Behind the Lens with Heather Nan

Photographer Heather Nan has built a reputation as one of Utah’s most sought-after wedding photographers. Nan’s wide range of photographic interests means she is always taking on a new project: during our interview, in fact, Nan was scouting the Great Salt Lake Marina—with kids and a dog in tow—for an upcoming “just-for-fun” shoot in the rain. Before her photography career, Nan studied anthropology in college, and that same interest in people animates her work, whether she’s capturing a vibrant wedding celebration or the perfect living room. 

Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Kinfolk Magazine, Style Me Pretty, Inside Weddings and our magazine. Her photos are featured on the newest covers of both Utah Style & Design and our sister publication Utah Bride & Groom. Beyond weddings, her portfolio includes portrait, fashion and commercial photography, including home design.

To celebrate our brand new issues of Utah Style & Design and Utah Bride & Groom, we talked with Nan about her inspirations, favorite locations and why she says good wedding photographers are actually seven different photographers in one.  

Utah Bride & Groom Spring/Summer 2021 cover by Heather Nan

UBG: Tell us about how you got started in photography.

I have always done some photography. I even shot a couple of weddings randomly in college, because that’s what you do when everyone’s poor. Until my daughter was born, I only had a 35mm film camera. Then my husband bought me a point and shoot, and when you’re home alone with your child, they just become their little muse. I just needed a creative outlet. I’ve always been somewhat of an artist: I was a big ceramist all through high school and college. When my daughter turned two, I got my first real digital camera, and then I knew that I wanted to do it as a business. I spent a year interning with a couple of photographers, knowing that I wanted to go into weddings. I spent that year shooting with them and doing some creative projects on my own, one of which actually got picked up by Utah Bride & Groom. I had 12 pages of editorial work and I hadn’t even shot my own wedding yet. That was definitely a massive platform for me, because I had this instant credibility of being published. Then, I started my business and never looked back.

UBG: You work in many different fields: weddings, portraits, families, commercial and editorial. What is the full range of projects you work on?

Weddings are the primary side of my business right now. I feel like I’ll probably do weddings for a long time, but I really love commercial work. I love the idea of getting together and collaborating on a project. I also love design, whether it’s clothing, architecture or interiors. 

I really wanted to get into interior work because there’s a lot of great designers in Utah. I photographed a bride who worked with Hillary Taylor, and I mentioned to her, “Think of me if you ever need a photographer.” When COVID hit last year, Hillary was wanting to try out a local photographer. She took a little chance on me, and we spent last May shooting her home. Then, we worked on other projects, including photos for her furniture line which was featured on the cover. 

I feel like as wedding photographers you tend to be seven different types of photographers in one. You have to be able to shoot people, do portraits, take candids and photograph details in the whole scope of the day. People who have done wedding photography a long time have the skills to stretch into other areas.

UBG: Last year, COVID interrupted the traditional wedding season. Did this inspire you to try some new things?

For sure. COVID gave me the space to tackle new projects, because sometimes it takes courage and bravery to make space for something else. I’ve established my wedding business for over 10 years, but creatively, I love the diversity of being able to work on different projects. I enjoy, too, the collaboration of coming together, supporting different points of view and supporting others’ creative outlook on their own art. Weddings, even though you’re surrounded by a ton of people, can be a lonely place, because you’re a sole person working with a small team or by yourself. 

Amangiri Utah Bride & Groom editorial by Heather Nan
Planner: Mara Mazdzer, Fuse Weddings and Events; Venue: Camp Sakira by Amangiri; Hair Styling: Tenesha Luckett; Makeup Artist: Janelle Ingram; Gown: Sarah Seven; Jewelry: J. Brooks;Model: Sydney Williams

UBG: A lot of your wedding photos pay particular attention to vignettes: shots of flowers, architecture and landscapes. Has this translated to other areas of your work?

100%. In wedding photography, you get a taste of all those things. You are thinking of showing the whole scope of a wedding day, because many brides spend a year and a half on the design of their wedding, so it’s as important to capture aspects of the design as the celebration.

UBG: What is your favorite local spot for taking wedding photos?

Amangiri is where my heart is. The Utah Bride cover story was my first time shooting there, and it had always been a bucket list place for me to shoot. It’s very much my aesthetic: I love clean lines, I love interesting light and I love photos that mesh with the environment rather than competing with it. I love the lighter yellow desert in that area, as opposed to the red rocks in the Southwest. 

Clients ask me all the time what my favorite venue is. For me so much of it comes down to the light. River Bottoms Ranch was really thoughtful in the way they approached it. It was built to be a wedding venue, so they were very conscious of the flow of the day, and they even did a light study on the property, which I totally give them big gold stars for. With that said, when places do have difficult light, it forces me to think in different ways and I tend to be a little more creative.

