Award-winning photographer Bella Kotak is best known for her ethereal fine art portraits and also for her love of flowers and pomeranian dogs. Her images almost drip with finely graded colour and detail. Bella’s unique style of visual storytelling has helped her become one of the top photographers of this genre.
Bella was kind enough to sit down with DIYP for a chat to find out what goes on behind the scenes of one of her shoots. She tells us how she approaches the creative process, and we discover more about her newest venture.
DIYP: Can you tell us a little bit about you, your photography, and how you got started?
Bella: I have always loved photography since it connects the past with the present. Growing up, we’ve always had lots of photographs in my home, and so the camera was a tool I’ve always been comfortable with.
I’d say the journey really began while I was in university studying Architecture. One of the main programs I needed to become familiar with quickly was Photoshop. To motivate myself to learn this program, I found myself reaching for the camera. I’d take pictures and then learn how to manipulate them in Photoshop. I’d share my creations on Flickr, and it was the encouraging community there that motivated me to keep going.
I started to become more curious about the craft, the art, and the ability to tell stories while creating and capturing moments that really are all too fleeting.
I couldn’t put the camera down then, and I still can’t seem to put it down now, and in a nutshell, that’s how I became a photographer!
DIYP: Where do you find your inspiration? Can you walk us briefly through your creative process?
Bella: I’m always open to inspiration, and have many sketchbooks and folders on my computer where I like to note and collect ideas or phrases that have made an impact on me.
I love collaborating with other artists, so try to have pieces in the studio that I can easily style. I keep my eyes open for a beautiful location (sometimes the best ones are literally on the side of the road!), and stay active on social media to find interesting people that I would love to capture in my pictures.
I try to bring everything I’m interested in and fascinated by together, and that culminates in the art I create. It’s not always perfect, and that’s absolutely fine. I try to remind myself that often, the joy found in the process is just as important as the end result
I’m a very attention to detail-driven person when it comes to the creative process, so lots of thought is placed on the concept, location, styling, model, color palette, etc., prior to the shoot. Once it is captured, that is it, so it’s important to get it right on the day. My post-processing goal is to enhance what I felt and could “see” on the shoot, so I would say there’s an equal amount of work before and after the shoot.
DIYP: What is the most challenging aspect of creating your images? Have any notable bizarre or funny incidents occurred during one of your shoots?
Bella: Definitely the time it takes in post-production! I have ADHD, which makes it difficult for me to settle and really focus on a task. Photoshopping for hours can be quite difficult to navigate, and my mind (and body) tend to wander away a lot! But once it’s all done and I look and see what I’ve achieved and created, it’s always worth it.
Nearly every shoot has a funny incident that goes with it. Either I’ve forgotten a piece of kit like a stepstool, or we’re all ready to shoot, and I realise that I’ve left all my memory cards at home! Since implementing a strict list system, I’ve become much better at navigating myself.
Another lesson I can share is with any photographers who use smoke grenades – I’d recommend putting them in those aluminium foil containers for food or barbeques that you can pick up in any supermarket. It’s a lot more protective, and you won’t stain the earth. Bring water too ;)
DIYP: And what part do you find the most rewarding?
Bella: It would be the connection created with my subject. It’s truly an incredible feeling when you can show someone how beautiful they are. We’re too close to ourselves, so often don’t see or recognise the light within us that others can see so clearly. Photography is my tool to mirror the light that those in front of my lens radiate.
DIYP: You’ve experimented with free-lensing, can you tell us a little about that and what draws you to it?
Bella: I had the pleasure of listening to a talk by Deedee Morris in Prince Edward Island, Canada, last year. The way she captures life, the movement, the energy, the messiness of it all really moved me. Her pictures have a freedom that is quite the very opposite of what I cultivate with my art (and there is the attraction!).
She described how she was only able to capture a certain mood through free lensing, and just like that, I was inspired and curious to see how I could use it to capture moments in my world. I confess to really get a handle on it, I did have to go to YouTube for some more tips!
DIYP: Do you have any interesting future shoots or projects you’re excited about that you can tell us about?
Bella: The biggest project in my life right now is my store and the community that we’re cultivating over at onlythecurious.com. We’ve just launched. It’s a platform where I offer my own and collaborations with other photographers in our industry. We have color toning actions, digital backdrops, and educational videos, with more things scheduled to come in 2024!
My goal is to inspire people to express themselves and love color as much as we do! To offer our community powerful storytelling tools and knowledge that they can have in their creative arsenal.
Plus being a small part of a creative’s journey and witnessing their evolution is incredibly fulfilling.
We’ve activated our blog and are releasing posts every Monday and Thursday. So please do come check it out for creative think pieces, artist spotlights, monthly challenge favourites, and post-processing tips!
DIYP: Each week we ask a question from another photographer. This one is from Pratik Naik:
What do you envision the creative landscape will look like in 10 years?
I suspect, in some ways, the same and some ways, incredibly different. There will still be artists who are committed to honing their craft, and there will still be a market for people looking for real experience. As we’ve always seen, there will be a new generation of creatives who will use any tool they have available to express themselves and realise their visions.
We will probably see a lot coming through AI technologies, and while right now many artists and art appreciators are still very conscious of them, I believe in 10 years time, it will be as commonly regarded and appreciated as its own art form.
The distinction between AI and what’s created by human skill will be a lot harder to separate, and that will lead to many conversations about what’s real and what’s fake. After all, the human spirit is designed to create and, through it, foster connections with ourselves and each other.
So creative visuals and tools will change, but the messages, stories, and emotions we want to share with each other won’t.