When Maria first brought up the idea of the trip to Russia to me, I completely dismissed it.
Not anytime soon. (Or so I thought.) I’ve always had Russia on my bucketlist, but for some reason I’ve always considered it to be something I would do a few years down the line. I don’t know when or what it was this year, but my mindset changed to start to REALLY begin taking advantage of all life has to offer – and when I thought about it…it sounded like there would be NO BETTER TIME THAN THE PRESENT to take this trip.
I’ve heard that you should go to Russia with someone that speaks the language (SO TRUE.) I’ve thought that I should go with someone that’s down to go out and party til the sun comes up (IE no relatives/parents). And someone that appreciates & understands the importance of photography…and that it takes time to get the right shot.
I can’t tell you how valuable of an experience it was to travel along with Maria (aka Masha). Not only did she give me a tour of her country and show me the culture (more on that in a second), but it was SO instrumental in having someone with the same passion for photography as myself. To cut to the point, I’m going to give you some concrete points on why it’s important to have someone like this in your inner-circle:
1. Feedback – As a photographer, you should always be striving to continuously improve the quality of your work. While everyone & their mom can give critiques on photography (& how you should get that HUGE MOON in the background) – it takes someone with the right eye & understanding to help you REALLY break down where you can improve. Feedback is a tricky thing – because it’s easy to take personally…but the important thing is to take a step back, look at things with an objective perspective, and have someone WHO KNOWS WHAT THE HELL THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT. Make sure they’re on yo’ level. (PS – not only the quality of your images, but the quality of your direction as a photographer – as in, how well you convey a pose, how you make the subject feel, etc.)
2. Practice – Having someone who’s comfortable with posing & being in front of the camera is SO KEY. This opens up so many possibilities to stretch the full extent of your abilities to shoot a portrait. Have them do fun, cool, dorky, and outrageous poses – and it’s no sweat to them. When your workflow is uninhibited while shooting – it let’s the creative process flow THAT much more smoothly. And it’s OH-SO-WORTH IT.
3. New perspective & a shared enjoyment of the experience – when you’re both having fun, doing what “you do” as photographers – with no confused looks or lack of understanding from people who -aren’t- photographers, it relieves so much extra stress on the process. Like I mentioned above, the creative process happens so much more smoothly when you’re having fun with another photographer – and often times this uninhibited & free motivation to just “shoot” leads to new discoveries in shooting style. You might figure out a certain crop, angle, lighting technique that you never noticed before. And while you may see these style shots on pinterest or model-mayhem or whatever, it’s never the same thing as capturing it yourself & in the moment.
So I’ll tell you the story (along with the photos) of my trip out to the “Big Red”.
First day in Moscow. We cruise around the Kremlin.
Hit the mall.
Note – this photo below is the inspiration for a blog post I’ll be posting around this time next month. Keep an eye out for it!
M is for…metro? Moscow? Masha?
Table set up at the restaurant where I had the strongest shot of vodka I’ve ever taken. Pepper vodka – hits you like the kick of a shotgun.
Photos in the metro stations – this lighting was really tricky to get right! Changed really quick.
Helped Masha out with a shoot she had booked.
Driving was insane in Russia. You hit the ground running, no pedestrian friendly crosswalks – they will hit you! (pictured later)
Me being me.
Masha being Masha.
Breakfast & trying out a new cultural item on the menu – bread beer!
I wonder if people outside the US think *we* dress weird?
Portraits in the park!
I didn’t notice it until I went to post, but how awesome do these colors tie in with her outfit?
Everyone drove black cars in Moscow. It’s the “thing” there. This is me almost getting hit by one, my view on left, masha’s on the right.
Trying to master the sun-flare. It’s one tough beast.
Remember the restaurant with the beads from yesterday? Well here’s the menu from it!
Masha & Julia – best friends.
We hit up this hookah-lounge-den that made you wear these cool genie slippers when you were inside. They said “no photos” – but you know me ; )
Cool Metro hallway on the way back home.
Don’t mind us…just a bunch of guys in speedos playing volleyball in the park.
Go-kart racing. This was my first time. SO MUCH FUN. If you haven’t done it, do it. Still trying to recover a video of when I rammed straight into Masha while driving. Thought I was going to knock her out for a minute.
Girl has hops.
