Nicole Robinson brings a unique perspective to her photography


Fine art photography, architectural imaging, personal branding—Nicole Robinson wears many hats in the proverbial darkroom. Known for her evocative long exposure technique, Robinson’s passion is capturing with her camera the magic of the natural world in the Carolinas and around the globe. Under the umbrella of her brand, Nicole Robinson Photography, is an impressive portfolio showcasing her fine artistry; her HeartBuilt Studio encompasses another side—architectural photography she imbues with her trademark insight and spontaneity. Both sides reflect an intense focus on discovering and telling a story in a snapshot—whether it’s of a sprawling Lowcountry landscape or a personal portrait.

“When I’m in a space and time, enjoying the calmness and the mystery that’s there, simply taking a photo of it doesn’t really translate that feel,” explains Robinson. “My technique is about following the light and the colors, and where they take me. And depending on the time of day, the scene has a different feel. I use a slow shutter speed, and I’ll actually hand pan the camera, moving from one side to the other, to give a mystic, abstracted view. It blurs the reality of what you’re looking at, making it more impressionistic. A lot of people think my art looks like a painting.”

Robinson says that her need for a creative outlet is what led her to the artist’s life. “I think everyone needs some sort of creative outlet; that’s what makes us human,” she notes. “Some of us don’t come into touch with it until later in life, like I did. I’ve always just loved photography, and at some point around 2008, I realized that photography was more than just taking a photo of something, documenting a trip or a place or time. It started to feel different to me. I became purposeful about finding a way to express that uniqueness through photography. And it just blossomed from there.”

In 2014, Robinson chose the Charleston area for a fresh start in life, where she says she found a welcoming environment that made it easy to connect with new people and places. She immersed herself in the imagery of the coast—the waterways and marshes of the Lowcountry.

“I think at that point my art really took on a life of its own,” she muses. “I’d found a nurturing place to call home, and all this beauty within a stone’s throw. I started creating what I call abstractions in my photographs, experimenting with slow shutter speeds, producing long exposures, kind of otherworldly-type images. Through Charleston and through my art, I found healing.”

Robinson left behind a gallery she co-opened exclusively for photographic art in the small mountain town of West Jefferson, North Carolina. “I belonged to the Ashe Camera Club—it was very active. I connected with one of its leading members, an amazingly talented artist, writer, actor. He didn’t like anyone’s work, but for some reason he liked mine. So I thought that must say something,” she recalls with a smile. “We opened the CatchLight Gallery together in 2012. It’s still in operation.”

Today, Robinson shows her work locally at the Lowcountry Artists Gallery, Charleston’s oldest artist-owned gallery. Her website hosts all her photographic artwork and architectural projects.

HeartBuilt Studio, the commercial side of Robinson’s venture, grew out of almost 30 years in the construction industry. “It’s a small part of my business but something I really love,” Robinson says. “I was a custom builder back in North Carolina, so I really do have an interesting skill set that not many have, women especially. My dad was a builder, and I helped him run his construction crew while earning my own contractors license. After he retired in 2002, I started building with my own crews, primarily custom log homes and custom timber frame homes.”

Robinson parlayed her love of photography and construction industry expertise into HeartBuilt Studio, working to assist builders, architects and designers document their work. And tell their stories. “The last few years they’ve been so busy working, they haven’t had time to photograph their finished projects,” she explains. “I found there was a need in the market, so I started talking to builders about showcasing their work through artfully taken pictures, and it fell into place. I photograph their craftsmanship and really personalize it. Now they have a story for their brand—a way to show their work to help a future client see themselves in their dream home. It comes from a place that feels organic for the things I love to do.”

Robinson works as an independent contractor, photographing for a number of builders in the Lowcountry, from the Charleston area to St. Simons Island, Georgia. Among them are Cypress Homes and Design and Howser Custom Homes, for whom she does a comprehensive photo shoot upon home completion.

Robinson says the personal branding component of HeartBuilt Studio is a natural fit. “What I’m doing is basically putting a face to the story,” she says. “People want to know who they’re working with—whether you’re a builder, a personal chef, a caretaker—people want to know more about your background, your activities, family life. I use the camera to express those qualities and values in a picture.”

Robinson finds an outlet for her creativity all around her. Whether roaming the natural world or plying the commercial landscape, she is passionate about using her lens to bring a story to life and telling it her way.

“When you find the thing that really gives you joy, you want more of it,” she says. “Fine art photography— architectural photography—I love it.” *

Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer (


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