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

Digital SLR Photography - - Contents -

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.

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