Their photos of Zurich are seen around the world on social media. Who are the people behind the lens? What inspires them? In our new series, we are turning the camera around. Today, the focus is on Nicole Signer, who until three years ago only ever took photos in automatic mode. It is amazing how much she has taught herself since then.
Your photos of Zurich are seen by thousands of people on Instagram and Facebook every week. How important is that for you?
It’s important in the sense that I’m glad as many people as possible can enjoy looking at my photographs. And of course, compliments and constructive criticism on social media motivate me to improve.
How did you become a photographer?
I have always liked taking photos, but until three years ago I was a typical ‘automatic-mode amateur’. When my husband bought me my first single-lens reflex camera, I didn’t know where to start with all the different options. I was at a total loss and I wanted to change that. So, I watched countless tutorials and looked at thousands of images and their settings. I taught myself everything I could. And then it was just a case of practise, practise, practise… and this is still what I’m doing today.
I believe that the personality of the photographer can give the images an individual touch.
How would you describe your style?
Well, I’m not a typical landscape, architecture or portrait photographer. I just photograph whatever takes my fancy and enjoy trying out new things. Photography has so many different facets that I don’t want to tie myself down to one subject. I only have one goal: photos should give you pleasure – both when you take them and when you look at them.
What or where in Zurich do you like photographing in particular?
Zurich has so much to offer. It depends on what I feel like photographing. I am often drawn to the water or just let myself be guided by the light. Sometimes I go out with a specific plan, for example if I want to cross a particular flight of stairs off my bucket list. Of course, then I know what to expect because I’ll have googled it beforehand. And then I also have a special window spot, where you’ll find me returning again and again. Observant onlookers will be able to work out where that is. One of these days I’ll have to make a calendar out of these photos because I am so fascinated by the changing lighting conditions in the same location.
Which of your photos are you particularly proud of?
I couldn’t pick just one photo. I like a lot of my photographs, simply because I connect stories and feelings to the pictures. They take me back to the moment when I took the photo.
People say that there are more photographers in Zurich than anywhere else. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I think it’s great that everyone has their own style. I am often inspired by other images I see. New ideas occur to me, which I then want to try out. For those who want to make a living from photography, it is definitely difficult to get established. But I believe that the personality of the photographer can give the images an individual touch.
I don’t think being a good or a very good photographer has anything to do with how many followers you have or how famous you are.
Not all photographers earn enough to make a living. What is your situation?
For me it is purely a passion, instead of a job it is a bit like an addiction. If I go too long without a camera in my hands I start to feel restless and nervous. But to be honest, that doesn’t happen often (laughs).
Do you do any paid work?
I’ve done some photo shoots, mostly family portraits, professional headshots, weddings, etc. I also teach photography classes and I’m the official event photographer for our village school – that’s a lot of fun. But photographing people is something very personal, which is why I now actually only photograph people I know. Any money I earn goes straight towards new photography equipment.
What separates a good photographer from a very good photographer?
Good question. I don’t think being a good or a very good photographer has anything to do with how many followers you have or how famous you are. An excellent photographer has good instincts, an exceptional eye and has mastered the technology. But the most important thing is that they are passionate, which is always reflected in the image. Every photographer needs to find their own style. It’s then up to the observer to decide if they like it or not.
Photography is the perfect outlet for my creativity, and I find it extremely relaxing.
Is there anyone you look up to in the photography world?
I like photos taken by many different photographers. They only become role models when I get to know them personally and feel their passion in their pictures. In landscape photography, this is obviously Swiss photographer Stefan Forster, for portraits Bruno Birkhofer, for astrophotography Simone Cmoon, and when it comes to lines and architecture, German photographer Barbara Schmidt is really at the top of her game.
What do you do in your free time when you aren’t taking photographs?
I love doing things with my family and I go out into nature with my dog as often as possible. But to be honest, I almost always take my camera with me too.
Have you completed any artistic education?
No. I am a ‘gut feeling’ person, so I act instinctively and have always loved being creative. Photography is the perfect outlet for my creativity, and I find it extremely relaxing.
I would rather spend my time outside taking photos than inside on a computer.
How many days a week do you go out with your camera?
Hard to say. I usually have my camera with me, so I use it almost every day. But there are some days when it just sits in my bag.
How much has all of your photography equipment cost?
Well, it all adds up. I would say around 5,000 Swiss francs. Hmmm, but I do still have quite a few lenses on my wish list (laughs).
What drives you to keep going out with your camera?
Purely my passion because I simply love taking photographs, and of course, I want to keep improving and to let off steam.
How much do you edit your photos?
As little as possible and as much as necessary. I also do compositions sometimes because I have a certain image in my head. Then it can take a little longer. I exclusively edit my images on an iPad using Snapseed, which I know my way around. I use a few apps for special effects. Photoshop is too time-consuming and complicated for me. Sometimes I might dabble with Lightroom. I would rather spend my time outside taking photos than inside on a computer.
Is there such a thing as the perfect picture?
No, but there is a perfect, unique moment, and you can capture this in a photograph. On my trip to Iceland, there were some moments like these that filled my heart with joy. One particular image of the northern lights would be the closest thing to perfection for me personally because it takes me back to this special feeling.
Name: Nicole Signer
Born in: 1968
From: Zurich lowlands
Photographer since: A lifelong amateur photographer; 3 years of working intensively in M mode
Camera: Nikon D750
Lens: Nikon 24-70mm 2.8/ 70-200mm 2.8/ 16-35mm 4.0/ 50mm 1.8
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