“Never short of ideas for sessions that I would like to shoot.”
Mila, tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you based and what sparked your interest in photography? I am originally from Russia, but moved to America in 2008 and lived in Georgia and California before moving to northern Virginia in 2012 (greater Washington D.C. metro area). My interest in photography really started after visiting a photo gallery in Moscow. Seeing all the beautiful images I thought to myself, “I can do that.” However, I never imagined that I would become a photographer until after I gave birth to our first child. My husband bought a semi-professional camera for me as a push present so I could take “great” pictures of our child. It took me a little time, but I realized that I wanted to be a full time professional photographer and not just a hobbyist taking pictures of my children. Thus began my path to learning, growing and finally establishing a business.
You have a unique style. Can you talk a bit about the importance of a photographer’s style, and how did you develop your own style? Oh, thank you. A photographer’s style is like their identity or personality. It represents to others who you are professionally and, to some degree, personally, which I think it is the importance of developing your own style and sense of self as a photographer. Be professional, confident and comfortable with your work. You have to understand that not everyone will like your particular style and that’s alright, because people will still respect your professionalism and work. I find myself drawn to a lot of Russian photographer’s work online and enjoy viewing their photographs (I can pick their work out from a crowd of images online). The style seems to be different from other photographers. I am not saying that it is better, just different. My style is influenced by my culture, heritage and experiences. Growing up in Russia I was exposed to the arts (theater, ballet, music, museums, sculptures, paintings etc) and the various styles of classical artists which shapes how I visualize my shots. Russian culture and heritage is steeped in history with numerous, fantastic folk tales passed down through many generations. This has given me a sense of fantasy that sparks my creativity and is inspiration to draw from when thinking of ideas for shoots. Additionally, my travels through America, Asia and Europe have exposed me to other cultures and styles that I feel add a richness to my work.
What do you enjoy most photographing? Landscape photography is not for me. I like working with people, i.e. portraiture, weddings, boudoir sessions, but my favorite…Women! I enjoy artistic shoots with women and girls, of all ages, more than anything, especially artistic fashion shoots. It is a creative outlet and there is such a good feeling in capturing the beauty of women. However, I don’t shoot more than three or four a year. They are very time consuming and, in order to do one correctly, to have the quality of images in the end that I want, it takes a lot of preparation, coordination and post shoot work.
What motivates and fascinates you to do what you do? Simple. I love taking beautiful photographs and capturing the emotion and feeling of a moment in time to share with others.
How do you prepare for a photo-session? What is your mental check list before a shoot? It depends on the session. I always have the session visualized in my mind. I know what equipment I will use, the images that I want, how I want to pose people, the flow and order for the various shots and I can see the final images in my head. Occasionally I take a pose sheet with me just in case I need if for reference. Also, I browse additional reference material online for accuracy if it involves a specific time period or is culture specific. Some sessions require specific shots, so I make a shoot list with poses that I take with me. This is to ensure that nothing is left out. Equipment preparation is taken care of by my assistant. He makes sure that I have all the lenses that I plan to use, extra batteries, plenty of memory cards and anything else that will be needed.
How do you keep productive and retain your creative edge? Where do you take your ideas for your shoots, what is the source of inspiration? I am always busy preparing for upcoming sessions, shooting sessions, editing images and working to improve my skills. There are some very talented photographers who are producing wonderful images. Looking at their work motivates me to stay sharp and continue to learn and grow as a professional. I draw inspiration from different things that catch my eye, old paintings, something I see on the street, a single article of clothing or jewelry and just everyday life. Never short of ideas for sessions that I would like to shoot.
How often do you step out of your comfort zone to be creative? I don’t think I have ever been pushed out of my comfort zone as I am willing to tackle any session. All shoots can involve stress, some more than others, but I never think of that as being in an unsure or an uncomfortable position. Maybe my assistant (husband) would disagree. He is usually the one coordinating locations, hard to find props, assisting with finding models etc. This allows me to focus on the shoot; how I want it to flow, the poses and refining the vision.
