium that really resonated with me. I got onto Instagram around 2012. Back then I was posting all sorts of different stuff. I didn’t have a curated feed like now, but it’s been cool to look back and see how much has evolved.

How much did your advertising and marketing background really help boost your photography in terms of becoming a brand and also in terms of talking with and establishing clients?

I think it helped immensely. I went to business school and was in the ad industry for a while. I was used to working with clients and deadlines. When I struck out on my own for photography, I already felt like I had an in. The business school helped because I was good at working on projects, multitasking, scheduling, and budgeting. It was super helpful to work and know the business side before I jumped into creative work. I think for a lot of people if you have the eye and passion, creativity knows no bounds, but how you work that into a professional career is the challenging part.

A few years back you did an interview on how to effectively hashtag your Instagram photos. Are you still into using Hashtags? Do real people and not just bots use some hashtags?

I use them, but it’s more so out of habit. I feel like hashtags don’t work the same way they used to. You used to be able to use certain hashtags and get features from those feature pages, but that doesn’t happen for me anymore.

I think people still follow specific, community hashtags they are connected to. I know chitecture is a really great one and a few of the other local community hashtags are good. But sometimes I’ll still use the ones that bots see and hope that because it’s viewed by millions of people that a handful of ‘real’ accounts will see it.

Now-a-days we are starting to see so many brands either underpaying artists or not paying them at all. Why do you think brands look to pay in exposure? And how do we stop that?

Because everyone has a camera in his or her pocket now, everyone can take a photo. A lot of people can accidentally take great photos. It’s easy for companies to just ask, “Can I use this photo”? Most people aren’t doing this for a living. Some people have 9-5 jobs and are already getting paid. And it’s like oh this company wants to use my photo, they’re flattered by that, and they say yes. It’s almost like photography has become a commodity these days. You can always find a better photo for cheaper. I, unfortunately, don’t know how to reverse that. I think creatives who are doing really cool stuff just have to constantly say no to gigs that only look to pay in ‘exposure’.

Because Social media is a free publishing tool, many times work gets stolen or non-credited. You’ve been in situations where you’ve had your work stolen from companies. How do you resolve issues like that?

First and foremost you must reach out and explain the situation. Frustrating as it may be, many social media managers don’t realize the necessity of getting permission before posting. They think they’re ‘sharing’ not stealing. So I always like to educate before I agitate. If they’re pushy and non-cooperative, that’s when I’ll call them out publically so my network knows this feed/brand isn’t on the up and up. I’m sure my work has been stolen, but luckily I don’t know a whole lot of instances where it’s been printed or used on websites or campaigns in widespread commercial applications. Maybe ignorance is bliss in this case, but most of my work has been stolen and used on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter which isn’t as bad, to me anyway. You just have to make sure you call people out and not be afraid to say hey this is my work, it takes me a lot of time, energy, and sometimes money to make it, you cant just use it and take it for free.

Do you think Instagram has lost its touch of creativity to businesses and ads watering down the platform?

Yeah, I think so. I mean Instagram has changed so much, but I think there’s still so much value in it. There are so many people on the platform. Also, for me, I like to use it as a portfolio of my work. When someone asks ‘what do you shoot’? It’s easy for me to just give them my Instagram rather than pass them my business card and have them check out my website. Instagram has turned into a business card/digital portfolio now-a-days because it’s so easy to share and for people to find you. It’s also a great platform to keep in touch with friends you’ve made through Instagram, see cool stuff, and there’s still that scroll-through and addiction of it even though it has changed quite a bit. Some would say not for the better, which is probably true to some point, but we are all still on it. In the end, it’s hard to complain about a free app that’s helped further my professional career.

What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done for a photograph?

Recently I was working with a construction firm and I was on a project site. They told me I could go anywhere I want, so I asked if I could climb the tower crane to get photos of the concrete pour I was documenting from above. Funny thing is though, I’m afraid of heights, although I will say I have gotten a lot better at it because I like the photos that come from it. Climbing up the crane and trying to take the photos I felt pretty shaky. My legs were wobbling. Apparently, when the cranes are pivoting and picking things up, the whole tower sways quite a bit. But, for whatever reason, this guy wasn’t moving for the few minutes I was up there.


In your bio on your website, it says, “When you love what you do it’s not work” If you ever get to a point when it starts to feel like work, what do you do?

That’s a good question. I think I need to change that quote around a bit, haha. It should be, “If you love what you do, you’re willing to work every day of your life”. At the end of the day, it is work, it’s a lot of work actually, a ton of hours, a lot of tedious things you don’t want to do, but you do it because you love the finished product. There are days where it feels like work, but to me, it’s totally worth it. It’s super rewarding and feels good to work hard and accomplish your goals.