Learn from the Most Creative Photographer You’ve Ever Heard

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What is the one word you would say after looking at these artworks? 

Wow? Imaginative? Creative? Now, how many times did these adjectives popped up to your mind in milliseconds when you look at other artwork or writing? It’s not often we can praise someone as “creative” anymore these days. Many what people created are similar to someone else’s creation or were used to be a trend in the past. Not only acting as a platform for creatives and content creators, but Klaud9 has also been trying to stimulate creativity to its users. We had the opportunity to interview Dina Belenko – a conceptual still life artist & photographer – and feature her in this article to spread some “creativity viruses” just for you.

Having a profession that demands creativity on a regular basis is already hard. Dina pushes the limit even further and constructs a whole different level of creativity through her artworks and photographs. And she does it like it’s playing to her. Read our interview with Dina in this article and learn some creativity lessons you might not expect to find.

What is your biggest dream as an artist & photographer?

“I just want to tell stories of everyday things. I want to show what’s magical about them.”

I just want to tell stories of everyday things. I want to show what’s magical about them. All these connections between things are mesmerizing to me. Their small transformations, their secret life and even simple comparisons in a “what does it look like” game help us understand how everything is set up. How does our mind work to find these connections? How does the world build them? You may imagine yourself as an explorer, like David Livingstone, in a world of inanimate objects.

One thing I find especially magical in still life photography is the strong narrative you can create with simple things – mundane objects. Take a cup of coffee for example. Imagine if the cup belongs to an astronomer, you can create the reflection of the stars or lunar eclipse. What if the cup belongs to an artist who got oblivious and put brushes and pencils in a cup. Or you can imagine steam rising from a cup of hot coffee. And in this steam, you can see airships and steampunk flying machines. Anyone can have a cup of coffee, which means that an “insignificant” object could expand your imagination until infinity!

So, I guess, my dream is to be an explorer of possibilities. To translate from the language of inanimate things to a visual language of photos.

You uploaded the behind the scenes on Instagram Stories and it shows how creative you are. Perhaps one of the most creative people there is. How did you become so creative to produce those ideas? Did you start at an art school or what is your story?

“My approach to photography is my approach to solving problems”

First of all, thank you so much! But, unfortunately, I didn’t go to any art school. I wish I had studied in art school, but then I was a child, we lived in a very small town there wasn’t anything like that. I still struggle to learn how to draw.

My approach to photography is my approach to solving problems. Creating a story-driven photo is like doing your math homework (if you enjoy math, of course). You identify the problem and try different algorithms to find the one that works. 

To me, finding X in math algorithm is like discover the idea to make a UFO from a toffee package or a dragon out of spilled ink. Being creative is not a talent, it’s a skill. Use it often and you get better and better.

Is creating conceptual still life artwork more of a hobby for you or a profession that could generate income? 

I’m a full-time still life photographer. That’s the only job I have. Usually, my clients are local companies who want something creative for their menu, calendar, outdoor advertising or website: from cafes and restaurants to jewelry shops and construction firms. 

Once I made a calendar for a company engaged in geodesy and cartography (and now I know how to make a theodolite from paper and what is a cone penetrometer test). Also, I have a very enjoyable experience working with foreign clients (mostly Australia, Germany and the USA) making pictures for books, CD covers, magazines, and website sliders. Half of the time I create photos by myself, selling them via Getty Images and 500px Prime.

How long does it take to finish an artwork? Could you show us an example?

It can vary between photos. It took me 11 hours to create this photo about a surfer, but only 2 hours to create the next photo of a bird in a teacup. 

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Для конкурса @julicosmo #бб2_2этап задание «Пустите бармена на танцпол», категория «Ниндзя». Это было непросто, прямо скажем! Можно взмахнуть волшебной палочкой, и получить фото потрясающей красоты, а можно быть, как я. 🍃 Давайте посмотрим, сколько времени надо на одну фотографию? 1. Прежде всего — эскиз. Здесь я думала довольно долго, потому что хотелось прям ВАУ. Я же не могу просто снимать коктейль, мне нужен мангово-апельсиновый сёрфер. Или хотя бы единорог. 1 час. 2. Пальмы! Собирать их, разумеется, нужно самой. Час на макет листочков и план сборки, еще два часа на стволы и склейку. 3. Собрать сцену тоже не так просто, как кажется. Все-нафиг-падает-гравитация-зараза! Час на композицию, свет, песочек, крепление пальм и бокала. 4. Тут я поняла, что для стайлинга непременно нужен ломтик манго. Отправилась за манго, нашла по пути мороженое и посмотрела, как вода в Амуре поднялась. Еще час. 5. Стайлинг. Еще час на то, чтобы красиво уложить лед и собрать конструкцию «манго и апельсины на шпажке». Впервый пригодились купленные сто лет назад восхитительные стальные шпажки. Вот он, звездный час! 6. Теперь самое прекрасное. Нужно получить всплеск правильной формы. Час на пробы и ошибки. 7. На утро следующего дня можно сконвертировать все, что наснимал и потратить рекордные три часа на обработку. Обычно я больше часа ничего не обрабатываю, но тут надо было вылизать каждую капельку и пылинку. 🍃 Итого, 11 часов на коктейльного сёрфера. И где моя волшебная палочка? 🍃 The russian text above is a big breakdown of my creative process. I promise to translate it one day, but now I'm just tired and proud)

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Let me explain the whole process in these steps:

1. Idea

I always start making a sketch which is actually my favourite part. This is the time when each object gained their purposes and you integrate the objects as vectors. I start asking: What are these objects? How they came here? Who brought them here? Who is the protagonist? What’s going on here? 

