Growing up in Kenya, photographer Bella Kotak developed a love of the warm and vibrant hues that surrounded her. Now living in the UK, her longing for those same rich tones is evident in her work. Her series entitled “In Bloom” is the beautiful embodiment of her fascination with a fanciful world, drawing the viewer into the mystical images full of life.
I was intrigued by the series and curious about the work that went into it.
From where you first started in photography, what was your journey to finding sort of this iconic style?
I first ventured into the world of photography through Flickr. Initially I’d look at other photographers work and follow them, then one day I began my own 365 project. A photo a day for a year. It was here where I learnt that the most important factor in growth is practice. The more you practice the more you learn, and in turn, the better you will get. My style of approaching and executing each picture now is a result of all the trials and errors that came before.
What inspired the In Bloom project?
Nature. Pure, beautiful, blossoming, unfurling, ever-changing nature. I also love old painting, fairytales, fables, enchanting nymphs and lost princesses.
A number of the images have a distinctly mystical quality about them. How much of the scenery and special effects were captured in-camera versus being brought alive in post production?
Most of my images are pieces of several shots, and for that to happen, I have to catch those moments in camera. Everything you see in a final image was captured on camera, just at different times. I strive to create that one picture that I can already envision. I bring the best storytelling qualities of different photos together to create one fully realized picture.
The costumes and makeup are pretty elaborate. Did you pull in additional people to help conceptualize those aspects, or was it simply a collaboration between you and the models?
Most of the time it’s just myself and the model. I don’t often have access to good make up artists and stylists and rather, than letting that hold me back I like to approach a shoot wtih a spirit of playfulness. I have complete creative control, working up the hair, makeup, putting together the styling, create props and bringing to life the ideas that I may have. I’ve been lucky to have worked with wonderful models, Lulu Lockhart, Ella Rose, Peliroja Model, Camille Prestwich, and Hannah Barton, who are all a part of the In Bloom series.
I’ve also been very fortunate in to have worked and collaborated with super talented makeup artists, Lydia Pankhurst and Jodi Lakin. Having their skill onboard has created some of my favorite images from the series!
Is there one image in particular that stands out to you as a favorite from the collection?
It’s really difficult to pick just one as each picture has full stories behind it. If I was pressed, I’d pick “New Queen Rising”. I created this at a workshop I hosted with Pratik Naik from Solstice Retouch. I created the cape for an elaborate creation, the final image turned out to exceed my imagination!
Was there any particular piece of gear, whether it be lighting, lens, etc., that you found yourself using the most for the images?
Yes, my Canon 50mm f1.4 is the lens I use the most! It’s instrumental in getting that beautiful soft, booked filled look that I love.
If you could say one thing to aspiring photographers, what would it be?
When you find something that makes you happy, no matter what else goes on in your life, and you still find yourself connected to it, focus on it, build your skill set, and know that there is always more to learn. It’s true what they say, practice makes perfect.
[In Bloom | Bella Kotak]