Nicola Selby, a talented Tarleton woman with an international reputation for dance photography

PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 August 2013

Peter by Nicola Selby

Peter by Nicola Selby

Nicola Selby

Top photographer Nicola Selby survived a car crash, conquered her fear of flying and beat a deadly virus. Roger Borrell reports

Photo by Nicola SelbyPhoto by Nicola Selby

Nicola Selby’s life could hardly be described as uneventful. For instance, during her dancing career she toured Lancashire schools promoting road safety. This came to a shuddering halt – quite literally – when the 19-year-old was involved in a crash.

‘I was driving home after dancing in a cabaret event for the fire service in Liverpool,’ she says. ‘I hadn’t expected to see firemen again that night!’

Ingrid by Nicola SelbyIngrid by Nicola Selby

She describes how she found herself flying through the windscreen, ending up in a tree. Despite her injuries, she explodes into gales of laughter as she recalls how all her kit was collected from the wreckage by the emergency services and hospital staff kept asking her: ‘Is this really your tutu?’

The crash didn’t just end her tour of schools. Nicola, raised in Tarleton, near Southport, and taught dance from being a toddler by her teacher mum, was just starting to forge a career as a professional – everything from ballet to contemporary dance. But the nine-inch wound to her leg, the shattered knee and broken collar bone meant she needed a new career.

Livy by Nicola SelbyLivy by Nicola Selby

She decided to try the law and was working for local firms but, she admits, found it a little on the dull side. ‘I suddenly decided to up-sticks and head for Canada. I bought a plane ticket and kissed everyone goodbye,’ she says.

Nicola SelbyNicola Selby

‘When I got on the plane my fear of flying kicked in and I just couldn’t go through with the journey. After having told everyone I was off for a year in Canada I basically went into hiding in Northumberland, although I did tell my mum.’

Instead of North America, she headed for Europe – not by plane – and after a trip lasting several months, she returned to the law and bought a house. Then, disaster struck again – she contracted meningitis. A spell hospital and a long recovery period meant Nicola ended up without a job but with a brain she describes as ‘a bit goosed.’

She considered a radical career change, arriving at Ormskirk College to join a floristry course. It was full, so instead she managed to get a place studying photography.

‘I started to research dance photography and suddenly the penny dropped very loudly. Combining my love of dancing with photography - it was my eureka moment. I still miss dancing but this way I am involved and get to do my own choreography.’

Nicola overcame her fear of flying when she was lucky enough to get a placement with an influential dance photographer in New York.

‘She taught me how to freeze motion and to take pictures as a photographer, not as a dancer. I could bring that back in later. I came back to Lancashire and started to think about developing my own style but she had a beautifully equipped studio and I just had a Canon 10D.’

Nicola married Marc Huntingdon, also a photographer, and their wedding gift was their first batch of top quality studio lights. From there, they opened a studio complete with a sprung floor for dancers at Coppull Mill. ‘We searched all over for the right location and found this place two fields away from our home.’ Since opening the studio, things have taken off.

Nicola has become internationally-known as a dance photographer and she now holds workshops teaching people the technique. ‘Photographers come from South Africa, the USA, Italy and Netherlands – I’m better known abroad than I am in Lancashire. The origins of my interest in photography were a bit of a mystery until we did some family research and discovered my great-grandfather was a photographer.’

As well as teaching, Nicola produces portfolios for dancers and for dance companies and took some striking shots for a production in Birmingham linked to the Olympic festival. It involved dancers hanging from what appeared to be a stricken liner. ‘They were actually hanging there – that’s why some don’t look so happy!’

She has also exhibited and plans to combine dance with fashion photography. Some of her work has already been used in advertising campaigns.

‘In dance photography you have to exaggerate the movement to really show it and I always look for that very last moment when the dancer takes a breath when they are in mid-air.

‘I’ve had a lot of help over the years and my advice to people who are stuck in jobs they don’t enjoy is to change your life. Find something you are passionate about and do it from the heart. God favours the brave!’

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