Magazine Article


Staying Fresh - Steve Nozicka's Playful Digital Imagery


Steve Nozicka’s Playful Digital Imagery

Text by Erin Harrington-Plonski • Images By Steve Nozicka

Steve Nozicka never has the same day twice. In fact, much about him and his dazzling images is unpredictable.

“I stay fresh and have fun with the work,” he says. Yet despite their playfulness, Nozicka’s digital captures mean business. He’s worked for over 18 years with major ad agencies on accounts as varied as Marlboro, Sony, Miller, Budweiser, Jim Beam, JVC, Beefeaters, McDonald’s, Nintendo, Kraft, Goodyear, Coca-Cola, Amoco, Saran, Ziploc, St. Regis Hotel, Reebok, Johnny Walker, Samsung, Oldsmobile, Allstate, and State Farm.

Nozicka describes his ad imagery—which is 60 percent in studio, 40 percent on location—as “rather pure and straightforward.” But there’s nothing simple about these images. Layering is part and parcel of his trademark style. “Most of our jobs end up in many layers, whether it’s people or products.” Even the ball series employed layers to control color contrast and sharpen various areas. Control is key to this photographer in his quest for those straightforward images he loves so much, and digital and Photoshop give him that control.

“I love that you can’t tell if my work is digital or film, if it’s been Photoshopped or not.” He doesn’t mind that the process is more efficient, either. “There’s no film cost, no film test time!”



Medium-Format Camera
Mamiya 645 (with Kodak Pro Back)

Large-Format Cameras
8x10 Deardorff
4x5 Baby Deardorff

Digital Cameras
Kodak DCS Pro 14n and 760


Digital Darkroom
Macintosh G4s
Mac PowerBook G4s
Kodak DCS software
Photoshop CS
1GB CF cards
Epson 7500, 2200, 1280, 1270 &
870 printers

Given these plusses, Nozicka chose to move forward with digital technology. “It was so great to have an entire photo lab on my desktop. I had the capacity to do all that a lab could do at my fingertips.” He compares shooting digital to having every film made in one bag.

“On location, you can see everything before you leave, and in real time. We can make changes right there and then and there are no surprises after the shoot.” His clients, predictably, are thrilled to have so many variations of a shot without spending the money for the extra film and processing, and appreciate the time efficiency that digital creates.

While an art director will typically spend months developing an idea for an ad, testing a particular concept, and getting client approval, the results come to him in the form of a layout—often on a Monday with a deadline of Thursday. “Quick solutions and problem solving are key,” he points out. “Digital helps you produce high-quality images quickly and within a more efficient budget.”

Consistently providing such rapid turnaround, he has to be careful to manage client expectations. “Now I’m doing a week’s worth of work in a day and a half. Once you deliver that kind of pace, clients come to expect it. But, I’m grateful to be busy.”

With his Chicago studio thriving and a considerable number of big name clients located on the left coast, Nozicka opened a second studio in southern California in 2003. “Sony, JVC, and St. Regis Hotels are located there. I’ve also found that my Chicago clients really enjoy coming out to California during the wintertime. It’s fantastic having the options that two studios can bring.”

The digital process also allows Nozicka to give clients large digital files. “Our California studio is very much like a virtual studio. Often the client will send the product, I’ll shoot it and email it back, and then the agency creatives can art direct from their desktops. Based on that, I’ll send the final file.” For location shoots, he presents the client with a disc or hard drive at the end of the day and they’re on their way.

What is it that makes clients so satisfied with the final product he delivers? Nozicka explains, “People come to me because I can take something very simple and make it beautiful. I think that is something that sets me apart from others. There’s almost nothing that I haven’t shot, so that gives me the experience for handling almost anything.”

Recent projects include one shot for Sony using their cameras to photograph in London, Big Sur, and Point Lobos, California. He’s currently working on a book to be titled Found, which is a compilation of balls found while on walks with his two young sons. “The eyes of children see the treasures in the simplest of things,” he says. He also plans to compile a book of B&W landscapes.

While Nozicka does market his work in ad books and posters, and draws prospects to his website, the bulk of his business comes through word of mouth. “The ad business is a tight-knit group and people hear and listen to what is going on. I try to do good work and am grateful that people talk. I also enjoy taking pictures of people and capturing their spirit. I enjoy taking pictures that are important to others.”

Seems Nozicka has found the perfect balance between work and play.

For more Nozicka images, visit

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