Interview with Boston Portrait Photographer

*** DISCLAIMER: I was born and raised in Russia and have immigrated to the USA as an adult; but I totally, absolutely and completely support Ukraine fighting off this brutal and unjustified fascist invasion *** 

How did you first get into photography? 

My father-in-law owned an SLR camera but (being a toy-loving man) wanted another one. When I mentioned that I was feeling like trying a more serious camera than a cheap point-and-shoot one, he handed it to me and said: “Here! You will not find anything better anyway, enjoy!”. It was a Canon EOS Rebel with a Tamron 28-200 lens more than thirty years ago.
I started figuring out all the buttons, modes, aperture, shutter speed, etc. But my pictures were not getting better. I started reading photography magazines and books, and instead of exploring modes and buttons, I started thinking about pictures and messages they send. But my pictures were still not getting much better, which was annoying. Then I decided to find a place to study photography seriously.
This is basically how it all started.

/this was the film era and I don’t even have any photos to illustrate it/

Your photographic skills did you study, or are you self-taught? 

I was born and raised in Moscow, Russia and my journey into photography started there. In the late 1990s, there were not many options for learning photography there, but I was extremely lucky; I managed to learn from one of the leading Russian photographers at that time who tried to start a photography school. The school project didn’t work out for them, but I was one of few people who went through it from the very start to the very end.

It was still my period of being an amateur photographer. Several years later, I stood up from my desk at work and said to everyone: “Good bye, I am not coming back” and I never did. I took a class on art history from one of Moscow’s universities and eventually I opened my own photography studio in Moscow. I contacted several model agencies and my main focus was at shooting portfolios for beginner models. And I was evolving towards fashion photography and in 2008 I even took a course from New England School Of Photography (R.I.P.) which helped me greatly.

After moving to the US in 2012, namely to New England, I have discovered that there was no such thing as fashion photography in New England. Like not at all. And, choosing between moving to NYC and changing the course of my photography I had to choose the latter. And eventually I ended up being mainly a wedding photographer (which I learned to love!), a high end professional headshot photographer in Boston and family photographer on Cape Cod during the summer season (easy money, haha).

The education in photography that I received made a huge impact on me as a photographer, probably I could have reached the same results figuring things out by myself but, honestly, I really doubt it. But anyway, it would take years and years and years and a lot of money; I am not sure if I would be able to preserve my interest and motivation for long enough in this case. 

But formal education doesn’t replace practicing and learning things from your own experience every day. I was lucky again, I had (and still have) friends and colleagues who I could ask questions, who were kind enough to explain and teach me things. This is why when somebody asks me something photography related I always do my best to share all that I know on the topic.

What would be your perfect shoot if you could organise one without restrictions? 

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was first elected to the House I thought of contacting her through social media and trying to set up a shoot with her. I never did it (what an idiot!) and now I regret it. But that would probably be something that I could call a perfect shoot.

I am a minimalist both in terms of pictures that I create and the style of my work. I never bring tons of equipment or a big crew to the spot. To me this basically means that I don’t restrict myself with complicated production, logistics and other things like that. This makes a perfect shoot for me very easy: a shoot is perfect when nobody tells me what and how they want me to shoot. I do my perfect shots in real life every once in a while (pretty often, actually) and I earnestly can’t say that there are a lot of things that I really dream about but can’t reach.

Okay, if we are really speaking about a dream shoot without restrictions…

I would say that I want to have a budget to get a (insanely expensive!) photography permit to work in places like Boston Public Library (or Isabella Gardner Museum, or MFA), or places I was kicked out from (like The Vessel at Hudson Yard in Manhattan) but … no! I am not paying them money. I have always found locations to replace those places.

But I surely could use a budget for hiring a good wardrobe stylist, not even mentioning models and HMUAs. Or flying to Alaska, Florence or Masai Mara for a nice romantic couple’s shoot.

Can you tell me about a shoot you have done where you have had the most fun shooting?

This is probably the most difficult question here (and I am not sure that I want to publicly tell you about some shoots that were really fun, haha).

