MAIN INTERVIEW: VADIM SHERBAKOV
FORGET BEGINNER’S LUCK, AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER VADIM SHERBAKOV IS PRODUCING IMAGES THAT OUTSHINE MANY A FULL- TIME PROFESSIONAL'S. JORDAN BUTTERS DISCOVERS HOW HE CREATES SUCH STANDOUT IMAGES
A story of reader- inspiration – we meet one amateur photographer who’s set his sights on turning pro
When it comes to inspirational stories about photography, it’s easy to focus attention on professional photographers or those who have made a high- end career out of photography. however, in doing so, we overlook those who pursue photography as a pastime, those who have found their own value in developing the quality of their images successfully. Whether an image has made money, and a photographer's status – be them an enthusiast, semi- or full- time professional – has very little bearing on how much an image is appreciated and enjoyed, as proven by this talented photographer. moscow- born freelance digital art director and Digital SLR Photography subscriber Vadim sherbakov is the perfect example of how often the only thing that sets an ‘ amateur’ apart from a professional is a pay cheque. When he’s not building interactive websites for clients, Vadim is travelling the world with his camera, pursuing his passion for landscape, cityscape and aerial photography.
As with many amateur and professional photographers alike, Vadim’s initial foray into the world of photography was tentative. Rather than waxing lyrical about a magical instant love for photography and the start of a fairy- tale blossoming of a life- long passion, Vadim and photography really didn’t click straight away. “i remember getting my first canon eos digital camera,” Vadim recalls. “i photographed everything – people, daylight, travel, experimental stuff – everything. Being honest, it was all complete garbage. After a couple of years of trying to improve and seeing what other people were producing, i was very downhearted. i felt that i hadn’t got any better and was still producing the same poor quality images as when i started. i didn’t know what to do or how to improve. i wasn’t inspired by what i saw around me and, in Russia ten years ago, we didn’t have as easy access to the literature and photography magazines that we do now, so learning about photography was difficult. i was going out and buying filters and tripods, new cameras and expensive lenses, not knowing how to use them but hoping they would miraculously help me create better images. in the end, i wrote photography off as a failure – i put my eos 450D back on the shelf and forgot about it.”
After a couple of years of trying to improve and seeing what other people were producing i was very downhearted. i felt that i hadn’t got any better and was still producing the same poor quality images as when i started
Fast forward a couple of years and, despite an existing angst for photography, time away and a change for scenery reignited Vadim’s passion. “Putting the camera away was the right move in the end,” reflects Vadim. “If I’d continued to produce images that I was so unhappy with for much longer I would have probably given up photography for good. Everything changed when I visited Iceland for the first time on holiday three years ago. It’s such an amazing country, with amazing scenery, I thought to myself: ‘ Oh my god, I want to shoot landscapes’. I’d taken my camera with me, not really intending to shoot much, but even with a crude set- up of just my camera, one lens and a monopod that I’d purchased over there – my tripod and filters had got lost in transit – I managed to capture images that were a hundred times better than anything I’d ever captured before. The right landscapes, right conditions and a new enthusiasm towards photography made the world of difference. It reignited my passion – I knew I had to go home, learn and revisit the country again when I’d honed my skills.”
Thanks to magazines I learnt about the golden hours, and how to use my filters, how shutter speeds affect motion and light
Because of his career as an art director, and past experience in creating computer graphics for film and advertising, Vadim was able to focus on his strengths. He already knew how to use Photoshop, and had experience in editing, colour correction and grading – he just needed to learn how to apply this to his photography, and improve his camera craft to make the most of his processing skills: “I looked online for tutorials and reading overseas photography magazines, such as Digital SLR Photography – they gave me the ability to narrow my passion and focus to just one subject. I knew I wanted to shoot landscapes, which later progressed into cityscapes and aerial photography. Thanks to magazines I learned about the golden hours, how to use my filter system and how shutter speeds affect motion and light. I could see why I wasn’t getting the results that I wanted before.”
Inspired by the work of acclaimed landscape photographer Elia Locardi, Vadim focused on mastering exposure blending techniques, and it quickly became a style of both shooting and editing that he felt comfortable with. It’s important to emphasise the word ‘ shooting’ too here as, although Vadim’s images are representative of his own style of post- production, all the editing skills in the world cannot create a great image out of a bad photograph. There’s as much, or arguably more, camera- craft in capturing a scene in a way that's suited to his editing techniques as there is capturing an image entirely in- camera. “I use the word compositing when I describe my style, but I’m not talking about moving objects into the landscape that aren’t there or digital art. I’m talking about exposure blending, or maybe replacing the sky, or compositing in the
Milky Way shot in a slightly different direction. One technique I use often is time blending – staying in one location with one composition over a long period of time and combining elements of the scene as the light changes, such as the sky from the golden hour with the night lights during the blue hour and traffic trails after dark. I’m bringing together elements that were already there in one form or another, just over the course of time rather than in one moment.”
