We met with Elena for a final portfolio review after she had finished her Photography Certificate. We loved hearing about her life and work, so asked if she would share some thoughts. Read more to hear her advice to new photographers, and her dream assignment!
Tell us about yourself and how you began your photography practice.
I was born in the historical and cultural city of Leningrad in USSR, now called Saint Petersburg in Russia, so I was surrounded by beauty and artistic inspiration since I was a child: ballet performances in Mariinsky Theater, lectures on Ancient China in Hermitage, photo exhibitions in galleries, theatrical plays, late night summer walks when the sky is still bright…I was always interested in the arts, especially painting, writing, and photography. I remember that I had a camera before that I took with me everywhere. Later I studied journalism in Saint Petersburg State University where not only we learned about writing, but also about how to take photos and develop our film in the dark room.
In 2009 I traveled to Los Angeles and later realized that I’d love to stay here and keep enjoying my life by the ocean and where everyday is full of sunshine. I thought about what could I do here, and photography came to my mind as I really love that art form and communicating with people through it. I found the UCLA Extension Program and it sounded really interesting. That’s how my professional photography practice began. I met many talented and inspiring people at UCLA Extension among my classmates and teachers. I started to study photography in 2013 and there are still many things I need to learn and practice. It’s great to do what you love.
For someone who is new to photography, what should they know about getting started?
Since I feel pretty new in this industry myself, I’d love to wish everyone and myself to be persistent and believe in yourself, be a better photographer than you were yesterday, keep improving your technique, get out of your comfort zone and explore things that you never thought you might like, smile more, be the light and then every door will be opened.
Know your camera and learn more about lighting. Educate yourself. Watch good movies, read good books, and look at classic paintings. Look at works of other photographers; the masters of back and white days and current notable photographers. That way, you will have a better taste and understand being a photographer.
What was your favorite UCLA Extension class and why.
I really enjoyed every class from Photography 1, taught by George Simian, to the amazing portraiture classes and mentorship taught by the incredible Michael Powers, to Portfolio Workshop with David Daigle and super informative event photography class with Jenna Schoenefeld. My favorite class was the mentorship class. Michael Powers is a very artistic and skilled photographer and in his studio in Pasadena he taught me many things about lighting, using strobes, vision, and shared interesting information on photography books and websites. I have to mention the Event Photography class too, which was the last class I took. It really gave me an understanding of event photography and beyond, and inspired me to start shooting events. I always liked the photojournalism style, and now I’m developing myself as an event photographer with a journalistic approach, focusing on candid moments.
What would be your dream job in photography?
I really like the amazing Russian actress and director, Renata Litvinova. She is very inspiring. I literally had a dream where she asked me “why you don’t take pictures of me?!” That probably would be my dream job. Also, I would love to meet photographer Paolo Roversi and work with him on a fashion assignment for the W Magazine.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on my personal project, “Viva La Vita,” about seniors 85 years and older who are still full of life — they travel, work, have hobbies, very active, and enjoys themselves. I shoot it with my grandpa’s old medium format film camera, which gives a special feeling and energy to the images. Also, I just launched my event photography business called Happy Vibes Only (www.happyvibesonly.com), where I shoot small parties to big weddings.
Last year one of my portrait photos won an award in Popular Photography Magazine for “Best Shot” 2014. The photo will be published in a book called “Manual for Portrait Photographers” in January of 2016. Also, recently two of my photos were nominated in ‘Fashion’ and one in the ‘People’ category for the 10th Annual Black and White Spider Awards contest (2015) out of “7,686 entries received from 74 countries.” The Nominees Issue will be released in January 2016.