Life’s Lessons Inspire Jovana Rikalo to Make These Photos

“I am very nervous when not taking photos,” says Serbian photographer Jovana Rikalo in regard to how much photography is ingrained in her existence. She enjoys telling visual stories with her photographs, constructed out of emotional thoughts and moments from her life. Every moment has potential for inspiration for this creative thinker who seeks ideas from just about everything possible. Drawing on a plethora of concepts to produce a single visual interpretation isn’t uncommon for Jovana, and she breaks down some of her photos in an interview with us.

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If you’re a photographer who produces complex images, do you storyboard your ideas? Or do you tend to just jot down a handful of points and head over with your crew? I can’t say I plot out every detail of a photoshoot, but I’ve often observed that (literally) sketching out the end result I have in mind can help the production. You don’t need to be great at sketching (I consider myself someone who can’t even draw stick figures well). But just having a visual framework of how you expect the photograph to look can help deconstruct the image when you arrive on-site for a shoot. When the number of elements that go into making this photo increases, these visual storyboards greatly help organize and arrange these elements into the right places. Jovana puts in a lot of planning for her surreal images, and the results of this are evident in the final photographs.

The Essential Photo Gear Used by Jovana Rikalo

Jovana told us:

[The] camera is an important but not necessary tool to capture the photos. Lenses are more important. With them you are showing to the world do you wanna add details in the background or all focus to be on the model.

The Phoblographer: Hi Jovana. Please tell us about yourself and how you got into photography.

Jovana Rikalo: I started taking photos nine years ago. Everything started spontaneously. I always loved photography, but I never imagined myself being somebody who would hold a camera nonstop and think about new concepts and ideas. Back then, I was taking photos on my trips with family and self-portraits. In the second year of law studies, I discovered a website called Flickr and [found] amazing fine art photos there! They left me speechless. They had such strong emotions and stories. I started looking at photography with different eyes. That kept me motivated and inspired me to try something new, different. I started taking photos of friends, familiar faces. I was very shy to ask somebody to pose for me. Slowly and slowly, I was open to new faces and breaking the ice with people I didn’t know. It was hard, I didn’t know where to start and how to pose people, but I learned this through the process. After 9 years, I worked with more than 300 models.

The Phoblographer: What camera gear do you use for your creative work?

Jovana Rikalo: Currently, I am using Canon 5d Mark IV. When starting, I was using a Canon 600D, and it was a great camera for amateurs. Later I switched to a more professional one, Canon 5d Mark III, and now I am on IV. I love this camera, especially the Canon, because of the nice warm colors. Photos are alive, and to me, colors are very important when taking photos and editing.

The Phoblographer: Do the ideas for your photos come from dreams? A daydream even perhaps?

Jovana Rikalo: The ideas come from my life. Past life, present, and soon future. I love to change some scenes with details and decorate with dresses and crowns, but the meaning behind fine art projects is very deep. Situations that are happening to me in life or dreams, to other people like my friends and family, are a huge inspiration to me.

The Phoblographer: Do you feel like you’re able to recreate the details just as you dreamt it? Why or why not?

Jovana Rikalo: I can, of course, but photography is that type of job where you have freedom and creation to do how you want. You can play with your imagination. I don’t like creating something I already did or saw. I love to make small changes in details: maybe different props, different color dresses or scenes, and location. Each element has a big meaning. The most amazing thing is to have the same feeling while you are creating this scene and when you were in that situation.

The Phoblographer: Take us through the making of some of your series. How do you conceptualise the production and execute it?

Jovana Rikalo: First, I think about ideas. I have to be inspired to write down my thoughts. Once I go deep into the concept, I plan how to execute every detail: model, props, location, dress. Then I am in the process of searching and scouting. Searching for models who can fit the concept and emotion, looking for makeup and hair inspiration through Pinterest, looking for a dress that can fit to the concept. Dress color is very important to me. It shows a lot. It can be connected to a season, flowers, emotions.

Scouting location and prop maker and buying all elements. This process can last from a few days to a couple of weeks. The next step is realization. Going on location with a team, decorating the whole scene, taking photos, and ending with the editing part where I finalize all details with manipulation. It takes a lot of time, and I enjoy every second of it! I am very nervous when not taking photos.

The Phoblographer: Flowers play a large part here. They’re often everywhere around the models in your images. What is their significance?

Jovana Rikalo: Flowers have a deep meaning to me. It reminds me of spring, growth, freshness, and new beginnings. It can tell a lot of stories by only using different colors and shapes. Spring is my favorite season, as you can see.

The Phoblographer: Tell us about the images from your ‘A Dream’ series. Who’s the subject in these frames and why is she floating?

Jovana Rikalo: While I was searching for a model for this project, I needed a girl with wavy hair, pale skin, and soft eyes. This is Andrea, and it was my first time taking photos of her, and she did such a great job! She really fitted this concept! I really love working with flowers and water; everything looks more majestic and magical.

The Phoblographer: There’s just one frame where she has her eyes closed. What was the idea behind this photo?

Jovana Rikalo: In this photo, I had an idea to put glass above her to show how she is trapped underneath. That is why she has her eyes closed because she is sleeping, and this state is her natural habitat.

The Phoblographer: Are your images naturally lit or did you use strobes as well?

Jovana Rikalo: I am a natural light photographer, and to me, natural light is very challenging and beautiful, especially during summer days and winter. We have a nice golden hour and soft light. Even though I love natural light, artificial light is also challenging, and using it more often lately. In the studio, when I need special effects, I can play with light and different colors and make a totally new scene. Always paying attention to everyone’s safety, that is the most important thing on the set!

The Phoblographer: The colors in many of your images have a distinct film look. Which film stock did you try to emulate here?

Jovana Rikalo: I love vintage and old looks. My edits are inspired by spring and vintage things. I love to combine them. It reminds me of my childhood and memories with our grandparents.

The Phoblographer: When you’re on a set like this and making photographs, what do you do if the results aren’t to your liking? How do you change things to produce better images?

Jovana Rikalo: Ooh, this happens a lot, especially when starting and when you are doing something for the first time. I always bring my notebook with me with all ideas and with plan B, what I can do if something doesn’t work. Sometimes the weather can change a lot. You want no wind, and when you come to the set, there is the strongest wind ever. In that case, you think about how you can use wind for the photoshoot and play with dress material, hair, or props which can look very good in the wind.

If it’s too hot or cold outside, make sure to bring a car or go inside, and you can also take photos indoors of the car or through the window of a cafe.
It is very important to always think outside of the box always. In that case, you will always have successful projects!

All images by Jovana Rikalo. Used with permission. Please visit her website and Instagram, Facebook, Behance, and Youtube pages to see more of her photos.

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Feroz Khan

Never seen without a camera (or far from one), Feroz picked up the art of photography from his grandfather at a very early age (at the expense of destroying a camera or two of his). Specializing in sports photography and videography for corporate short films, when he’s not discussing or planning his next photoshoot, he can usually be found staying up to date on aviation tech or watching movies from the 70s era with a cup of karak chai.