A few months ago, I interviewed talented portrait photographer Branka Ilic in her studio in Beeston, Nottingham for a MSc project. A few days ago, we managed to catch up. Today, I’d like to share this interview with you (before writing more about imaging crustaceans soon).
Tucked away above an industrial building in Beeston, portrait and commercial photographer Branka Ilic works in her bright and inviting studio “Focus and Shoot”. The calm but outgoing photographer is all smiles and warmth and one can immediately see, why she is so good in taking photos of children. After offering coffee and biscuits, Blanka was happy to answer a few questions on her life as a photographer.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself?
Well, first and foremost I’m a mum of two, I’ve got two girls. They are at school now. One is 11 and one is 8. I also recently got a dog, he is about 5 months old now and he completely changed our life, he brings such a joy to our everyday life. I love gardening as well, that’s my new passion. This year for the first time I’ll be doing some vegetables and I have a fruit tree outside of my house as well. Photography-wise I started taking pictures since I had children, 10 years ago, but I did not get into the business until my eldest started school at the age of 5. That was about 5 years ago.
Where do you live and work?
I live and work in Beeston. I only live 5 minutes away from the studio, which is handy, and my kids’ school is just on the way here. So I can drop them off there, I spend a few hours in the studio and then I go back and collect them and then go home as well, so I’m not in the studio all day.
Since when have you been living in Beeston and why did you decide to move here?
I’ve been in the UK for 12 years now. I used to live in Serbia. I met my husband a few years back. He used to come and visit my village in Serbia – his auntie lived next door. We fell in love, we got married, I moved here and we had our first child.
What sort of photography are you specialised in?
I specialise in portraits. I love taking pictures of people, especially children. Children are so amazing and all have their own personalities. Every child I’ve met is so different and you never know what you’re going to get on the day. I try to get their characters rather than forced smiles. I never ask a child to smile. So either it comes naturally or if it doesn’t happen. I don’t mind, as long as I’ve got that character – that’s more important to me than to get a cheesy grin. Sometimes I purposefully go for a moody picture, to rather create an emotion than show beautiful smiles. I’ve entered some photos in competitions and they’ve done well. Sometimes I shoot completely different for competitions than when I do family portraits. I like doing that in my free time.
“I never ask a child to smile. So either it comes naturally or if it doesn’t happen. I don’t mind, as long as I’ve got that character.”
Do you also take a lot of photos of your own children?
Not as much as I would like to. Because they’ve had enough of me, with the camera in their face. So no, unfortunately not. I have a lot of pictures of my dog, he doesn’t mind it yet. He’s even got his own Instagram account and has more followers than I do. But I try to capture my children as much as I can but not as much as I’d like too.
What is your background as a photographer?
I am self-taught. I’ve never taken any classes or gone into photography school or anything like that. I was never actually interested in photography, I studied languages. I studied Italian language and literature at university in Belgium. And I fell in love with photography when I was taking pictures of my kids and I was learning and trying to explore it and learn as much as I can about it. I got my first DSLR about 10 years ago. It was a Nikon D50 and I just had a kit lens with it and I was getting more things to go with it and just learning all about it on YouTube mainly. It’s just easier for me to learn by seeing rather than reading books, especially as English is my second language. I learned with the help of a few photography magazines as well. They had little challenges and assignments to do, just to push you a little bit. And then I got a couple of commercial projects to do. I was just asked by friends, “Oh, you take pictures, can you take pictures for me?” “Oh, ok, I can try”. And it went well, so I learnt a little bit more about that side of photography and did a few more projects and then the more people you work with, the more people will know about you and then it just goes from there.
How would you describe your style?
That is very difficult. I have people which, when they come to the studio for consultations or things like that say “Oh, I like your style”. But I don’t know what that is. Every shoot I do is completely different and is bespoke and depends on the person that’s on the other side of the camera. So I don’t have a plan of “I’m going to do this, this and that”, when someone comes into the studio, until I meet that other person and know about them and explore what they’re all about.
“Every shoot I do is completely different and is bespoke and depends on the person that’s on the other side of the camera.”
What kind of camera equipment do you use?
My main camera is a Nikon D800, my other camera is Nikon D300. My main lens is a Sigma 24 to 70, 2.8. And I also use a Nikon 50 mm, 1.8. It’s a lovely lens for portraits. But the Sigma I prefer to use in the studio because I don’t have to move as much as I would have to with the 50 mm. And for macro photography I use a Nikon 105 mm.
