All images by Natalia O. Used with permission.
Natalia O is a photographer who recently had an image selected as a finalist in the EyeEm awards last month. She has a focus on surreal and conceptual images for her artistic side, but she didn’t always shoot like this. Natalia moved to Canada from Russia at the age of 12. After finishing her Art degree at University of Toronto, she started working part time at a bank, meanwhile growing her photography business by shooting weddings and family pictures, as well as expanding her conceptual portfolio.
“Apart from work, I actually enjoy looking up Photoshop tutorials and getting the satisfaction out of finishing my own little photography projects. I also have a soft spot for old cameras, chocolate and French accents.” says Natalia. And some of that has influence over her surreal photography.
Phoblographer: Tell us about how you got into photography.
Natalia: About 7 years ago, I was playing around with my point and shoot camera, taking pictures to put up on Facebook and MSN Messenger (RIP MSN messenger!!!). I got an urge to create something unique, so I began looking up online tutorials for Photoshop, after which I created my first composite ever- I took multiple pictures of myself in the room, and made it look like I have clones. I think after that I realized that sky’s the limit and I can imagine anything I want and recreate it in a picture. At first this hobby was just about me experimenting with techniques, but after a while it grew into something I’m very passionate about, and has became an emotional outlet to my every day life.
Phoblographer: What kind of gear do you use?
Natalia: I primarily use my Nikon D600 with my 50mm f1.4 lens, as well as 24-70mm f2.8, which I recently got. Most of the my early pictures, however, were done with the Nikon D3000 and a 35mm f1.8 lens. Self portraits are done with the help of my (sadly) broken tripod and a wireless remote. On a side note, I have a huge collection of cameras, anything from old 60’s Russian cameras to a Polaroid.
Phoblographer: Where do you get the inspiration for your surreal (conceptual) work? It seems to be very whimsical.
Natalia: I absolutely love observing the way Hollywood movies create special effects! I recently visited a Harry Potter Studio in London, and realized just how much work has to be done for every single scene. The sets are made from scratch, and the fact that the actors were in a studio instead of actually being in the surroundings that appear on the TV screen is phenomenal to me. If I had the patience or even knew where to begin learning, I would be looking into becoming a visual effects artist. The essential thing that’s stopping me is the fact that I can’t draw, hence why recreating my ideas in a photographic format is something I am very satisfied with.
Phoblographer: How much set design and planning goes into each photo?
Natalia: Depending on the picture, most of the time is spent looking for the right location. The actual process of taking the picture surprisingly takes about 10 minutes. It’s very quick–I just take a picture of the main subject, the things I want to include in the final shot (it’s very important for me to take them at the same place, because it’s easier to match them to the colour and light of the other picture elements) and a picture of the background. I also try to make the photoshoot in a private spot, otherwise I get people walking by thinking I’m crazy… Like the time I had to walk through huge snow banks without my winter jacket on and hug a Christmas tree.
Phoblographer: Tell us about your most complicated image and how it was created.
Natalia: I would have to say the jellyfish photo (“Falling Away With You”), because I pretty much had to make the background out of random pieces of pictures I have taken throughout the years. The easiest part was to take a shot of myself floating, after which I had to find the right picture as the full background so it would appear to look like I’m underwater. And last but not least, cutting out jelly fish and placing them in the picture is not as easy as I thought it would be! It’s almost like trying to trace hair in a portrait, very hard to make it appear smooth, or even select it.
Phoblographer: What’s the end goal for your conceptual work? Do you want to create some sort of book or get them into a gallery?
Natalia: My biggest goal is to become a commercial photographer, taking photographs for ad campaigns around the world. I think the biggest inspiration behind this goal is Erik Almas. It would be a dream come true if I was able to combine the two things I love to do most- travel and take photographs for a living. I don’t know what it is about visiting new places, but it opens my mind and gets my creativity flowing, while making me feel like I’m exactly where I want to be. I feel that photographers get a lot of negative feedback from people telling them that you can’t make a career out of this, and that you have to stop being so naive for thinking that photography will pay your bills. My biggest fear is to be stuck in a routine at a job that I hate for the rest of my life, just because it earns money. I truly believe that if I want this goal of mine to come true, I will eventually get there and say “told you so” to the people that didn’t believe I could achieve it 😉
Phoblographer: Usually when photographers produce something like this, they’re trying to express something. What message do you personally feel like you’re trying to get across?
Natalia: All my work is based on my small life events such as my grandparents visiting and me wanting to capture them the way I see them, or my dog aging and me wanting to capture how much she means to me. All the pictures have a personal meaning, but I noticed most of the ideas that I come up with are created when I am sad. I love being given a main “idea” for the picture and having to figure out how to make it into something conceptual without being too literal.