Jiří Soukup is a Czech-born photographer and a dear friend of mine. I have been watching his work for some time now and I know he can take great pictures of pretty much anything – from bugs, people, buildings to moving objects. I decided to interview him about various aspects of photography.
How would you describe yourself as a photographer? Do you have a specialty, something you know you are good at?
When it comes to photography or any work I am about to do, I do everything with maximum concentration and careful planning because I am a perfectionist. On the other hand, I can be pretty tolerant towards other things in life. To answer your second question, that’s easy… I know my weaknesses and that is my driving force.
Most people take pictures nowadays, with their mobiles or compact cameras, increasingly with DSLR cameras. What made you decide that photography would not be just a hobby?
Well, it is still a hobby on some level, I do photography as a sideline. I work as an IT developer, which can be creative also, and that’s why I haven’t run away yet. It enables me to get money for all the necessary equipment.
You do a lot of portrait photography. How did that start? Do people come to you or do you approach them?
I started with portraits when I realised that there are millions of beautiful photos of animals, plants or insects and such already and I didn’t really know if there was much point in creating more of these. When I started photographing people, I knew every photo would be unique. It is the unique human soul captured during a unique moment of human life which doesn’t repeat itself. That’s what makes it so interesting, it can never be the same. I started with photos of friends, but sometimes I asked total strangers. Nowadays people actually ask me to photograph them, but of course I like to choose who I will photograph.
I have noticed some people, mostly women, feel like they cannot look good in a photo ever. I think they just have not found a patient photographer or somebody they could feel relaxed with. How do you photograph shy and self-conscious people? Do you have a special method?
It is true, many people, especially women, are shy in front of a camera, but it is just that they haven’t been photographed before. Someone just took some pics during an event and the pics weren’t too flattering. It is the photographer’s task to help with their fears. From my experience I can say that the best shots happen when the person still does not know they will be photographed, or when they forget they are being photographed.
I believe it is very important to be sensitive, not to push people into weird poses, give them enough space to feel natural and then you are more likely to succeed in capturing their true self.
It is not easy to find photos of photographers. It seems like once you are behind the lens, you are less likely to have your picture taken. Who takes pictures of you when needed?
Just like most people, photographers see themselves too critically. Fortunately, most cameras have a self-timer mode … just joking. Nevertheless, when I really need a photo, some good soul, who can hold a camera and press the shutter-release button, usually comes along to help.
Judging by your portfolio, you have attended quite many weddings as a photographer. Is it stressful to have so much responsibility? What if something failed technically?
It’s a huge responsibility and enormous stress, but the happy faces looking at the finished photos are priceless. For cases of technical failures, I always have a backup camera ready, several sets of batteries and memory cards.
What is your approach to wedding photography? There seem to be certain angles that most wedding photographers use and it is quite rare to see an interesting style.
Shooting weddings is a royal discipline. It combines the speed of sports photography, portraits in natural light, reportage, the precision of macro photography – all without the chance to repeat a shot. For this reason you have to be 100% focused in an environment where you haven’t been before, where you don’t have the usual routine as most photographers.
Do you only photograph weddings in the Czech Republic or do you also travel abroad?
I haven’t photographed twice in the same town, which is probably about to change this year. I have been invited to shoot weddings all over the Czech Republic, but I would love to extend my territory abroad.
What does your wedding photography package include? How long do stay at the event and what do you offer?
I usually come to the location 2-3 hours before the first guests arrive. I am often present during the preparation phase – hair and makeup, getting dressed etc. In the morning I warm up and try to memorise the best angles for the bridal photos. I also take photos of the decorations which complete the photo album nicely. When the guests arrive, I start documenting: bride leaving the house, getting into cars, bride arriving, the groom and the bride coming to the altar, the ceremony, congratulations, newlyweds together with the closest family and friends, with all of the visitors, leaving to the party, all the traditional rituals, speeches, cutting of the cake, the first dance, the atmosphere of the whole day. I take thousands of photos during the day, but I process 100-200 according to the customer’s wishes. I choose about 50 myself and deliver those to the impatient people very fast. The earliest time of day I started shooting a wedding was 5 am, and once I was shooting till 5 am, but never 24 hours altogether. The longest shoot was around 18 hours, but usually I stay for 12-15 hours.
Inspiration, role models
Do you have some photographers that you look up to?
More than photographers I used to admire certain photos, but now that I know how much work is behind such photos, I admire the photographers. But I don’t really have a role model I would follow.
Do you follow the work of other photographers, Czech or foreign?
I am not the type of person to follow what’s in right now in the world of photography, I try to do everything my way and how it suits my situation. Sometimes my moods and emotions get reflected in my work, but I don’t try to copy others. People I take pictures of know my work and that’s why they choose me. Luckily, I haven’t had clients demanding a different style than my own.
What makes a good photographer in your opinion?
Life experience and experience in photography, as well as sense of aesthetics. I know several painters who haven’t been photographing that long, but can produce amazing photos.
If you could choose a famous person to photograph, who would it be and why?
For sure it would be someone charismatic, probably some actor or a politician. I wouldn’t mind a photo session with Brad Pitt or Jude Law. But then again, someone from the street could be just as charismatic and interesting to photograph.
What do you think about the extreme retouching trends in photography that we can see so much in magazines?
I don’t like too much retouching, even though I retouch quite a lot, mostly some disturbing elements. What we see in magazines is sometimes really extreme and it feels like graphic designers discover a new function in Photoshop and decide to practise with it at all costs. The saddest thing is that many people think such photos are great, even though people don’t even look like people anymore. Luckily, this is not the case with my customers.
Would you ever take a job as a paparazzo?
I have never liked paparazzi photos of celebs, probably because the main goal there is to get a discrediting photo of someone famous. Call me old-fashioned, but I am glad if a person likes how they look in my photos, even though it might be taken in the streets – it doesn’t have to look like a passerby took it.
How much has your technique/style changed over the last few years?
You might not even realise it and feel like you keep doing the same thing, but the reality is different. One is always developing and knows what to be careful with next time. It is good to decide for yourself instead of letting others tell you how to work. There are many situations where I know it’s useless to even take out the camera because they are so hard to photograph, but then I sometimes take pictures when other people wouldn’t even consider it.
What was the best advice you have ever got regarding photography?
There is no right or wrong in photography. Every photographer will find their own audience and they should know what kind of audience they are looking for.
Tell us a bit more about your equipment and favourite lenses. What do you carry around most of the time? If you could choose only one objective, which one would it be?
I used to have a compact camera and it was enough, but now I have a full-frame DSLR camera and a backpack full of portrait lenses. It used to be enough to have 85mm f1.4 on me, but now I would probably add AF-S 24mm f1.4 because it is missing in my collection. During a wedding shoot I use 5 fixed objectives and one zoom – all in maximum light sensitivity, so I would not have to use flash as the main light source.
Any photographing advice for our readers?
Just keep shooting… thank people for their criticism, don’t care about praises too much. Most importantly, enjoy the process.