A good photo is the culmination scene in the movie. I like to invent a coherent story (with a beginning, middle and the end) for the photograph. Then, simply capture a culminating point.

2. Props

The props can determine the time needed to finish a photograph. To arrange coffee cups could take a couple of minutes, but crafting a bunch of paper flowers can take days. On average, an “imaginary” shot takes 3-4 hours.

3. Photo Shooting

I usually think about the composition in the first step. So, I just need to set the lights and make a shot. Sometimes there may be difficulties with naughty sheets of paper or capricious smoke, but generally, this stage can take 1 to 4 hours.

4. Post-processing

I usually need about 2 hours to convert and process my image. Mainly because files from my camera are very large and my computer isn’t the fastest one.

I like to keep things simple. If it’s easier to make changes during the shoot, I’ll make them during the shoot. If I know that something will be more simple to correct in Photoshop, I’ll do it that way.

Ta-da! A conceptual still life photograph is now finished.

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У каждого читателя дома есть свои звезды – фонарик ли под одеялом, торшер у кровати или огонек зарядки электронной книги, это все мелкие подробности. У слушателя аудиокниг тоже должны быть свои звезды, но я не знаю, пока – какие. Слушаю я сейчас больше, чем читаю, но все-таки хочется считать себя настоящим читателем, с шуршанием страниц, загнутыми уголками и карандашными пометками на полях. 🌱 I have «"O where are you going?" said reader to rider» by W. H. Auden stack in my head. All because of this picture.

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Is there any inspiration for your style or someone you look up to as an artist?

I strongly believe that the best way to find inspiration is to look outside your trade“

We are usually compelled to seek inspiration inside our own professional field. In my case, it is visual art, cinematography, that sort of thing. But, I strongly believe that the best way to find inspiration is to look outside your trade. 

Therefore, I thought about literature, music, podcasts, and poetry to see what I could create with these themes. I have a photo that came to life solely because of one line of The National song. And you can never tell which one if I don’t point it out. Broad-mindedness is essential for inspiration. 

This is why I don’t limit myself to photography knowledge and learn other interesting subjects instead. Like biology, cognitive science, or dance. This is the most reliable way to forget about the creative block forever.

People working as creatives are expected to maintain originality, creativity, and authenticity all the time. What would be your advice for them?

I have to start from afar.

1. Ask Questions

Asking questions to yourself is the key to finding a good idea and creating an interesting photo. How should it look like? How it can be transformed? Who can use it? What if I make it liquid? What if I make it solid? 

Neil Geiman says: You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it. You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important questions are “What if…?”

2. Sometimes You Should Stay in Your Comfort Zone

You don’t have to go outside your comfort zone every time you are working on something. To be honest, I am not a fan of this concept as it pushes you outside the comfort zone. Progress is still possible, even though you are in “the comfort zone”. 

I prefer making my comfort zone larger and bringing more things and skills inside its boundaries. Don’t go outside of your comfort zone to the cold and confusing tasks. Bring all the confusing tasks inside of your comfort zone, take a deep breath, get yourself a cup of cocoa and solve everything at your own pace. That’s my method.

3. Be Rational

I have this approach at taking risks that I learned from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky. Rationality! Harry explained the scientific method like this: if you want to know the potential of your theory, find the quickest and cheapest way to test it. So, you’d never waste your time on something false. If I have an idea and I don’t really know if it would work out or not, I’d just run some tests. I won’t create a perfect composition, I just test if something works in principle. Say, can I make a cloud out of flour? Can I make a splash of the shape I need? How can I make realistic raindrops?

Because trying new things and constantly inventing doesn’t directly correlate with losing time and money or with the pain of leaving my comfort zone, I can maintain that drive to be creative.

I just realized that it’s probably the most important thing I can say to any artist. Just make being creative (or anything you need to do! Like sport or healthy eating) pleasant. And you’ll just do it naturally.

Is there any way to learn from you how to create conceptual still life artworks? 

I often share my work in progress in Stories on my Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/dinabelenko/

And I’m trying to build my Patreon page publishing monthly tutorials and sharing lots of backstages: https://www.patreon.com/dinabelenko

How inspired were you from this interview? Dina Belenko is not the only person you can get inspiration from. But, knowing stories from other people that might be different than yours could bring positive air to your life. “I strongly believe that the best way to find inspiration is to look outside your trade,” said Dina. So, not only that we could learn from other people, we should learn from other people or things that are not in our day-to-day job field. Even if your work is not exactly like Dina’s, we hope you can learn something new and train your creativity to help your daily job.

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