Lighting wise I’ve got Elinchrom lights and all sorts of different soft boxes to create different kinds of lightings. And I’ve got loads of different backgrounds, different colours, paper backgrounds mainly.
Next to the camera – what do you think is the most essential piece of equipment you have?
I think the most important thing is lighting, especially in this studio space that I’ve got. Unfortunately, in this country we don’t have many sunny days. So I do have some natural lighting but I wouldn’t be able to work with that natural lighting. I’m not really into high-end cameras, lenses, things like that – lighting is more important to me.
“I’m not really into high-end cameras, lenses, things like that – lighting is more important to me.”
What lighting do you take with you on location shoots?
I’ve got a Nikon flashgun, which I take and which I can use externally as well. So I bring the soft box with me as well and just use it. But it’s best to use what you’ve got. Just shoot early in the morning or late in the evening.
Regarding post-processing – do you do a lot of editing afterwards?
I used to do loads and too much editing. I do less now, as over the years my photography skills have improved. I used to use photoshop just to compensate for my lack of knowledge. But these days I don’t use that much editing. However I shoot in raw, so I have to process everything.
Could you describe your workflow?
It depends on the project, because I do all sorts of different things. If it’s a commercial project obviously I have to know in details what the client wants. If I’m doing children’s modelling portfolios they will be asking for a certain look or will just want to have a whole book, so again consultation is very important. Sometimes people don’t know what they want, they just say “I want some nice pictures of myself”. I don’t have set steps of how I do things because each client is different and requires different things. So I just try to get the best out of a person that’s on the other side of the camera and just try to get the most beautiful picture that they will see of themselves. So that’s the whole point of my job. So if they’re not happy, I’m not happy.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I go on Pinterest and look for ideas and I follow a few photographers as well. So if I see something I really like, I will try to figure out how they’ve done it. So I just try to put my own spin to it. The first photographer I ever followed was Lara Jade. She’s a fashion photographer. I tried a lot of fashion photography to start with and it’s a lot of hard work. Next to Lara Jade, I’ve got Sue Bryce. She’s more into glamour photography and she does portraits. And one of our local photographers is Sara Wilkes. She’s based in Nottingham and photographs newborn babies and recently started doing fine art portraits as well.
Do you have a favourite photo of your own?
I do, it’s one of the first photos that I’ve ever taken – and that I sent into a magazine, and it got published. It’s a photo of colouring pencils in a glass of sparkling water, so you’ve got loads of bubbles around them and reflections of them in the bubbles and the colours are beautiful. I spent so long trying to get it done and I learned so much on that shoot as well. And that was one of the things that pushed me, when I thought “Uh, I could actually do something with this”. Looking at it now, technically its not brilliant but it’s just the feeling of that time that gets back to me.
“Looking at it now, technically its not brilliant but it’s just the feeling of that time that gets back to me.”
Can you recommend any YouTube channels or magazines for people with an interest in photography?
One of the magazines I started with was Digital Photo. In the magazine I used to get these DVDs that had different tutorials and things. Every month it would be a different thing. Looking at YouTube and there are some really good, clever and generous photographers, who will just share anything and they’re just amazing. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to do this and wouldn’t be able to learn by myself.
I recommend the YouTube channels by:
– Phlearn Photoshop and Photography Tutorials
– The Photographer Academy
– Karl Taylor
– B and H
Do you have any advice for people interested in photography?
Just follow your passion and do not give up. It is really hard work and it’s not easy. I came over so many obstacles over the years, especially in commercial photography. It can be hard, just finding clients, holding on to the clients, and putting yourself out there – especially, as all we want to do is take pictures. That’s why most people come into this business. We don’t want to think about the business side of things. We don’t want to think about money, we don’t want to think about any complaints or anything. But then all these other things come that we don’t expect, like book keeping. So, those are the things that will come but you just have to deal with them.
And actually, we’ve got the best job in the world. We do what we love. There are not many people out there like that, that can actually say that. So, I love what I do and I don’t want to do anything else and I feel so lucky that everyday of my life, I do something that I love.
You have to follow your own path. You should just go for it and follow your gut instinct.
“Actually, we (photographers) have got the best job in the world. We do what we love.”
And finally, do you know what you want to be doing in about 5 years from now?
I’m quite happy where I am at the moment. I’d like to continue serving my current clients, as I’ve got a lot of clients that are coming back to me all the time. So I’m happy plodding along and I’m definitely staying here. I’m happy with the studio space and if I’m still in the business in 5 years’ time I would be really happy – if we actually still use cameras in 5 years’ time, you never know in todays day and age. ■