Building a freelance career in fashion photography and graphic design

By Wacom |

Multiple award-winning fashion photographer Ilona Veresk from Russia found her passion outside of school. Getting involved in photography and graphic design she became a freelancer. Ilona also has an interest in fairy tale art portrayed in a dark style.
For the Create More campaign, Ilona has shown Wacom her ways, her studio and created a gorgeous portrait.

“Magic begins when you switching off your camera” – Ilona Veresk

Tell us a little bit about your education.

Mixed with basic school lessons, the main disciplines in my lyceum were painting, composition, and drawing. Also decorative and applied arts like tapestry, batik, ceramics, and woodcarving.
My Lyceum offered a lot of time to be creative, but it was still very challenging. I was 12-16 years old when I studied there. However, the basic knowledge I’ve got from there became much more useful after school, when I took the plunge to self-education. There were no lessons about photography or something similar. It takes practice to learn photography and photo-manipulation.

You say that photography was not your passion at first. What was your dream job, and why did it change into photography?

I always had strange dreams. As a child, I wanted to be a voice actor for cartoons, or make princess dresses (thanks to Disney, ha-ha). Much later, when I fell for visual art, I wanted to become a designer. I could not believe how many types of designers there are!
I enrolled at an Interior design in university in the city (Izhevsk, a little city closer to Ural). It was so boring for me after Lyceum because their program was intended for entry-level and basics. So I was really disappointed. In parallel, I worked on photo manipulations. It started to give me some revenue because my work got recognition in circles of musicians. I did CD covers and booklets for their singles and music albums.
One year after university I moved to the capital in searching for further development in my career.
Love for photography came to me three years ago. I had already bought my first camera, but it still felt like a silly hobby to me. Life in Moscow forced me to look for jobs to pay for housing and food, so I found myself a studio and started using my camera to earn money. Then things started moving fast. At first, I thought it was just a job on the side, but I started to get more and more involved. And I started to understand that if you treat your work seriously and use your imagination it becomes really interesting.
That’s why I think my dream founds me, not the other way around.

Nature and long-haired models are common in your work. What do you like most about these elements?

Every artist asks themselves where to get inspiration from. Someone can steal, someone can re-interpret. My way is just a mix of different styles and objects and I can find inspiration by brainstorming. It looks like this: “If I combine a cow with butterfly what can it be”. I’m sure, you will try to imagine a cow with shining wings, but my imagination captives by human and clothes, I can imagine that as a girl in spotty costume with antennas. That’s just a rough example.
My friend told me once my brain is that of a fashion designer, not from the photographer. My thoughts are very scattered and I do not lack any imagination.
Girls always catch my eye. I’m in love with their fragile beauty, porcelain skin, updated faces. They are not like celebrities from covers, they seem like fairies, ethereal and elusive. And you have to understand there is always natural beauty. I don’t use Photoshop on my pictures to perfect bodies or skin, it is already perfect.

You designed and sewed some of the costumes for your “Victims” series in 2015. Do you design costumes and accessories for your current work?

Yes, I do that, but now I have not so much time as in the start of my activity to sew or do embroidery because it can take weeks or months. Now it’s only exclusive feature for my artistic personal projects. Sometimes I do headpieces and accessories, sometimes simple cloth or makeover of old costumes.

Shooting underwater must have been a challenge for your series on sirens! Can you describe for our readers what the creative and shooting processes were like?

The underwater portraiture was not so hard to shoot but it has a lot of specifics. My first underwater shoot was very exciting. I couldn’t sleep. Thoughts were always running through my head and I was afraid I could not pull it off.
I rented all the possible lenses and two different cameras. But in the end, it was not so hard. A big problem is communication. Between a model and another team. The water really differs from any other condition that I shot in before, but it was a great creative kick. I think that I can do everything now (hahaha)!

What artists have inspired your work?

Artists who work in architecture and sculpting and sometimes musicians. But if we will talk about the visual industry it is people like Nick Knight, Tim Walker, Mario Testino, Eugenio Recuenco, or Bruno Dayan.
There are also many digital and traditional artists in this list, doll makers, fashion designers (Alexander McQueen, Commes Des Garcons, Elie Saab, Valentino, John Galliano, Vera Wang, Zuhair Murad, Guo Pei. But never active in the mass market.
So, inspiration is everywhere, do not create borders for your creativity.

What are your preferred camera, equipment, and lenses?

