Cyprus-based photographer Elena Paraskeva discusses photography as therapy, waiting for photogenic rain, and bribing child models with pizza.
How did you get into photography and what are you hoping to achieve with it?
I actually bought my first DSLR a year ago. I had gone through a rough patch health-wise, for two years thinking I would never be able to walk or run again. And when I managed to make a full recovery, I decided to approach life with a new eye: take in all that the world outside the house, to which I was bound for so long, had to offer. I know it sounds cheesy, and although I have a beautiful family, which I love dearly, photography brought a new level of intensity to my life that was missing.
What started as a hobby turned very quickly into... well, the only thing that accurately describes it is ‘an obsession’. I wake up thinking about photography, and I go to bed thinking about my next project. I was coming back from a grueling two hour MRI a few months back and all I was thinking was how I wanted to go to bed. Then I saw these amazing pink clouds, which are a rarity in our hazy Mediterranean island of Cyprus, and I drove home like a maniac, grabbed my tripod and camera, and spent the next two hours on a cliff getting splashed by waves!
I have been offered positions as a wedding photographer twice so far, but I love being free to pursue my own vision, so I’m happy being a freelancer. I have been lucky enough to win or be distinguished in several photography contests in the last few months, and that for me is a great motivation to keep getting better. I have improved a lot since I started, but I’m pretty sure in a few months or a year I will look back at my current work and find quite a few flaws!
I love your images of children. How do you engage them in your photographic process?
We all know children are tough to work with. Their attention span when it comes to direction is almost non-existent. I do capture a lot of impromptu moments, but I also love composites and more complex settings, which require the child to play a certain role, so I have to try to make it fun for them. For example, for my “Photographer in the Making” image, I actually turned on the camera I placed on a tripod and told my daughter to start taking pictures of her bear and to direct him on how to pose. She had a blast, but for the times when their patience is running low I resort to bribery: sweets, pizza, you name it!
You do not shy away from creative post-processing and a bit of digital magic. What are your main tools?
I have a restless mind and, although I love landscapes and macro, creating portrait composites is where I can really put it to use. I used to paint before I had children and my favorite painter is Salvador Dali, because of his incredible sense of surrealism. I love injecting a bit of the extraordinary in some of my images and I go about it with the help of Photoshop CC. I actually have an image that took me 15 hours to complete. I start with my images in Adobe Camera Raw (I shoot only RAW), and then I import them into Photoshop and start working with layers that will make up the image - adjustment layers, especially levels and curves and masks. When I think I’m about 80% done, I leave it for a few days and go on with other work, so when I reopen it I will see it with fresh eyes. When I’m satisfied, I save it as Tiff, so I can do minor adjustments in contrast and colour later on if needed.
Many of your photos have beautiful natural settings. What are your favourite locations?
I lived in the U.S for a decade, in Connecticut, and I would kill to have its amazing woods right now, because of the gorgeous light and ambience they can create. I live on the shores of Cyprus, so instead of woods we have beaches and tons of fields. Although beautiful, they can be quite challenging because of our unrelenting sun, even at sunset, and the lack of cover. Nonetheless, you will always find me in a field scouting for my next location and braving the snakes that we have in abundance here! Now for example, they are full of hay bales, which I love and I’m photographing the heck out of them as landscapes and parts of several composites.
I really like your photo called ‘Music at the Edge’. What is the story behind it and how did you shoot it?
The model in this particular series is my niece who is an actual musician. She was moving to Paris and I wanted to give her a farewell gift, something that was close to her heart. She is an amazing young woman who survived the impossible, and I wanted to show that strength in the images I took of her. It rains quite infrequently in Cyprus and since I needed a cloudy and rainy day for the shoot I waited for quite some time. When the day finally came it was also incredibly cold. The poor thing almost froze to death wearing a thin summer red dress and no shoes while the rest of us were wearing boots and coats.
I did three different shoots with her that day, but for this particular one I used ambient light since she was at the edge of the cliff and there was no way I could have placed a Softbox (I always like to bracket my exposures in such instances so I can work on them later and properly light my subject). I perched myself at the edge of a cliff opposite her and ended up getting soaked! She was actually playing the violin through the whole shoot, which was a treat. At the end I had her and my assistant hold up music scores so I could add them in post-processing later on.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Literally, the most common everyday things. A black umbrella that is permanently perched behind a main door in my house was the inspiration for a whole series. An old suitcase that I found in my mom’s closet was the inspiration for another series. Seriously, half the time I forget why I walked into a room or why I do things, like opening the refrigerator. I take a look at the milk and go: “Hmm, how about a milk photo shoot with one of my models?”, instead of grabbing what I initially opened the door for!
What is your experience of Photocrowd and how do you use it?
I discovered Photocrowd when I got an email from Alamy about a sponsored contest and I got hooked instantly. I love a good challenge, but to find a place that features contests backed by very reputable sponsors including print publications was brilliant. I have only been a member for a month or so, and I’m getting published in N-Photo magazine, because of one of the images I entered in one of the contests they sponsored on Photocrowd!
You can find more of Elena's work on www.elenaparaskeva.com
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