Handstand lessons with Tate. He was couch-surfing at Masha’s friend Julia’s place while we were in town. Cool dude that’s been traveling the world for about a year now while operating his own web-development business. Not a bad lifestyle, huh?
Contests in the street. Catch the brow on the dude on the left?
More portraits in the park. Maria asked if she could work on her “male” portrait direction for a few, was happy to help : )
Practicing motion blur with the metro in background.
If you’re a photographer, I think it’s impossible to resist taking photos in a cornfield.
Gettin’ a little “Fresh Air.”
Atop the ferris wheel in Minsk on my last day of my trip. Was a pretty awesome view, and a nice capstone to the holiday.
My drive back to Moscow. Awesome sunset on our way out of town.
Like I said earlier, driving in Russia is crazy. I thought my driver was going to kill us by how fast we were going, but I figured hey – if it’s meant to happen, it will happen. So I took a little nap. Woke up a couple times to him speeding at about 180km/hr – not the easiest thing to wake up to.
This photo is of the front windshield. While it may suck from a critique stand-point, I’ll always remember the FEELING that I had at this moment. One of the most nerve-racking moments of my life. If you know me in person, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org & I’ll fill you in on the inside-scoop. (Not something I want to share with everyone)
One final stop at red square.
I feel this last image tells a lot. It’s not what you can see in the image, but what you would be able to see if you were standing in a certain spot. The Moscow military had sectioned off this area in front of St Basil’s (the most well-known spot in Russia), and it just so happened to be the best angle for the shot. [To the left of the photo is the basilica, pictured above]. I asked the guard if I could just step in for 10 seconds to snap a quick photo – while he watches – but he adamantly said no.
My intitial instinct is rebellious in nature, and I wanted to just walk by and grab the photo. I reluctantly swallowed my pride, and we walked back to the car without getting the shot. (The next best angle was the shot above.)
I later found out from my driver that the guard had told him that if anyone were to cross the barricade (like I was planning to) – his instructions were to give one warning, and then to gun-down any trespassers. On top of that, if he kills a trespasser – he gets a medal of honor for preventing terrorism! Pretty glad I picked *that* battle right.
In terms of my over-all opinion of Russian society – I’ll admit, I experienced a bit of a culture shock. I didn’t expect people to be so blunt, and at times the differences were a little frustrating. Mainly, (hmmm, how shall I put this delicately?) they emphasized an importance on the freedom of expression on the job. The structure of ‘customer service’ is pretty different out there…as in…non-existent. And while at times I was caught off guard when someone was rude or pushy, I also took a step back and realized that there’s no restriction for employees to say what’s on their mind.
Have you ever worked a job waiting tables or a customer service job where you would hear complaints all day long? Do you remember that feeling of wanting to say EXACTLY what was on your mind at that moment? Well, in that regard – these guys are livin’ the dream. And it was (somewhat) cool to see that kind of difference in culture. You’d think that there would be tremendous opportunity for business when it came to customer service, but when I brought up the idea to Maria – she told me that if you brought the customer service standard in a business in Russia, people would think that you’re playing some kind of trick on them!
Aside from the straight-forwardness, Russia had some pretty awesome things going for it. St Petersburg was amazing in terms of architecture and the Neva river. We took a midnight boat tour (pictured in yesterday’s post) and checked out the oligarch’s manors all along the waterfront. Moscow has some amazing nightlife & we were out partying until 7 am. (Believe me, the next day was brutal).
And women – let me make this point! I’ve heard DOZENS of times – “Oh dude – you gotta go to Spain, the women are amazing there.” ”Man you have to check out such and such a place, the women are drop-dead gorgeous everywhere you go.”
Russia held true. I was REALLY impressed with how many top-notch women there were in Russia. They dressed to the T & in high heels even when just going to the grocery store. Coming back to California and seeing girls in UGGs made me instantly miss that standard of style. (Sigh)
A few sayings that I took from the trip that will forever stick with me are as follows:
“Happy people never look at their watch.” Outside of work & while on vacation…couldn’t agree more. Don’t stress.
“A shot (of vodka) in the morning and the rest of the day is free.” Wow, had one of the best breakfasts ever in Belarus. At Maria’s parents home, I had a shot of vodka at breakfast along with a feast of food, and I’ve never felt so relaxed and eager to eat delicious food at the same time. I like the way they think.