Although Vadim is technically an ' amateur' photographer, he’s already using advanced techniques and producing images that would put many professionals to shame. He’s fully aware that this processing- reliant form of modern digital photography can be a touchy subject for purist photographers, and isn’t to everyone's tastes, but you know what? That’s actually OK, according to Vadim: “For a lot of people it’s black and white – they see images that have been exposure blended or
composited and they think traditional photography is dead – it’s not at all. I greatly believe that there’s a place for both traditional in- camera photography and a more processing- led style. I think as long as people are honest with their methods, for example not trying to pass off a composited or heavily edited image as all natural, then there’s plenty of room for all styles of photography.”
Having seen his incredible portfolio, I'm eager to ask Vadim about his methods for post- processing. He tells me that all of his images are first imported into Lightroom where basic image selection takes place, along with lens corrections, removing chromatic aberration, and adjusting shadows and highlights. He then moves the image across into Photoshop for more complex editing, including merging exposures and compositing before using Nik Color Efex Pro 4
I greatly believe that there’s a place for both traditional in- camera photography and a more processing- led style
for contrast adjustments and finishing touches. Finally, he uses Nik Dfine 2 for noise reduction and Nik Sharpener Pro 3 for sharpening. While he’s well- versed at using these tools now, he says it still takes some trial and error to get results he’s happy with: “I’m always struggling to find the right balance between making my images look natural, and making them stand out,” Vadim says. “I often create something, save it for a few hours, days or weeks and then revisit it with fresh eyes – it’s like seeing it for the first time and you can judge whether you got the balance right or not. The more images I produce, the easier it’s becoming to find that balance more quickly and to create an image that fits with my style.”
Seeing as it was travel that restarted Vadim’s love for photography, it might not come as a surprise that travel still plays a big part in the images that he creates now too. As an enthusiast photographer, all of Vadim’s images are created out of a passion for photography and while he might make some passive income from selling the odd image, or time- lapse film, here and there, all of his trips are entirely self- funded.
This means that he has to consider his trips carefully to ensure that he gets the most out of every adventure, photographically. In preparation, Vadim first consults online photo community 500px. com to see what photographic potential lies at the location or nearby, and then looks to Google Maps and Photopills to scout shooting angles and the direction of light. He often relies on the more popular photographic locations as his destinations as he knows that he’ll be able to get good results there, based on the past successes of others: “I would love to try and visit remote locations or places that haven’t been photographed much before,” he tells me. “But because photography isn’t my job, I can’t afford to spend weeks or months at a location, waiting for the perfect conditions or scouting around for brand new scenery. Therefore I tend to visit the locations that I know are going to offer a good opportunity for me to produce images. My reasoning is that with my unique style and techniques I can still produce something different, even in locations that have been photographed many times before. Either way, the motive for travel is almost always photography – I’m just very lucky that my wife shares my passion too! Landscape photography has brought me to all kinds of amazing places that I probably wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. Even when we do visit more touristy places like Rome, for example, you always end up seeing these places in a different light to ‘ regular’ visitors, as you’re on location at sunrise or sunset, or after dark when everyone else isn’t around.”
On the strength of his portfolio alone, and his abilities behind a camera and in front of the computer, Vadim could be considered by many to be a professional, but he’s yet to figure out his path in making the big jump from his day job to the tricky world of being a full- time landscape photographer. “I’d love to go full- time. I’m trying my best by selling some images and keeping in contact with the press and industry to establish myself. I’m struggling with the concept of ‘ who is going to hire me and for what in photography?’. I imagine that’s an everyday question for a lot of professional landscape photographers these days, but I don’t want to switch genres and shoot weddings or portraits, for example – I’m happy with what I do. If I can’t shoot landscapes for a living then my existing career is fine by me, and I’ll happily keep photography as my passive income. If, however, I come across the magic formula for making the jump to being a full- time landscape photographer, then I’d switch in a second.” To see more of Vadim's photography, visit: www. vadimsherbakov. com.
I’d love to go full- time. I’m trying my best by selling some images and keeping in contact with the press and industry to establish myself
1) A sunset in Elgol, Isle of Skye, made up of three exposures. 2) A bracketed image from Iceland on the DJI Phantom 3. 3) The Milky Way was shot separately and composited in.
1) The Vatican and Rome taken using multiple exposures. 2) One of most famous waterfalls in Glencoe, Scotland. 3) A six- exposure bracket of Manarola in Cinque Terra, Italy.
1) Ten exposures went into this shot for extra dynamic range. 2) Vadim's take on the famous Realto bridge view in Venice. 3) A view over Edinburgh from Dugald Stewart Monument. 4) The skyline of modern Dubai, with no compositing.
1) Heavy composite of stars, long exposure, moon and belfry. 2) A drone shot of an awesome zigzagging road in Italy. 3) A panorama shot using the DJI Phantom 3 in Moscow.