Leonid Litvac: The Beauty in Natural Light Portraiture

All images by Leonid Litvac. Used with permission.

“I wouldn’t describe myself as an amateur photographer but I’m not a professional one either, I work full time as system administrator in IT, and giving photography a lot of my free time.” states photographer Leonid Litvac, who does a lot of portraiture. For Leonid, photography became his muse a few years ago. Then he tried to get into portraiture and found it tough in the beginning. Like many portrait photographers starting out, he didn’t realize that it was all about communication. But later on, he figured it out.

In particular, he loves natural light.

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

Leonid: When I was a child, for nine years I went to visual art school, where I learned the basics of drawing, painting, a lot about light, how it falls on the subject, together with mud sculpting, history of art and other visual arts. Then I went to high school and all that art stuff kinda faded in the past, until a few years ago when I saw a few pictures of a friend of mine and he lighted in me the interest for photography.

I waited till next Christmas and made myself a present, I bought my first ILC, it was a Samsung NX100, with that camera in my hands I started exploring the world of photography, by experimenting different types of photography from macros to landscapes, from portraits to astrophotography, I liked it all. I stared to read every photography book possible, together with a whole bunch of photography magazines, the more I studied, the more I started to understand the technical part of photography, then I was trying to experiment all the stuff I learned.

Phoblographer: What made you get into portraiture?

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Leonid: Since I felt in love with photography I was more into the outdoors and the portraits, it was easy with the outdoors because you just have to bag your stuff and go out and shoot, a little harder with the portraits because without a subject you cannot make a portrait.

But slowly, first with my family then with my friends I got into portraits more and more, and when I got more confident with myself and had a few mediocre images to showcase, I felt like it was time to ask strangers to pose for me, and they accepted to my surprise. My first portraits were pretty simple in setup and ideas, they were not giving me enough satisfaction, but that helped me a lot to get more confident when establishing a contact with the model.

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Phoblographer: Lots of people are afraid of doing portraits simply because they’re nervous. Have you ever experienced this? How did you get over it?

Leonid: On my first session with a stranger, a friend of a friend, I was pretty nervous, I didn’t really know how to correctly direct her posing and expression. It went a lot better on the next session with the same girl, then I met a new model and slowly I was getting more and more confident when working with models. Because all of my models are not professional ones they tend to be a little nervous, that is why I prefer to meet them prior the session.

By getting to know each other we know what to expect from each other and that helps to ease the tension and concentrate only on the shooting.

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Phoblographer: A fair portion of your work really seems to emphasize the use of minimal colors in the scene the put more spotlight on the subject. Where did you pick up the idea of creating images like this?

Leonid: The idea behind my images is pretty simple, when I was shooting my first portraits I didn’t really look behind or around my subject, I didn’t care what was the model wearing, but then when I was looking at the final images it was all bothering me, I had a lot of distractions in the frame, from the unwanted tree behind to badly chosen color of the shirt and other minor stuff, I couldn’t keep my eyes on the subject.

That led me to think on the final image before shooting it, and that implied scouting the location, choosing the correct outfit for the location, choosing the correct makeup for that shooting, thinking on how I want to pose the model, what mood I want for that session, and by doing all that I was getting photographs where the viewers eyes are concentrated on the subject.

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Phoblographer: Talk to us about where you draw inspiration? It seems to be from a whole slew of places.

Leonid: Photography made me look at the world with different eyes, made me see stuff I didn’t see before, and mostly stuff that surrounds us, like the nature around us or human creations like architecture, and sometimes when I see something interesting outside like a field of flowers or an abandoned house, I imagine my model in it and start developing the picture in my head. I also get a lot of inspiration from the images I see around the web of great photographers of the past and the modern ones. Not to forget the movies, I’m a cinephile and I get a lot of inspiration from movies, especially when post-processing.

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Phoblographer: What about your lighting? You’re very much about using natural light so how do you go around finding the best natural lighting situations to get consistent exposures?

Leonid: I mostly shoot in the evening when the light is more diffused, I also like overcast or foggy days when the light is very even and cold, the choice of light will dictate the mood of the photograph. I also like to play with direct sun beams or back-lighting my subject.

Sometimes I also combine natural light with artificial, by using available light sources or the speedlights, but I’m too in love with the natural light and mostly shoot with it, sometimes with the aid of modifiers like reflectors or diffusers.

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Phoblographer: Portraiture is a collaborative process, so what are your conversations usually like with your subjects as you two enter a shoot?

Leonid: I always ask the model to tell me a little about herself, what are her interests, what music, what movies, what shows does she like and other minor stuff, I never get too personal about her life as I think that would make her nervous. If I shoot indoors I always let the music play in the background, it creates the right atmosphere.

Phoblographer: When it comes to posing subjects, what’s that like for you? A lot of your work is a mix between natural and magical while most photographers tend to skew one way or another.

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Leonid: How I pose my subject depends pretty much on the feelings I want to put in the photograph and the mood I want to be transmitted by the photograph.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use. How does it help you bring your creative vision to life?

Leonid: A lot of people wouldn’t believe it, but my gear is very cheap, I shoot with a Nikon D7000 and a Nikon 50mm 1.8g, I adore this focal length and adore shooting wide open, by having a prime lens I have to constantly move around my subject to change the angle of view, that makes me discover new perspectives and create the look I want, recently I added a Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX to my gear list. For the post-processing part I use lightroom and photoshop.

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