The road to a career in photography can be circuitous, a journey of self-discovery rife with detours. For anecdotal evidence, see Bella Kotak, a fine art photographer and one of the winners in RangeFinder’s Photography Annual 2015 in the Wedding & Portrait category. Inclined toward creative pursuits from an early age, she only later found her way to the photography career she loves. WhiteWall had a chance to ask her a few questions about her life, photography, and how she created her amazing winning entry for the Rangefinder contest!
Hi, Bella! So, how did you first get interested in photography?
Since a child I’ve always been intrigued by the ability to capture a moment in our lives tangibly, whether that was through writing, painting, photographs, music, you name it! As a creative soul I would play in the different genres of art, and with time and experience what was present more in my hands than out of it, was my camera. I think it was this realization that through all of the life’s diversions the only thing that remained a constant was my drive to create, tell stories and capture moments with my camera.
What made you want to pursue photography as a career?
Pursuing photography as a career was not a decision I made lightly. Before going full time with my camera, I worked as an architect. It took me several years of hard work, and lots of multi-tasking, to build up the courage to step away from architecture. Essentially it all boiled down to being honest with myself, asking myself what made me happy and how did I want to remember my life, someone who takes risks or someone who flows along the comfortable route. Both paths are lead the same way, but which one called to my soul? It’s this truth that gave me the motivation to work hard now that I am my own boss and the only one who can make my dreams come true.
© Bella Kotak/ gypsophila/ new queen rising
Have you always specialized in Fine Art photography? What attracts you to this genre?
I haven’t always specialized in Fine Art photography. For some people photography is instinctive. They know exactly what they want to capture and how they like their colors to look. Well, this was not the case for me. It took me several years of shooting everything from weddings, families, children, events, fashion lookbooks, editorials, travel portraiture, anything that paid really, to truly understand what I enjoyed about this medium. I learned so much about the different ways to capture a soul, and while I still enjoy other genres of photography, I found myself completely happiest when creating a picture from concept to execution.
Plant life and flowers play a large role in a lot of your work. How much of your composition is pre-planned, and how much is “improvised” with the flora on location?
I would say it’s 50%. Sometimes I have a very clear idea as to how I would like a picture to look, and once I’ve captured it, I liked to give myself the freedom to explore the location in case there is another “better” picture hiding in the scene.
I enjoy this organic approach to creating, the fluidity of it and the trust in my skillset to work impromptu lends to the overall mood of the shoot. Some of my favorite images were created quite spontaneously!
© Bella Kotak/ to leave a light impression
What can you tell us about your winning entry? How did you take it? What kind of camera/equipment did you shoot with? How much post-processing is involved in a great shot like this?
“The Tempest” was created one warm summer’s evening in England. I often enjoy using overlooked spaces as backdrops for my photos and this one was no exception. We created it against a blooming floral bush beside a roadside. A slip of an otherworldly queen disrupting the mundane everyday.
I used a Canon 5d mark iii and a Canon 50mm f1.4 lens. The full hair in this picture was created by combining various hair flipping shots from other photographs from the same session. I wanted to create a moment of a woman completely in her own element. I used Photoshop to create the color tones of the image by delicately stacking layers of color tones to create a finished piece that was complex and enchanting in its color range.
Finding the Perfect Print Format and Framing Style: Tips from WhiteWall Booth Creative Director Andrea Scholty
For our booth at the WPPI Expo in Las Vegas, we printed “The Tempest” into a matte acrylic print. As a rule, acrylic is a great way to make colors really pop. Andrea Scholty had it made the same way our users at home do: by simply uploading the digital image file on us.whitewall.com and selecting the look she wanted. She gave us some more insight into her decision: “Bella Kotak’s almost mystical photograph is reminiscent of a classical painting. We went with matte acrylic since there is so much black in it, and because the glare-free surface really compliments that painterly quality while still making the vibrant colors really pop. Our black ArtBox frame is very subtle when viewed head-on, but it is deep, lifting the photo up off the wall, adding a lot of presence to it.”
© Bella Kotak/ winters dream
What are your favorite substrates for photo prints? Why? Do your clients tend to have similar preferences or their own ideas about what they want?
Having only recently started to print my own work for both clients and an upcoming exhibition in New York, I am still exploring the different ways the printing medium lends itself to telling the story of my pictures. What an artist chooses to print on tells a lot about themselves and their work. At the moment I don’t mind allowing my client to choose how they would like the pieces, photo print under acrylic seems to be a favorite.
Any tips for photographers who want to get a similar look?
If you’re a photographer, you’re an artist. A photograph is so much more than technicalities, equipment, correct lenses and meter readings. It’s your eye, your vision, your story, in a picture.
Rather than attempting to emulate someone else and tell your own story at the same time, focus instead completely, and selfishly, on yourself. By all means investigate what tools others use and then manipulate them to create a look that is unique to you. That way you are learning constantly but always, at the heart of it, staying true to yourself. A tip from me? Well, I always desaturate my pictures slightly before building up the colors again.