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Retro Kolkata Exclusive : Interview with Award winning Portrait Photographer Samuel Zlatarev

©Samuel Zlatarev
I think great photography is about to tell a story, capturing the moments or expression of the person in front of your camera. People should learn how to capture expressions and moments and not only take pictures. I like images which contains details, depth, beautiful colors, if they are colorful and shapes if they are black and white.

RK : Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, We’re excited to have you. Let’s have a jump into the past. What first attracted you to photography?

Samuel Zlatarev :The possibility to create, the contact with people and of course the retouching, because I got involved with photography as a professional re-toucher for a big German company few years ago.

Now I have the ability to create and also to share my knowledge I have with people who want to learn the process of retouching, you can see more at:

RK : Does photography come easily to you? Were you ever unsure of your talents?

Samuel Zlatarev :Definitely every beginning is difficult, it takes time to find your way and your point of view but I never had any doubts about my work. I was just curious about other people's work and I tried to experiment as much as I could to find the things, that will help me make my work different.

©Samuel Zlatarev

RK : What are your favorite genres of Photography?

Samuel Zlatarev :I really like to work with people, that's why I love taking portraits. I love the classical portraits, those which the great artists had painted years ago. I also like black and white photography and also conceptual photography.

RK : How does black and white vs colour play into your work? Do you find them to be totally separate beasts—or complementary?

Samuel Zlatarev :I find them as a different tools to tell a story. When I use colors in an image I like to use the color theory. You can create visual depth in an image by using dominant and receding color combinations. When I create black and white images, I love to work with shape, textures and contrast . Black and white can bring out emotions more strongly than color by removing distractions from a portrait. Depending on my mood or idea I choose to work with colors or black and white and shades in my photography.

©Samuel Zlatarev

RK : What are you looking for when you have a camera in your hands?

Samuel Zlatarev :When I have camera in my hands, I definitely look for shapes, composition,expressions and light. When I don't have camera in my hand, I look for inspiration which I can later use it in my work. I find inspiration all over me.

©Samuel Zlatarev

RK : What type of camera, lenses and lighting equipment do you use?

Samuel Zlatarev :I am a Canon shooter so I always use Canon systems. I find them more color accurate because of their color science. All my images are taken with Canon cameras and most of them are created with Canon 5D Mark III, 5D Mark IV or 5D EOS R, but my first images were shot with Canon EOS 650D which is a crop sensor camera, but that I had back then.

I like to use Canon's 85mm 1.2 lens, as well as 24-70mm 2.8 and 70-200mm 2.8. As for lighting when I shoot in a studio I use studio lightning with beauty dish, simple reflector if I want harsh light or softbox for really soft light.

©Samuel Zlatarev

RK : Your monochrome photos convey lots of depth and often reveal deeper stories. How do you decide which moments to capture?

Samuel Zlatarev :All my images are well organised. I don't go into the studio with no idea about what am I going to do and hope to it's best. When I shoot, I already have the idea in my mind as an image and try to capture and create it visually and make it real. My work really depends on my current mood and my goal is the reveal stories which people can see and resonate with.

©Samuel Zlatarev

RK : What has been your most inspiring encounter since you began your photography journey?

Samuel Zlatarev :Working with people is a challenging. But I think the most inspiring encounter since I began your photography journey definitely will be when I met my guests on my workshop in Sofia. I love meeting and knowing so much inspiring people who love to train and create beautiful and meaningful work. The connection that you establish with that kind of people is always inspiring.

©Samuel Zlatarev

RK :Every picture of yours seems to be a well thought of creation. We would like to know what goes into the conceptualizing process of every frame you decide to create?

Samuel Zlatarev :Details are very important to me. As I mentioned, every image should be well organized and never just shoot and hope that I will "nail it". For example the "Dark Girl With the Golden Jewelry" was a story of Sean Buranahiran, which really touched me and I wanted to make visual as I can see and feel it. You can hear his story called "Be Proud of Your Scars" in YouTube. I truly believe that the art happens when there are emotions involved and if not, well you just shoot.