What was your most memorable/favorite you worked on so far? What project are you especially proud of? My favorite is always the one I am working on, but once I have completed all the editing from a shoot I am on to the next one. It is a mindset that gives me focus. All of the shoots are memorable in ways, some good and some bad, and they all serve to continue growing my skills and experience. I am most proud of a family Christmas session I did with my children. It combined my two favorite things, my children and photography, and the pictures are great.
What would be your dream shoot? A fashion shoot or most any session with Madonna! I am a fan of her music, but I also admire her strength, determination and artistic skills. Madonna is a very smart businesswoman who has done things her way, never compromising who she is and what she believes.
In your opinion, what makes photography an art? Just like any other art form a great photograph contains a message from the photographer/artist for the viewer to interpret. It is intended to elicit feelings, emotions and spark thought. Not everyone who takes pictures is an artist, just as not everyone who paints or plays an instrument is an artist, but who would deny that Ansel Adams was a master of his craft and a true artist.
What is the most important skill set for a photographer to have? Vision. A photographer has to have an eye for what they are shooting, be able to visualize what the final image will look like and know how to give the image life. You can have an art degree, understand all the theory of how to pose subjects, frame a shot and use light, you can be very technically proficient with a camera and a master at using editing tools but without vision the photographs will feel sterile, soulless, and cold.
Do you do your own styling and makeup or do you work with a team? What does your “team” consist of? No, I don’t do hair or make-up. I have a team for each fashion shoot consisting of my assistant, a hair stylist, a make-up artist, models and a fashion designer or personal styling consultant. Natalia Anderson is my go to for hair and we have worked almost every shoot together. Her professionalism, styles and work ethic are incredible. Usually the team members are people that I have worked with before, with the exception of the models, or have seen their work and really like it. I am honored to have worked with some very talented, creative professionals and extremely fortunate to always have an awesome team that works well together for success.
What are the most difficult aspects of professional photography? The business side is the most difficult aspect. Taking quality photos and editing them is time consuming work but not that taxing. Keeping all your accounting in order takes diligence. Marketing, advertising and getting name recognition takes time and lots of hard work. Building a client base at the price point that you want in the market is tough, especially when the economy is sluggish. Photography is a luxury service, not a necessity, so if you are charging what your time is worth the service is not cheap and not first priority in a family’s budget.
You bring a very high production value to your work. What is your retouching/production philosophy? From your point of view, what role image editing programs play in today’s photography? I strive to make every image look fantastic and make my clients look their best. I had one client who viewed her images and said, “That doesn’t look like me. It’s too good.” Well, it was my client and I did what I could to show her at her best. Modern editing programs are amazing! You have so much flexibility and control over the editing process and save so much time. I love the creative, artistic control that they offer and the ability to effortlessly create effects. However, they don’t really offer the ability to do anything new concerning the effects that you can create. Photographers who shot film pushed the limits in the dark room to achieve the same effects with negatives, exposures, airbrush, etc. That work took hours and was costly because of the materials required to develop the negatives, develop the prints, make adjustments, make a new test print and be ready to make more adjustments. Now, all of that can be accomplished in far less time for far less cost. That is the role and value of today’s modern digital darkroom. I have heard people say Photoshop like it is a dirty word. Simply put, it is a modern darkroom and some of the best know and most highly respected photographers in history did their best work in the darkroom. I say Hooray for modern editing programs!
Do you have any tips for those looking for advice from recognized photographers? Well, that depends on who it is and what advice they seek. To aspiring photographers I say; work hard, learn your craft, continue to educate yourself , always work to improve your skills, remain positive, remain true to yourself and do it for the love of taking beautiful pictures. To those seeking high-end photography – don’t get suckered. Research the photographers, view their work, ask questions, be familiar with their style and make sure that they are a good fit you.
Where can we hear more from you or see more of your work?
What are you currently working on, and what do you have planned next? Right now I am completing the work on a fashion shoot of designs by Katya Avdeev. She has lovely, flowing designs that allowed me to be creative with the posing and editing. Next on my list are a couple of personal projects with my children. Also, I am discussing a fashion shoot with a Ukrainian designer, but we have not set a date at this time. I don’t want to give away the idea, but I will tell you that it is based on a children’s fairytale.
Describe yourself in one sentence please. I am a hard worker, who enjoys living every moment of every day and spending time with my family, whom I love and am loved by.