Licensing Contributor Elena Slyusar is a fashion and beauty portrait photographer based in Moscow, Russia. Elena is an exclusive Contributor with a fondness for using pastel shades and soft lighting. She creatively approaches a variety of themes within her photography, but always ensures her subjects are comfortable with any connotations that may be associated with her work. Browse her Licensing collection here.
Q: How did you get started in fashion photography?
A: It was a long journey. I started taking pictures quite late in life at the age of 45, but my life was always connected with creativity. You could say that I am an artist who picked up a camera.
For 15 years, I painted miniature portraits on brooches and boxes, and made copies of paintings by Russian artists. I painted with oil on mother-of-pearl with a very thin brush.
I once saw teddy bears while at an exhibition and fell in love with them. I became teddy artist. My bears are scattered all over the world and live with loving families. I devoted 10 years to this and achieved some success. I won international exhibitions and really enjoyed doing it.
Creating collectible sculptures that are handmade can be long and painstaking work, taking anywhere from two weeks to two months to perfect—but it’s all worthwhile.
At 45 years old, I got my first professional camera and instantly connected with it, because you can create a masterpiece in 1/125 seconds. I started my career again, and have never regretted it.
I am self-taught in the full sense of the word, never having attended courses or master classes in photography. I found everything I needed on the internet. It was a natural fit for me because I already understood composition and color.
I have worked in all genres of photography, but fashion portraiture has always been and is still the love of my life. I am inspired by beautiful people. When I see a person, different images immediately come top of mind. I want to capture the beauty and freeze it in time.
Q: Has this always been a passion of yours, or was it something you grew into?
A: I can’t say that fashion is the passion of my life. I follow fashion, but I don’t follow it literally. When you take a portrait of a person, you have to convey their character—but fashion portraiture provides me with more opportunities.
You can invent a person’s character; fill the image with new and unusual details: there are no limits to this creativity. That’s why I do fashion.
Q: You have developed a signature look to your images—your series of Dmytrij incorporates muted pastels, flowing hair, and soft features that “feminize” your portraits: what inspires you to create these types of images? Are they intended to provide commentary on the representation of masculinity in visual media?
A: I saw Dmitry on social media and invited him to a test shoot. My shoot plan changed the instant I met him. I wanted to create images that referenced historical art and captured his natural beauty.
Dmitry has an outstanding appearance. He is about two metres tall with long, blonde hair and a beautifully thick beard with wonderful facial features. He looks like an ancient god—you can’t take your eyes off him.
I used the props I had in the studio and the series was created. I had to persuade him to shoot with his hair blowing because he was hesitant and felt it was feminine. I imagined a warrior standing on top of a cliff, his hair blowing in the wind, or a Scandinavian god. I didn’t know what the end result would be, but I was sure that it would be unusual and beautiful.
These images provoke a wide variety of interpretations from different people, which are very interesting to watch. I like to work with the representations of masculinity and femininity, as long as it is artistic and not vulgar.
I only work with models and I often shoot men. Some men are in love with modeling—ready to take on anything, from modeling a skirt or wearing makeup. However, there are some men who are uncomfortable with this. Therefore, I try to choose the image individually. I want the models to like their images: that is when I get the best shots.
Q: Many of your portraits display elaborate hair and makeup styling. Do you work with a large team to ensure a smooth shoot?
A: I work both with a large team and alone. Each option is good in its own way. When you work with a team, you do not know what result you will get in the end, because everyone brings something different to the table.
There are magical moments when each member of the team is visited by inspiration and it all merges into one powerful, creative flow, which can result in great shots. But shooting with a big team is carefully planned, and it is impossible to radically change details mid-shoot with so many moving parts.
It’s not enough for me to just be a photographer. I do style a lot of my images. I like to think over the image completely and embody it. I love to work with hair and constantly improve.
Sometimes I will only work with a makeup artist who follows my instructions. I like it when I run the whole process from start to finish.
When I work alone, I am able to incorporate flexibility into my shoot planning. If I am visited by inspiration and the process needs to change, new images are born, and sometimes, they are even better than those that were conceived in advance. This is also why I like to work alone.
Q: Subtleties like complexion can be a vital part of beauty and fashion photography, and this is something that you feature in your work often. What steps do you take to ensure your photos come out clean, but not overdone?
A: I do the post-production of my own images. This is the final and one of the most important parts of the process, which determines the style of my images.
I want the people I portray in my photos to look alive, so I do very delicate and minimal retouching.
This is a trend in the world of fashion photography and I absolutely agree with it. “Plastic” faces are not interesting to anyone. I am very happy when I can create shots that do not require retouching. I do color correction, but I often find myself decreasing the saturation in the image.
In the end, I am convinced that the less processing of an image, the better. However, there are interesting photographers who create amazing and fantastic pictures with the help of computer graphics—but that’s another story.
Q: Fashion photographers work in various arenas in the photography universe—what has your experience been like with commercial photography?
A: I do not shoot for large companies; the fashion industry is full of competition. A lot of my commercial shoots are for catalogs, lookbooks, model portfolios, and online stores.
Q: Can you tell us how you incorporate 500px Licensing into your current workflow?
Lately I’ve been signing model releases right after the shoot. This year, I have applied for many international photography competitions, and many require a model release. This is an important document to have. I have a very good relationship with the models, so it is easy for me to contact them and get signed releases on past shoots if I need them.
There is a very large audience on 500px, and the most favorable conditions for sales. Previously, I did not sell my fashion portraits because they were creative projects, but if they can generate income, then I will be able to do more interesting projects.
Q: What is your favourite photo to date, and why do you love it?
A: ‘Levitation’ is my favorite work, even though it was shot a long time ago. I can’t explain it, but I love to look at it for long periods of time. It’s like dreaming.
Once, I heard someone explain the difference between a good image and a bad one: a good image will never become boring, a bad image will eventually be removed from your wall.
Katya (the model) and I were inspired to create together, it was very cool. We got a lot of pleasure from the process of shooting. I was inspired to weave golden threads into her hair, which fluttered beautifully in the wind. This made the image complete and became an artistic highlight in FotoVogue Italia.