Out in the Russian countryside in a small town outside of Moscow, Elena Shumilova watches her computer screen intently as email by email pours in from hundreds of media outlets. They all want to know more about the woman who captures her children and animals in a way that seems magical and almost ethereal.
Elena never expected that her hobby would one day result in over 1.6 million views on 500px and international media coverage. Especially surprising, she had only taken up photography seriously a year and a half ago after playing around with her parents’ DSLR. She then bought her own camera as scenes of Yaroslav and Ivan, her two sons, and pets began to form in her creative mind.
Follow us on a journey of Elena Shumilova’s breath-taking children animal whisperer photos, as we ask Elena to share with us her story and photo tips in detail…
500PX: Hello Elena, could you share with us the story of how you got into photography and what was your inspiration?
ELENA SHUMILOVA: A year and a half ago I borrowed my parents’ DSLR and started playing around with it. Taking photos every day, observing and analyzing what I liked in my shots and what I didn’t. My inspiration is my two sons, naturally I was drawn to take photos of them.
At first I thought that it is important to have fancy outfits and a studio in order to take beautiful photos. Later I realized that the more simple the setting and the clothes are, the easier it is to capture genuine moments.
I spent six months learning photography. Digesting my triumphs and failures, and eventually coming to a point where people would start complimenting my work. It was within that period of time that I bought my very own camera with which I shoot to date. It is no secret, I photograph with a Canon 5D MKII.
Do you do commission photography?
ELENA: Not anymore. During the six months when I just started photography I was asked to do commissions, photographing families. Shortly I realized that when you are photographing a client you have to do what your client wants, while I wanted to get the exact picture that I had in my head. That’s when I abandoned the idea of private photo shoots and instead focused on creating one of a kind photographs.
Is your work available for sale?
ELENA: You can buy my photographs on 500px Art — 500pxart.com/ElenaShumilova. Currently I sell my work there exclusively. You can order my photographs on 500px Art as canvas, paper, acrylic or even metal prints. With world-wide shipping and payment in different currencies available.
Also when browsing any of my photographs through my profile, just click “Request to buy” button and I will consider putting up that photograph for sale.
Is photography your full time job or a hobby?
ELENA: I photograph full time. I used to be an architect, but with raising the children and starting a photo hobby I have moved away from it. I am lucky and blessed to have photography as my full time occupation, there is so much joy and gratitude in creating one of a kind masterpieces.
How would you describe your style?
ELENA: I would say that my style is my desire to communicate something special with a least amount of everything. My photos are circumstantial — I photograph my children because they are here with me and the setting is rural because we spend a lot of time here at the cottage, I use natural light, and the clothes is what my children usually wear so there are no special outfits. My style is effortless, capturing life as it is and translating the 3D world into a 2D form. I work hard at it, and I love it when you can instill originality into something very simple.
What’s the preparation process behind your photo shoots?
ELENA: I sketch down my ideas all the time, capturing form and arranging body shapes of all my subjects. I believe that it is not your face but the body that communicates emotion. So when creating sketches and envisioning photographs, I take time to figure out the poses and the gestures.
At the same time, I photograph my kids and friends when we go for a walk. The dog and animals that you see in photos are all our animals. So there are no special props.
Could you tell us more about the importance of posing?
ELENA: Poses are everything. They communicate emotion and they can also make a photograph look awkward and incomplete. I spend many hours studying different poses and how they translate differently at different exposure times.
The character and emotion are translated through gestures and body shapes, so I would suggest spending your time and figuring out your poses before you shoot. I don’t look only at the poses of my children but also the poses of animals. It is important to take into consideration the poses of everyone in your photograph.
What tips would you give to photographers?
ELENA: Draw. Drawing makes you think and you can translate your thoughts through drawings in a much more eloquent and meaningful way. You don’t have to be a great painter or an excellent sketcher, the skills or lack there of don’t matter. Just draw. It will help you to record your ideas, envision a picture before it becomes a photograph and to be more confident in your original idea.
What are your plans for the future?
ELENA: I have many plans. I am fascinated by more subjects than just children and animals, and I already have ideas for many photo shoots. I will keep it to myself for now.
I have also always wanted to try out the camera operator craft. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the time or the opportunity to try it out, but it is definitely one of my dreams.
What are the three most frequent questions that you get asked by media all the time?
1. What equipment and photo gear do you use? I don’t hide my equipment or EXIF information, they are publicly available on my 500px profile. Just click on any of my images and you will see all the details in the description, including what camera, lens, and camera settings I used to get that particular shot.
2. How do you edit your work in post-processing and what programs do you use? I spend a lot of time in post and it is a topic that I’ll be discussing in my photo seminars. If you’d like for me to talk at your seminar or share a tutorial get in touch.
3. What type of dog is it in all of your photos? It is a very common dog in Russia, the breed is a Central Asian Shepherd.
Thanks to Elena for the interview and thank you for reading! If you’d like to see more photos by Elena Shumilova visit her 500px page where you can follow her, check camera settings on each photo, and enjoy future uploads.