I believe that all of us are wishing silently (or less silently) to cross our role models’ path at least once during this lifetime, to get to ask them all those silly questions that pop in our heads during the imaginary conversations we have with them on our way to work, while washing dishes or sipping on a cup of tea.
This is an article about the brilliant photographer Elena Shumilova, my latest nonpareil. She is one visionary artist who took the entire world by surprise with her swiftly becoming this unexpected mix of gifted writers and ingenious painters. Each and every photograph of hers is highlighting an art story, giving her subjects a unique voice while depicting their raw individual emotions. From being featured on Bored Panda, Daily Mail and being present on most expert photography websites, here’s my fine chance to have met Elena in person while modeling for a workshop she recently held near London.
It was indeed a long day of workshops with lots of capricious showers, but also lots of lucky sunny spells and a slightly demanding climbing up the hills of Surrey, all covered in delightful cows’ dung. Here twenty amazing photographers joined Elena from all corners of the British Islands (not to mention a few brave travelers coming all the way from South Africa and the Big Apple!) and of course, myself, joined by a zippy toddler with a fully-packed buggy and the jumpiest, cutest Yorkshire terrier, all witnessing a piece of Elena’s work in action. Yet, most proudly, I also get to share with you how Elena opened up to AllMumsTalk on her motherhood and photography journeys despite the longest day of work, despite her being far from her family and most importantly, despite my toddler’s hyperness and stirring the dog up by the phone recording our interview, oh dear…
Here she goes…
1. I’ve read so much on your own joyful secrets of simplicity in photography you’ve shared with your over 60 million viewers since the moment you put your work up onto the almighty internet. Yet, I’m curious, why photography and did you for a second expect to enjoy this huge, still so well deserved success?
When the second child was born I didn’t go back to work because it was simply too hard. I had so many ideas, such as trying my luck with a food blog. I tried several other things that had a very short life. I have to be honest, they didn’t work much. After several months of staying at home with the children I started photography. I soon realised it’s something I do well. And yes, I believe it’s very important to do something you’re actually good at. For example I would love to sing unfortunately I can’t because I don’t have a good voice. So I’m happily dedicating myself to photography.
2. Motherhood is a game changer. Yet was it motherhood the real trigger for your career change?
Yes, children changed my life, but not specifically because of them I gave up my old job, but because I simply couldn’t afford to work and raise them the way I wanted while building the lifestyle I envisioned for us. Initially, I wasn’t too keen on photographing children, I thought I should maybe go for landscapes, even directions such as journalism related. I starting photographing children because I was living with them, they were still the biggest part of my life. They are my life. And photographing animals came naturally because I was living on a farm. Therefore I carried on as I realised that I’m not only enjoying it, but this is something I’m actually good at.
3. Bonding with your subject can be the hardest thing sometimes. What’s your strategy?
You’d be surprised, but I don’t actually try to bond with the subject. I prefer to observe and see how everything falls into place while looking for ways of how to get the emotion from a certain pose. I am an observer…
4. Did your photography style change over time?
I don’t think I have a certain style. I certainly don’t think about a style. I do what I feel, how I feel and when I feel it. Sometimes I’m told that my style changes, but honestly I don’t see it.
5. How hard is it for you to capture those real raw emotions that truly matter as eventually they are the ones that make THE photograph?
Fishing for emotions is not the simplest thing while I must say it’s very easy to judge the situation objectively but when it comes to photography, things are a bit different than in real life. For example kissing is great and touching in real life, but I analysed it and I found reasons why it’s not nice and efficient in the photos. I carried on analysing which are the things that don’t work for the good photos. All these observations helped me organise myself and do what I do today. They are the base of how I’m shooting today.
6. Which are the top things you’ve learned from working with both children (especially your three bundles of joy) but also from working with animals? Some of your most famous art pieces involve the loyal pet.
The most challenging aspect of all this is how to get them in the right spot at the right time. The hardest thing for all photographers is to capture the right moment which can be missed by a fraction of a second. This is an area where I feel I had been growing over the last few years and I tend to sense when to click.
7. So many women today may experience periods of low confidence when motherhood kicks in, especially when a career change is involved. What would you advise them to do in order to overcome this and pursue their dreams like you seem to successfully have done?
First of all don’t be afraid to change anything in life. I know it sometimes looks easy when others are undergoing changes, but most of us are afraid of the change itself. I had to learn of how not to be afraid. I had a good career which was paying the bills. Plus when I took the photography path there was a lot of pressure from my family saying that it might be the wrong thing to do, that I shouldn’t risk everything for a dream like this. Yet I’d say and encourage everyone to follow their inner feeling that tells them they are doing the right thing.
8. You’re a busy bee teaching workshops for fellow professional photographers all over the world. To me, your photography is timeless and so very sophisticated in its own simplicity, which are though the things people should expect learning during a workshop?
During workshops I explain myself and how I do my work. How I thought myself photography, how I learned editing during all those nights when children were sleeping (the photo below belongs to one of Elena’s cool apprentices, also a young mum of two and the photographer behind Dimples and Daisies Photography).
9. I sincerely hope there is so much more of your delightful and creative work to come. Could you share any of your plans for the future? Any trips back to the UK?
I’m being grateful my work is appreciated all over the world. I have a busy schedule with lots of workshops in different countries. I miss my family when I’m away, but I enjoy my work and of course, the UK is always a beautiful place that inspires me and I’m sure I’ll be back soon. I already had an amazing workshop in Ireland and I’m soon heading to Barcelona, Spain and Denmark. Lots of workshop all across the USA and Australia already planned.
10. Last but not least, here’s a question I ask all my successful and inspirational mother figures: ‘Elena, kakie y vas lubimie preimyshestva materinstva?’ Elena, which are the perks of motherhood?
Motherhood is beautiful, it’s a journey with lots of ups and downs we learn by ourselves. Our children are great teachers, but most often they teach us more than we give back to them. Motherhood also made me more hard working. Before I became a mother, actually not until I had my second child, I didn’t realised how lazy one can become if one doesn’t have any strong incentives to motivate her. At least in my case, I can say motherhood helped me grow not only personally, but professionally.
I always keep an eye on Elena’s Instagram posts to follow stunning stories she shoots all over the world. If interested in more expert tips on child photography, watch this Youtube video. Yet, if you’re one seeking to do a career or lifestyle change and need a push, here’s probably the most inspirational video you’ll see all day…