©Samuel Zlatarev

RK :Your photography is so inspiring and you create such beautiful art. We especially love the expressions you capture. Would you like toshare some of your favorite tips for photographing such amazingexpressions.

Samuel Zlatarev :The key is to find people who have passion. The thing that separates the average image from the great image is the emotion which you manage to slip into the visual creation. As for the expression I think that not every model happens to be good for any idea, which means you have to find the best model which will fit into the character of the idea you try to express. Expressions are emotions captured in an image. To create great images, find people who have passion about your work and explain them the idea you are trying to create, give them guidance and they will help you achieve your goal. Remember, capture emotions, not images.

©Samuel Zlatarev

RK :What photo are you most proud of?

Samuel Zlatarev :I really love this image. It is a collaboration with this gorgeous model and I really love everything in it - the expression, the lightning, the colors. I just love it. To create it, I had used a simple lighting setup with one light in front of the model to create depth and light her face. I love her expression, I think it is so unadulterated and genuine.

© Samuel Zlatarev

RK :In your opinion, what are some of the qualities that make some photographic portraits stand out and apart from ordinary photos of people?Can you offer some examples of great photo portraits that hold power for you?

Samuel Zlatarev :I think great photography is about to tell a story, capturing the moments or expression of the person in front of your camera. People should learn how to capture expressions and moments and not only take pictures. I like images which contains details, depth, beautiful colors, if they are colorful and shapes if they are black and white.

Photography by Lindsay Adler

Photography by Erik Almas

RK :Do you feel that photographer need to build a relationship with their subjects or do they need to remain detached?

Samuel Zlatarev :It's easier to work with people you know already. If you are just starting out, it's a good idea to work with someone you know because you already have a build connection, but when you reach higher level of expertise it won't be necessary because you will already know how to communicate with your subjects in front of your camera. If you are shy person it will be a great exercise for you.

RK :How do you light your photos? Do you use artificial or natural light?

Samuel Zlatarev :Most of the time I use studio lightning to light my subjects. The studio lights have the ability to add different modifiers and shape the light. I use beauty dish because it gives me a lot of depth in my images, beautiful reflection in model's eyes. The light from these type of modifiers is gorgeous. Additionally I also use simple reflector which is smaller than the beauty dish attached to the studio light modifier which gives me more harsh light, which I use mostly to emphasis the texture and add details. When I use natural lighting, I try to avoid the harsh sun light and use clouds as a giant softbox or if I am working in a building, I use windows to light up my subjects.

© Samuel Zlatarev

RK :Do you have any advice for photographers who are just starting out?

Samuel Zlatarev :I think that every beginner should learn the techniques used by the masters in this industry. Light ,colors and shapes are used to tell a story and you should pay attention to them. It is a great idea to inspect the great painters, Hollywood movies and other photographers. Take a look at their work, inspect their lightning, try to find what kind of modifier was used for each particular image. With time you will be able to find your genuine look and way to express yourself.

© Samuel Zlatarev

RK :We (Retro Kolkata) are trying to build one single stage for all the artists, because we believe that artists are the most beautiful creation of God and geographical boundary can never break their unity and harmony. Please say something about our initiative and any special message for your followers.

Samuel Zlatarev :I would like to say to everyone, who are inspired and have that trembling to never settle down and never quit, because success is in their way, they just have to be patient and wait for it to come. You have to work hard for your dreams and give before you get - that's the wall of nature. I love to share with people. That's why I started my own course of retouching in Bulgarian and I soon will launch it in English - to share my knowledge to everyone who want to learn. To everyone who follow my work I would like to say thank you for being that awesome and wish them luck with their work!


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We are thrilled to announce the upcoming 'AURA 2024 - The International Photography & Art Exhibition and Grand Felicitation Ceremony', following the resounding success of last year's event. This prestigious gathering will be held at Kolkata's renowned 'Nazrul Tirtha' Art Gallery (Action Area I, Newtown, Kolkata 700156) from January 13 to January 21, 2024. The event promises an international stage for artists and photographers handpicked globally to display their masterpieces alongside the mesmerizing works of esteemed artists from over 25 participating countries, all under the spotlight of national media.

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