Learning From Elena

If you’re on Facebook (or likely any other social networking site), you’ve probably already seen links to the excellent photography work by Elena Shumilova (gallery on 500px). What I would encourage any aspiring artist (no matter what medium, but especially 3D images) to do would be to review her work to understand why she has gained such worldwide notoriety in a short amount of time.

The Critical Eye

When I was in to creative writing in a big way, I talked with friends and family about how studying writing made me read differently. Part of me would be reading the story, but part of my brain was also analyzing the structure of the story. If I got confused by something, I would stop and try to figure out what the author did wrong. If something really touched me, I’d think about what they were doing right. I had to force my brain to turn off that analysis sometimes so I could just enjoy the story.

I’ve reviewed Elena’s photographs a few times now. The first time, I was probably like most of her visitors “Aww” … “Beautiful!” … “Amazing!” … etc. But if I want to get any better at my current art form, I can’t let it stop there. So I have gone back and looked again and again. I look at how the photo is framed. How does she use light and darkness and color to enhance the feeling of the image? How does the posing of the principal actors in the photo contribute to the image?

Note: I’m not suggesting she set up these photos and they are “fake” in some way. I’ve also studied photography. When shooting photos of children and animals, one of the hardest parts of the shoot is figuring out how to anticipate that perfect moment and capture it in time. One thing that makes her images so ‘magical’ is that she managed to do that. Especially with the photos of her boys and the animals.

Learning to look at images like this with a critical eye and understand WHY you like something will help you become better at getting the vision that you have in your mind in to the image that you’re creating.

But .. but .. I’m a rebel!

Some of you won’t like them. Some of you may feel that the sentimentality or the “cuteness” isn’t something that you’d ever want to have in one of your images. That’s ok. You don’t have to try to create THAT mood. As I heard a film professor telling potential students one day “Don’t aspire to be the ‘next Steven Speilberg’! We already HAVE one of those. Aspire to be the best Roger Harrison or Jenny Wolf or Jim Blackwell that you can be!”

That doesn’t mean that you can’t learn something by studying the photos she’s taken. Basics like light and darkness, framing the image in a way that keeps the focus on the important things, etc. will apply no matter what type of emotion or message you’re trying to share.

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