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Elena Sokolova

6 October 2021

UX designer, Elena Sokolova, has a style that is dark and wistful, that mirrors the climate of her town St Petersburg. Her work features hazy desaturated imagery of landscapes and occasionally portraits, colour graded with metallic blacks and blues and the odd speck of colour.

What's your backstory?

I'm an amateur photographer from St. Petersburg. Actually, I'm not a photographer, I have a degree in graphic design and a permanent job as a UX designer. But I do spend a lot of my free time on this photography hobby. I began taking pictures when I was a child and at university I even tried to be a photographer. But soon I realized that сlose cooperation with many new people is not my story.

How did you first start out in photography?

In the middle of the 2000s, my grandfather bought my first digital camera. (I think it was a Canon Digital IXUS Wireless). Maybe it sounds weird for people from other countries, to possess their first camera in the middle of the 2000s, but people in Russia didn't have all these cool things 20 years ago.

So It was amazing when I took photos and saw the results at the same moment. My passion at that time was to shoot abandoned buildings and sunsets in my town.

How would you describe your style?

I think It has always been something melancholic and gloomy. I try to catch some story in every photo, like if it is a movie screenshot.

I always wanted to shoot something dark that would cause feelings of sadness and anxiety. Maybe because these feelings are more honest. There is so much toxic positivity around lately, I don't want to be a part of it. So this gloomy photography style perfectly expresses my inner world.

What subjects do you like to shoot and why?

Mostly It's something out of the city. I admire our northern nature. It's so dark and mysterious. When you use lights in the dusk in the north foggy forest, you feel like you're in a detective thriller or something like that. In the night, the atmosphere around fundamentally changes. For instance, I notice that night photos are more responsive. I assume that's because people like to hide something in the dark.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

The first thing here Is my city. St. Petersburg is one of the best places if you are a depressed person and like all that noire things. It's a mix of historical architecture, cold northern climate and culture. And the second thing is movies. I guess I'm a cinephile; I'm always watching something. From the classical Tarkovsky and Bergman movies to Netflix shows. It's a common situation when I want to convey a movie atmosphere to my photos.

What are you looking for when you go out shooting?

I always go shooting with a particular idea, because I don't have too much time for photography (usually, I do some research about a suitable place, but the main thing for me is weather conditions). I am just unable to do anything with sunshine and blue skies.

I'm definitely a planned photographer. Just because I spend most of my time at home working. But a few years ago when I used to live in the city centre I did more occasional photos.

How do you know when you've got "the shot"?

For me, it's quite easy. Usually, it's a mix of ideas, composition and colour combinations. When I can continue a story from my photo in my mind it means I did the right thing. But it's a rare situation when I took such photos accidentally. Сommonly I do some preparations. But if we are talking about one main component of the successful photo, for me It's a backstory. It's an unreal feeling when your brain creates scenarios from pictures.

How do you achieve the look in your photos?

I do some colour corrections in lightroom, all other things like textures, lights and glow I do in photoshop. Sometimes I completely change all colours on the photo. For the glow, I use various blur effects and brushes. About camera settings, mostly I use an exposure between 1/60s and 1/80s and F1.8-2.

Before and after editing

How do you feel your style has changed/evolved over the years?

I think my photos have become more meaningful, and the quality has changed. My perception of colours also has changed. I didn't use blue and green in my old photos but now I'm good with them. But I'm still trying to improve my skills in low light photography.

Do you have one or two photos that are you particularly proud of?

This one is special because I have a terrible fear of heights and I needed to go up on the roof for that photo. It was an awful feeling all the time, except the time of the shooting. And typical St. Petersburg wind blew out the lighter flame and I thought "so it was all for nothing". But eventually, when I saw these photos I realised that It's quite nice.

What motivates you to shoot?

It's my hobby, part of my life. I can't remember myself without shooting something. Now I have an audience and it means I'm doing some interesting stuff - or at least I hope so.

Do you ever feel nervous for your safety when out shooting at night?

I always feel nervous for my safety when I'm outside my home at night haha. But yes, It's quite scary when I'm shooting somewhere outside the town. In most cases I have company but anyway I carry around pepper spray and a lamp.

What advice would you have for people getting into photography?

Try to shoot something you understand better. Don't try to be someone else. The best thing you can do is express your own world in your photos. Secondly, your equipment isn't everything. You can create amazing photos even with an old film camera. And please, don't do it just for the money...

How has COVID-19 affected your photography?

I think I started to shoot more out of the city. Also now I have more time to do photo correction because I don't have to go to the office and deal with traffic anymore. Honestly, It's a win-win situation for me.

What are your thoughts on Instagram as a photography platform?

I have a lot to say about IG algorithms. It's really annoying when you have to publish one photo per day or your activity goes down. People like me who are really not earning money on their photography just don't have this huge amount of good quality photos for everyday publishing. This is our worrying reality. Another annoying thing is the way how IG crops photos. Frequently some of my photos have really essential details at the edges and I am just forced to crop them.

What are some of your hobbies outside of photography?

I don't know if I take my work as a hobby. It's the first part of my life and photography is the second one. I think they are linked in some way. All these things like colour combinations, composition and creating an idea are actually the same.

Thank you for taking the time to speak to us Elena. Any final words?

Thank you for this opportunity. I hope I was able to convey some atmosphere of my world here.

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