Featured Contributor: Kara Nixon


We’re a big fan of portraiture, lifestyle photography, and candid moments. But then again, who isn’t? Especially when they are captured on the California coastline. We’ve loved following photographer and Shutterstock Custom contributor Kara Nixon throughout the years, as it certainly gives us a taste of all the above. Today, we’re very fortunate to get to chat with Kara about how she finds models, how she captures their energy so vividly, and about all the things that are currently inspiring her.


Photographer: Kara Nixon
Location: California, USA

Kara, tell us about yourself!

I'm a lifestyle wedding and fashion photographer based in Southern California. I travel a ton and frequent New York the most. I first discovered my true passion for photography while traveling to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, with my dad in 2006. When I’m not taking photos, you can find me at a coffee shop, on a hike, hanging at the beach, or cooped up editing while watching Friends or Gilmore Girls.

I primarily photograph male models - My Instagram bio says “Jesus loving photo gal of hot model dudes,” but I also photograph bloggers, weddings and for a bunch of awesome brands.
— Kara Nixon

We love your style on Instagram. Who are some of your favorite Instagram accounts/ to follow right now?

One of my first inspirations was Dirk Mai because I loved all how natural each photo was and the way each photo told a story. His work really inspired me to be the photographer I am now. My top 5 favorite photographers to follow currently are:

  1. Jonathan Pryce (@garconjon or @garconthestreet)
  2. Ben Sasso (@bensasso)
  3. John Schell (@johnschell)
  4. Anni Graham (@annigraham)
  5. Hudson Taylor (@photobyhudson).

I also follow a ton of men’s fashion bloggers - some of my favorites and good friends of mine. There are way too many to name!


Do you use Instagram Stories to promote your work? If so, what is your strategy?

I absolutely do! With the whole “Instagram is dying,” you have to keep up with Instagram stories. I haven’t used Snapchat since Instagram stories came out - not that I really even used it before Instagram stories, but now that it’s all in one place, I use it a lot! I share behind the scenes of a shoot, things I’m currently working on (ie currently editing, back of my camera scroll through a shoot I just did, etc), full session (new work with), or if I’m looking for a model, especially for Shutterstock Custom projects! If I’m not posting on my feed, I’m at least posting on my story so people know I’m still around.


What does your camera set up look like? Any favorite things you can’t live without?

I’ve always hated carrying purses, so since I can remember I was one body, one lens kind of girl. I always had my Canon Mark iii and 50 1.4, which honestly shocked everyone that I shot with that setup for 5+ years. This past year, I added a 24-70 2.8 v2 and 85 1.4. I also invested in a cute backpack purse because it is hard to go anywhere without bringing all of them now! 


Your models always look so natural and unposed. Do you have any advice for photographers on how to pose or scout for models?

The best tip I can give - work with agency models! If only that were possible for everyone shoot, right? I started off photographing friends then worked with only agency models for about 2.5 years, which is a photographers dream because they know what to do, how to move, what facial expressions to make - I honestly don’t direct much with agency models unless there’s something specific I want or if it’s a newer model, but I’m also more of a candid photographer so I love natural movement and flow. With male models, I typically do a lot of walking, throw the jacket over your shoulder, jump off this thing, jump over this or I ask questions throughout the whole shoot - what’s your dream modeling job? What was your favorite test shoot and why? What do you like to do when you’re not modeling? - All of these things have provided me with natural moments.


When did you start shooting for Shutterstock Custom and what have you enjoyed the most?

Wow, it’s almost been 2 full years. I started shooting for Shutterstock Custom in June 2016 and it’s been such a blast! I love getting to work with my friends, awesome brands, and the fact I get to do it in my own free time. If there’s an assignment I’m not interested in or I don’t think I’m a good fit for, then I can decline. If there’s something I already know I have friends who would be interested in modeling or I know I have a slower week, I’ll throw my name out there.


What are you planning on conquering this year! Tell us about your goals for 2018.

Last year was a pretty big year for me, so 2018 is a lot to live up to. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts, specifically The Chase Jarvis Live Show and it’s given me so much motivation to get out there and work with brands I’ve wanted to work with. For years, agents I worked with would always tell me I should shoot for Tilly’s or other similar surf/skate brands, which only makes sense because I live in Orange County, California and am surrounded by all of the top surf/skate brands.

Thanks to Shutterstock Custom, I’m already on Baxter of California’s radar, so it’s one step closer. I also want to travel to some new countries this year and I have been focusing a lot on the business side of photography - I finally have a CRM system, which has been life changing! If you don’t have a CRM system, get one! It has allowed me to have so much more time to do shoots, but also have a life outside of photography.


It looks like you travel quite a bit! As a photographer, where are some of your favorite spots to visit?

I travel so much! I spend a lot of time in New York and it’s my absolute favorite! When I say a lot, I mean like 6-8 trips a year (ranging from 4-14 days at a time). I also made it to London twice last year, Paris once and Dublin once. Like I said, last year is a lot to live up to. I was home a week, gone a week, home a week then gone again. 

If you could give a photographer any advice on becoming a full-time photographer, what would it be?

If you’ve ever wanted to move to New York or Chicago or London, anywhere or just travel in general - do it! Don’t wait because you’ll regret it! 


We always love asking this one: If you had to choose only one photo to keep for the rest of your life, which one would it be?

This is such a tough question because I have so many favorites and each is for a different reason. Most of my favorites are because it was one of the best days or I enjoyed the people I was with or my vision truly came to life. I think my absolute favorite photo is from one of my first group shoots. It was with 4 models from Next LA and we all met in the In N Out parking lot on Sunset. The inspiration for the shoot was Freaks and Geeks - it just turned out so wonderful and fun. It’s a day I always remember. You can see some fun GIFs from the shoot here - remember this was like 2012/13.


Thank you for sharing all of your special tips and tricks with us today Kara! We are thrilled to tag along on your adventures over Instagram!

We’re constantly on the lookout for new photographers and videographers
to join the Shutterstock Custom Contributor Community!

Apply to start creating stunning visuals for the world's top brands!

Stay creative!
- The Shutterstock Custom Contributor Community Team