The camera I use doesn’t matter to me. Every modern brand works just as well for me. The difference lies in control and taste.
Most parts of my recent portfolio was shot with a Canon 600D, it’s entry-level cheap model, as you know. Just add a good lens (Fix or L series) and you will get a nice “working horse” for a lower price. The best camera I have tested is Hasselblad. This one really gives extremely detailed images, but it’s very heavy and expensive.
However, I’m a really meticulous person when it comes to light equipment because lthe ight in photography is more important than the camera in my opinion. I am really impressed with the Broncolor systems.

What is your editing process like, and which software do you prefer?

My editing process is a long story. If I want more commercially looking pictures I use Capture One to convert my RAW’s and save all the color nuances, if I want to get something more artistic, I just open my images in Photoshop.
In my process ,there is not so much skin retouching involved, and no light repainting like you would expect (thanks to models, light and my makeup artists). But sometimes there are extreme color corrections needed.
Sometimes it’s photo manipulations, of course. I mean Adagio series, where most of the images was either painted or manipulated.
For the digital processes ,I use a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet. It is really comfortable and feels naturally easy like a pencil.

As your work has been published in magazines, and you offer advertising services, would you call yourself a full-time photographer?

Photography is a full-time job for me, though most of it is freelance based. It actually makes me a little mad because it feels like I´m fighting the system and corporate slavery! (hahaha). I’m really addicted to my work and I enjoy every minute working on personal images as well for clients. Mostly my job includes fashion books, advertising campaigns (fashion and beauty). My recent clients are really supporting my style. I am so lucky!
It is the projects that need a fancy element where I can use my abilities to create, and not only need to press a button.

Tips and tricks for beginner artists:

These are some things which make Ilona´s life much easier. She says: “just try to follow my tips and you will start enjoying your process of education and up your works on a new level!”.

  • “Think about the story behind your picture before creating it. The main concept is very important if you want to do something remarkable.”
  • “Always do your research. It is even easier now we have internet and access to any kind of information. You can learn a lot from behind-the-scenes videos and tutorials of professionals in your field.”
  • “If you’d like to improve your skills, find someone who can teach you and be your mentor. Looking up to someone who is better than you can challenge you and bring out the best in you. It is a very productive and quick way to gain experience.”
  • “Promote you work using social media by creating unique and interesting content. Not boring advertising.”
  • “Find your niche. It is difficult to work on a freelance basis in some of the popular genres because there are many other artists who can take away your clients. If you become an expert in a small niche, you will not feel less pressure or competition and you will earn more working on your own terms.”
  • “Use your talents to promote your other talents. If you are good at sewing, for example, why not to use it in your photography?”
  • “Keep a clear mind. Some artists cannot control their emotions and that is normal, but if you want to start your own business you will have to learn how to be calm in any situation.”
  • Quality is very important. Always create your work in higher resolution and show the details. Even it’s for an Instagram post.

About Ilona D. Veresk

Ilona D. Veresk is a 23 y.o. from Moscow. She graduated from art-aesthetic school in Izhevsk.
However, her heart did not lie with a career in graphic designer. She was very much engaged in commercial activities and computer graphics. So she took a chance to expand her capabilities and moved to a bigger city.
At first she worked in the field of photo manipulation and created cover art of CDs for music bands before finding her passion for fashion photography. “I think this is the best way to express my ideas.” Ilona says.
Ilona expresses: “Genres such as fashion art, surrealism, dark art and fairytale fashion resemble my personality”. She draws inspiration from nature, plants and mixes these with avant-garde fashion and fantasy. The post-apocalyptic topics and utopian worlds and the mixture of totally different styles and eras is also a large inspiration for her.
“Photography is not just a clicking on a button.” she says. Ilona works as art director and producer of her own surreal fairy tales. She does the lighting, pre- and post-production. Sometimes she also does costume design and accessories.
At the moment Ilona lives and works in Moscow collaborating with foreign and local magazines, customers globally, shooting fashion and beauty advertising and personal art projects.

Ilona´s Awards:

2017: Broncolor ambassador and GenNext 2017 winner
2017: Best of Russia 2016, Feb 15 opening. Winzavod gallery, Moscow (Style category)
2017: Pannonia reflections salon, Gallery Muzeum Lendava. Lendava, Slovenia (FIAP honorable mention)
2017: Grand prix Inspire photography2016: Grand prix of KAVYAR Fashion & beauty photography award
2016/17: Fine art photography awards: fashion nominee (professional category)
2016: VIPA 2016 photographer of the year (Fashion category), exhibition in Bulgaria, Sofia
2016: International photography awards CIS – Silver winner (Fashion category), Bronze Winner (Fine Art category)
2015: Solo exhibition “Victims”. Moscow, Russia

Follow Ilona on social media:

Website Behance Facebook Instagram

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