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Photographer Elena Paraskeva: ‘total madness or calm waters’

Photographer Elena Paraskeva loves to create surrealistic conceptual photography, bathed in colour. We spoke to her about her recent work with Affinity Photo and how she creates her stunning images…
What made you decide to embark on a career in photography?

In my previous life I used to be a Marketing Executive for a Fortune 500 company in the U.S. After giving that up to move back to my country, I felt I needed a 180-degree change, an opportunity to do something creative, to fill the artistic void in my daily life.

I initially opened an art gallery, but that wasn’t doing it for me. Then one day, five years ago, I picked up an old camera I had and started taking portraits basically of everyone that was willing to sit down for a few minutes and be photographed. That was the beginning of what I now call my life’s obsession. I never thought I’d be doing it as a career, but after a couple of years and a good amount of social exposure, people started contacting me about doing work for them and today I shoot for fashion designers, magazines and various institutions and corporations internationally.

“I picked up an old camera I had and started taking portraits basically of everyone that was willing to sit down for a few minutes and be photographed”

What photography equipment do you use?

My camera is a Nikon D810. Almost all my lenses are Prime (a combination of Nikon and Sigma Art lenses). If it is a fashion shoot I’ll mainly use my 35mm lens or an even shorter lens, but if it is a fine art portrait I’ll use either my 85mm or my 105mm lens. I own four strobes and way too many light modifiers to mention—although my huge deep parabolic soft-box is my favourite!

Amidst the flames.
How do you come up with your concepts—do you plan each photo meticulously or do you experiment during the shoot?

I actually do plenty of both. Preparation is everything (location, props, styling, makeup), but during the shoot, I often modify the concept, use of props, or pose models as I see fit. As far as concept creation goes, I almost never consciously sit down to create one.

My brain is in constant churning mode and everything I see around me becomes a possibility. For example, for ‘Eternal spring of the mind’ (shown below), I was in my father’s garden during a visit, when I saw these beautiful mauve flowers. I wanted to use them in the image, but not in the usual and expected ways. Next thing I know I’m passing by a shelf of ice cream cones in the supermarket the same day, and voila, it clicks and I have the concept ready in my head!

Eternal spring of the mind. Commissioned by Affinity.
Can you give us a little insight ‘behind the scenes’ on a typical photoshoot with you?

Again, depending on the nature of the shoot it can be total madness or calm waters. During a fashion shoot, I’m very hands-on with styling and well, pretty much everything. So I’m running around arranging lights, talking makeup with the makeup artist, fixing wigs or stray hairs, playing around with glue guns trying to glue something last minute, twisting my body in ways I didn’t know were possible in an attempt to show the model how I want them to pose, or jumping up and down from joy when I get the shot just right!

Living by proxy.
Living by proxy.
We love the piece you created for us for our 1.7 launch. How long on average does it tend to take you to create a single piece?

I recently created a series of composites for an Australian client and a rather complicated one from the bunch actually took me about 10 hours to complete! Having said that, an average image that requires just retouching, dodging and burning, and colour grading will take me no longer than 3 hours (although I always let an image ‘rest’ and then come back to it to make small tweaks).

“I always let an image ‘rest’ and then come back to it to make small tweaks”

Which other photographers have inspired you over the years?

I admire many photographers, each with different aesthetics and vision. Some are in the fashion field such as Solve Sundsbo, others are in the fine art world such as Julia Fullerton. However, my all-time favourites to which I return to time and time again to admire their work is Spanish photographer Eugenio Recuenco and the Dutch master Erwin Olaf.

Image edited in Affinity Photo.
What are your tips for photographing with coloured gels?

Control, control, control. With coloured gels, grids on light modifiers are an essential tool in order to prevent unwanted colour bleeding or to make the colours more focused and intense. Also, know where the shadows are so you can fill them with light.

You’ve been awarded Digital Camera Photographer of the Year 2018 and have received many awards for your photography over the years, which have you felt most proud of?

I am quite proud of the DCPOTY distinction, particularly because one of the images that helped me win was a special portrait of my mother (below). However, I feel there is still a lot of growing to be had as an artist, which is why I always try to carve out some free time to create personal projects that dive into more complex issues and subject matters.

Alone with the past.
Forever towards the light.
How has using Affinity Photo changed your retouching?

The software has definitely sped up my entire process. Frequency Separation is made easy, not just because it is a Filter action instead of having to create the separate layers, but because the brushes are better at sampling areas and transforming new ones. For example, the Healing Brush, when used on the Low-Frequency layer, has a better capacity of handling tonal contrast when sampled from a mixed area than the same tool in Photoshop.

The Dilemmas.
The Dilemmas.
What features of the software have you found most useful?

I love the Inpainting Brush Tool, particularly when trying to fix hair and I am absolutely thrilled I can actually work in RGB AND LAB modes in the same document with all the functions still enabled and without the need to flatten the document when switching back and forth. I also really like the Sharpening algorithm in the Develop Persona, it handles artifacts much better when pushed a bit more.

What advice would you give someone just starting their photography career?

Developing a photographic style is very important, it is what can set a photographer apart from the rest. And because commercial jobs can’t always allow us to express that style, personal projects become very important in establishing our identity as artists first, and then photographers. In my case, it also helped retain a lot of new clients who responded more strongly towards my personal rather than commercial work.

“personal projects become very important in establishing our identity”

Elena Paraskeva.

You can see more of Elena’s work on her website, 500px and Facebook

Artist relations

Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.

Credits & Footnotes

All photographs are copyright © of Elena Paraskeva and used with permission.