I once worked on a wedding where flower girls had a fight right in the aisle in a church while dropping petals. Their moms grabbed them, comforted and calmed them down and put them back into the aisle, and they started to fight again.

I once witnessed a bride flash her boobs because they had popped out of her dress during the bouquet throwing; the crowd was delighted.

I also witnessed a bride falling into the water from a deck at a marina after taking a boat ride.

A cater truck burned down completely on its way to the venue 500 feet away from its destination, along with the wedding dinner. And the bride said: “Okay, I am hungry, let’s order pizza!”.

But, talking about fun seriously (pun intended), the best shoots I had were shoots that ended up with really nice pictures. It could be a wedding or engagement shoot, an art nude shoot at an abandoned psychiatric ward, family shoot on the beach or anything else. But when I see that the shoot is really promising in terms of the quality of resulting photos I get more and more excited and it turns into pure adrenalin. I am attaching photos to illustrate what I mean.

Have you ever started working on a shoot and felt like it was not going well, but you were amazed by the results?

No, never. But I had a lot of instances when the shoot was going on really well but the client insisted later on picking the worst pictures from the shoot (where their smiles look the dumbest, for example), then made me to apply too much editing and, like, to replace nice stylish background that I used into something from the last century – like a textured studio background from 1970s or to make me blur the background like the picture were shot with a 85mm lens at F1.2 (and add heavy vignetting). I do this all and don’t complain, because money is paid, but I request from clients not to mention my name anywhere in this case.

Same situation arises when somebody hires me to shoot somebody else – for example, a mother (-in-law) hires me to shoot a wedding (or engagement) for her daughter. I put a firm condition: the daughter should look at my pictures and approve the choice of the photographer, if not – I am not signing the contract.

What is your current camera setup, including which lenses?

To be honest, this is not my favorite subject to discuss. I don’t like equipment – it costs a lot, it is heavy, it takes time to figure it out, it takes time to take care of it (like, I have, mmmmm, seven – SEVEN!!! – different types of rechargeable batteries I must remember about, ugh…)

My favorite piece of equipment is my roller bag which can be transformed into a backpack. I take it to every shoot I do and when it’s life cycle will end I will buy the exact same bag (Ruggard Optica 15 DSLR Roller V2 (Black) – recommended!

I am a Canon user, now I use the R5. It is finally a serious Canon with a tilting display! I found myself in a situation when I turned off the camera’s viewfinder completely and use the display only. This camera also has a very decent high ISO picture quality (noise-wise – the ISO 12800 is actually quite usable!) and the improvements of focusing system is a game changer, this camera focuses reliably in the dark (during the wedding party, for example), which is huge leap compared to its predecessor (and also a great camera) Canon 5D MkIV.

I am a wide angle photographer, when I used 5D MkIV I shot with 20mm F1.4 and 35mm F1.4 lenses inside and 24-70 F2.8 outside. With the R5 I use only 15-35 F2.8 (80% of the time) and 24-70 F2.8 (20% of the time), I sold both 20 and 35 mm lenses. I also own a 70-200 F2.8L IS lens and never use it, I never even take it on a shoot. Time to sell it too.

Which software do you use to edit your photos?

It’s Adobe Lightroom for bulk editing, like weddings and Photoshop for more deep editing. As you can see, editing is a big part of my photography. I love Alien Skin Exposure, which I use as a Photoshop plugin.

How long would you say it takes from shooting to the finished photo does it take?

My standard wedding contract states that I am providing the edited photos within a month; with headshots it’s usually several days.

You have photographed a range of different models. Do you find it easy to get models to pose for you?

My business does not depend on the models availability so I can’t really tell if this is a problem or not. As for my creative projects, I usually don’t have problems finding models that I need. I would even say that there are more models who want to shoot with me (I am talking only about TFP collaboration!) than I am physically able to shoot with.

Do you have any goals you are looking to achieve in the next 2 years? 

Yes but my goals are boring. I need to reach a certain level of revenue in my wedding, engagement and professional headshot photography. And I am working on it!

If you have enjoyed this interview, check out Ivan’s Instagram or website

We also have a range of other interviews with photographers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s