Photo: Summer Homework by Dina Belenko

Ever wonder what’s behind a top-selling photo?

Photographer Dina Belenko is about to hit $10,000 in revenue from her photography on 500px, and we wanted to celebrate this incredible milestone. Read on for some insight into Belenko’s photography and creative process!

Summer homework by Dina Belenko on

How did you get started in commercial photography?

It depends on what I should count as a start. My first paid photo of a hot dog? First sold image on any photo stock site? Let it be the moment I left my editorship in a local publishing house and upgraded still life photography from a hobby to my only profession. Working as an editor would have been a lot of fun, if not for pretty conservative management. Being not allowed to do anything creative is very tiring and in the end literally depressing, so I quit my job and decided to make something useful from my hobby. I started with photographing food for small cafes and handmade accessories for local crafters. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but finally I was doing what was really enjoyable.

A better question might be, when did you first realize your work was commercially relevant and that buyers were interested in what you were creating?

Here I should thank all the designers, editors, and photographers who looked at my pictures (not quite good at the time) and said something supportive like “Hey, you can make postcards with this” or “We could use it as a book cover.” So, I tried to upload my images on a photo stock site, failed the quality test, learned how to make slightly better pictures, tried again. I guess, what I do now is repeating this process with small variations.

Congratulations on spring by Dina Belenko on

Are you ever surprised by the images from your collection that buyers license?

Oh boy, yes! Some images I am really proud of are never sold. But some old stuff with weird colours and poor lighting gets rather popular sometimes. My first approach to this riddle was something along the lines of “You better give up on trying to solve this puzzle or your brain might melt,” but to be candid, it’s understandable. Sometimes a picture just speaks to you and you don’t really care about its technical quality.

How often do you analyze the images from your collection that are licensed – top sellers, etc.?

I’m trying to, but it hardly affects my future series. I always have a bunch of things I want to try, so “shooting a couple of photos that look like your top sellers” is very hard to tackle in the schedule. But it must be very important and helpful. So, readers, please, pay closer attention to it, don’t be like me. 🙂

Teatime by Dina Belenko on

What equipment, lighting and software do you use to capture this aesthetic?

There’s Nikon D800, two speedlights SB-910, a very steady tripod, and a couple of softboxes, all of them by Westcott. Before that I used nameless Chinese lighting kit and was quite happy with it until I had to transfer it to a restaurant for a shooting—oh, what a nightmare it was! Now I photograph mostly at home, but still prefer mobile lights.

Coffee for travelers by Dina Belenko on

Where do you find your creative inspiration?

Usually I say something like “Oh, just look around! There are so many interesting things! From cookies to raindrops on a window glass.” And it’s still true, but now my main sources of inspiration are various podcasts, which have nothing to do with photography or even still life. It turned out that information from fields unconnected to your profession gives your brain an incentive to look closer at connections between things. So you can listen to a season of Writing Excuses and came up with picture about insomnia. And Freakonomics can make you think of a Newton’s Cradle from cherries. My favourite one is still Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (written by Eliezer Yudkowsky, read by Eneasz Brodski): I never made a picture directly inspired by it, but it is constantly humming in the back of my mind, pushing me to be productive.

Also, I found it very helpful to have a collection of things you want to try (locations where you want to photograph, stories you want to illustrate, beautiful colour palettes, schemes of lighting, tricks of composition, etc). It’s not a to-do list, it’s more like I-can-give-it-a-try list. Maybe you’ll never complete it, but you’ll also never have a problem like “What shall I do today?” again.

December fire by Dina Belenko on

What’s your best selling image and what was your process in creating this work?

That must be “It’s Always Coffee Time.” A clock face made of coffee cups and splashes. I had only four coffee cups the same size, so I had to make a composite image, but I really did place them in the circle and made at least 4 shots, keeping a power of my speedlights low to freeze the splashes. Voila!