When West Auckland photographer Nikita Weir gave birth to her first child 11 years ago, she never expected to suffer postnatal depression. She also didn't anticipate the struggle would lead her down a path to her dream career, incorporating two things she's passionate about – beautiful photos and empowering women.
Now Nikita specialises in boudoir photography, capturing women during intimate and often nude photo sessions. The busy mum-of-three, 35, has helped dozens of women feel confident, powerful and safe in her company, which she credits to her own understanding of how it feels to be vulnerable.
"A lot of the women I photograph come to me with stories and they share quite intimate details" says the mum of Lucy, 11, Albie, eight, and Layla, two.
"They're usually doing the shoot because they want to feel good again and sometimes it's because they've escaped a domestic violence relationship.
"While I take photos, I listen and don't judge. I've had depression on and off since I was a teenager, plus postnatal depression twice, so I know how hard things can be. If they say something and I relate, I'll share too. Then they feel less alone."
Eight months after welcoming her eldest child, Nikita was feeling down all the time, without knowing why. When she read about postnatal depression through an online mum's group, she went to see a doctor who diagnosed her and prescribed antidepressants, which helped her a lot.
"I felt like I couldn't do anything right and was constantly second-guessing myself," recalls the longtime photography lover, who also shoots live music and weddings. "I felt alone even though there were people right next to me. You don't think you can talk about it either because you feel like you're going to be judged. But my doctor was amazing."
When she gave birth again three years later, the postnatal depression returned, but Nikita knew the symptoms and told her Plunket nurse. While antidepressants helped, she struggled with seeing her body change a lot the second time. To boost her confidence, she booked a boudoir photo session, dressed in beautiful lingerie that made her feel good, and with professional hair and makeup.
Although she loved her photos and still has some in her bedroom, the former early childhood teacher didn't connect with her photographer the way she'd hoped. She decided she could offer the same service but with a more intimate approach.
"I thought, 'How can I give back and empower women to see who they are?'" says Nikita, who aims to capture the "soul and realness" of each person she photographs.
"There's so much pressure on us to be and look perfect. I want to show women they're beautiful just the way they are. You don't have to be a certain size and you can have cellulite, flabby skin, small breasts or big breasts – whatever. I truly believe there's something beautiful about every person."
Juggling motherhood with her photography means working around her kids and their extracurricular activities, as well as plenty of late nights editing.
Fortunately, Nikita has the help of her husband Lee Weir, 36, who hosts The Rock Workdays from 12-3pm and produces The Rock Drive.
"Lee's an amazing person with a heart of gold," shares Nikita, who met the radio star at high school and has been with him 21 years. "He's full of noise, a lot of fun and makes me laugh every day. He's also very supportive when I've got a lot of editing to do.
"Since he's also a marriage celebrant, he'll always promote me as a photographer and I work with him sometimes. I've shot weddings where the bride has asked me to do boudoir photos that she gifts to her partner on their big day."
Nude photos aren't always planned for Nikita's sessions, but when they do outfit changes, she might ask if they can do a nude shot and Nikita will give her clients options like using a sheet or furniture props.
"I've done a BDSM [bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism] style shoot, which was so cool," Nikita tells. "She had very strappy, revealing lingerie with chains and we used soft material handcuffs. We put her in poses where she felt comfortable and badass, and it was all for herself."
One client hung her photos next to the mirror at home, telling Nikita she looks at the pictures every day as a reminder that "the version that's brave, strong and beautiful is always in me".
For Nikita, her job is a privilege, especially when women call or message after a session to say they never knew they could look and feel so great.
"Often after I've done one of these shoots, I'll sit in my car and think, 'Wow, I'm so honoured these women trust me,'" muses the passionate mum, whose business is called Antonia Pearl Photography, after her daughters' middle names.
"Sometimes I look back to where I was and I can't believe I'm actually doing this as a job!"
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