Michal Zahornacky’s Telling and Surreal Portraits (NSFW)


All images by Michal Zahornacky. Used with permission.

When most folks think about surreal portraiture, they’re often thinking about lots of Photoshop work. But that’s not often the case with Michal Zahornacky. Michal is a professional fine art photographer from Slovakia. He draws his inspiration from various things in life and always keeps his eyes peeled.

Michal mainly focuses on portraiture, and to that end also does wedding photography. Overall though, his themes are to elicit specific emotions and atmospheres in his images. From his Behance, you can see that all this is clearly evident.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography? 


Michal: A few years ago I bought my first camera. The plan was to take pictures of our trips and special occasions with friends. Later on I started to experiment and I found out that camera is a powerful tool to express myself. I learned all the basics myself. Now I can show many things through my photography – my world, problems, emotions and all I can imagine.

Phoblographer: What made you want to get into portraiture?


Michal: In the beginnings I photographed everything that came across. Later I chose my direction and the way I want to go. People are the most interesting subject for me. Each person is different, Unique. They all have their specific lives and stories which are visible in their eyes, face-play or posture. I am fascinated by taking pictures of people because each photograph is different. Lately, I combine portraits with specific idea and metaphor. The person on my photograph always perfectly fits into the story.

Phoblographer: Where do you draw inspiration from? Lots of your ideas look very surreal and centered on ethereal beauty.


Michal: I find inspiration in the world around me. It can be found everywhere. Sometimes they are the smallest things that inspire me. You just have to stop for a second and feel the space and atmosphere around you. I enjoy expressing my ideas through a metaphor. So it is not completely clear. Surrealism is very close to me as it is the way I think. I do not want to show in my art photographs what is completely clear or too real, I want to add that something else. Something that starts your imagination, fantasy, thoughts flow. Through my photography I want to make people stop and see, think and analyze what they see and what I want to say or point to.

Phoblographer: When you go about shooting portraits, what is the process like? Do you storyboard and sketch them out first? Or is it collaborative with your subject?


Michal: The idea is always first. Sometimes I have it in my head for several weeks. Then I do my first sketch. I plan my photographs to very small detail. Usually, I know exactly how the final photo should look like before the shooting.

Phoblographer: What gear do you use?


Michal: I own two cameras:

Canon 6D and a Canon 60D

And lenses: Sigma f1.4 50mm

Sigma f1.4 35mm

Canon f1.8 85mm

Phoblographer: It seems like you use a mixture of natural light and strobe lighting. How do you believe it helps you to actually achieve your creative vision in the images?


Michal: I like the natural light the most. I do my best to use the natural light as often and as much as possible. When I shoot in my studio, I sometimes use both – the natural light and also strobe lighting. Sometimes I prefer the ability to set everything by myself, but sometimes it is not necessary as the natural light itself is beautiful. In my studio I have large windows which allow me to use the natural light. When shooting outdoors I never use strobe lighting.

Phoblographer: On Behance, you typically post your favorite selections from each shoot. But what determines whether or not an image makes it to the final selection? What parameters do you usually go through in your head as you’re editing the images down to the final uploads?


Michal: I always prefer quality over quantity. I am very strict when it comes to selecting my photographs. I do not stick to photography rules very strictly. I prioritize the “feeling of the photo”. When making the final selection I watch every single detail. There must be precision, expression and unique atmosphere in the final photograph.  

Phoblographer: Talk to us about a personal project that you’ve been working on for a while and that you’re still trying to refine. Do you have one?


Michal: Currently I’m working on a Poems series. It is series of portraits, which show a hidden idea through metaphor. Each photograph has its own story. I collaborate with Slovak poets and they complete my photographs by creating unique poem to one selected photograph of the series. The story of the photograph is exposed through the poem. My goal is to connect art with art. Once the whole series is complete I plan to organize exhibitions of the series, where also the poems will be presented. Also I plan to issue the series in book form.







Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.