UBG: Do you have a dream venue to shoot for a wedding?

I don’t know about any venues specifically. I’ve never travelled to Japan, and that’s definitely a place I would love to shoot creatively. I respond to the more minimalist approach to styling and life in general. 

UBG: Do you have a favorite photographer who inspires your work?

Do they have to be alive? 

UBG: No!

Okay! When I started my business about 11 or 12 years ago, there was a push for photos to be more organic and free. But I always had an incessant need to clean things up—not necessarily physically, but compositionally, and to be really thoughtful in that way. I struggled, because when you’re starting out, and you’re looking around and seeing what’s going on, you tend to overthink what you’re doing. Then I discovered Rodney Smith, who passed away a couple years ago. He was a commercial and editorial photographer from New York—you should look him up. With his work, you could just tell he was just super anal, which sounds so funny. (Laughs.) But when I discovered his work, even though stylistically it’s different from what I do, I felt more okay about what I was doing. I love his work. I love that he probably overthought so many things in his process. 

Hillary Taylor in her home garden with furniture from the CEH
Design: Hillary Taylor Interiors; Furniture: Hillary Taylor for The CEH

UBG: I feel like when you see an artist in any medium who is particular about their craft, it’s inspiring to see the thought that’s put into it.

Totally. Admittedly, it can be a detriment. Sometimes I have to step back. When it comes to emotion, I tend to let things happen. Sometimes when it comes to editorial work, things just happen that can surprise you, and it can be better than the picture you had in your head. So I’ve tried to learn throughout my time to step back and let things land as they will. I feel like I’m talking to my therapist! (Laughs.) 

Amangiri Utah Bride & Groom editorial by Heather Nan
Planner: Mara Mazdzer, Fuse Weddings and Events; Venue: Camp Sakira by Amangiri; Hair Styling: Tenesha Luckett; Makeup Artist: Janelle Ingram; Gown: Sarah Seven; Jewelry: J. Brooks; Model: Sydney Williams

UBG: I’d love to talk more about the shoots featured on the covers of Utah Bride & Groom and Utah Style & Design. They are very different projects with distinct aesthetics. 

For the shoot at Amangiri, I called dibs on the model, I pulled the gowns and directed the hair and makeup. I wanted to make it minimal, sleek and elevated. I like fashion that is clean aesthetically but has an element of surprise.

The Hillary Taylor shoot for the furniture line she designed for The CEH. That came together on a second day of shooting: we shot all of the products the day before. The CEH wanted to include portraits of her, and we wanted to incorporate the products with the little garden behind her house. We met at 6 in the morning while Hillary was getting ready with her assistants, and we wanted to highlight the little shed in the garden. We actually brought in a ton of plants because it was shot in the fall, and all of that greenery along the path was added to fill in the space. Then, we brought the screen and table out, envisioning our own Martha Stewart moment: a little editorial in the garden. 

There was a shoot of Catherine O’Hara in Vanity Fair last year that was very high fashion, but she was in her garden. There’s a shot of her all dressed up with trimming shears by a hedge. That was a little bit of the inspo: we wanted to glam her up a little bit but play off of her working in the garden. 

UBG: Do you have projects that stand out as particular favorites? 

Working with Hillary was definitely a highlight. She was someone who believed in my skill, and her style is so different from mine, but I really appreciate what she does. Man, she’s so good at mixing textures and patterns together in a light and happy way. It was something different and it came out of a moment of darkness in the world in general. 

When it comes to editorial work, there was a shoot I did actually for Utah Bride & Groom in 2016 at Little Sahara. It was of one of my bigger shoots I did logistically: we basically built a whole massive scene out in the middle of the desert, there was a storm coming in and there was a lot riding on the lines logistically, so it was really stressful. But the end result was just so beautiful, and it was one of the first times that I dug my hand really deep into the art direction side of things. So that was a lot of fun.

UBG: Do you prefer shooting people or places?

They work in different ways. I get the collaboration of working with people when I do interior and commercial work, versus portrait work, where I get to work with people too. I don’t know if I can say I like one over the other. If I’m shooting more of one, the other is more appealing, because I like variety in my work. It keeps me fresh.

It’s the people aspect that I love. I love being able to highlight people’s creative work, but I also like to be creative with people.

Photographer Heather Nan

Brand new issues of Utah Style & Design and Utah Bride & Groom are available on newsstands now. Look for more of Heather Nan’s photos on our website this Spring.

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