She's been on the kiteboarding scene for a while now, and if you've been following the GKA Kite World Tour, there is no doubt you've stumbled upon her unbelievable talent. Svetlana is known for capturing the perfect action shots time and time again. It doesn't stop there; Svetlana's portfolio showcases her love for watersports, snowboarding, nature, fashion and more! We were in awe and couldn't wait to uncover her incredible story. Check it out now, exclusively in IKSURFMAG!
Svetlana, it's great to have you featured, finally! Let's start from the beginning: What or who inspired you to become a photographer?
Hi Jen, thank you! My love for photography began during my first trip to Elbarus in 2004; I was so impressed with the majestic and beautiful scenery but frustrated that my point-and-shoot camera couldn't capture what I was seeing. It was then that I realised that my camera wasn't up to the task, so I invested in a Canon 5D Mark II and a few lenses and signed up for a photography school.
I've always been a fan of extreme sports magazines, and growing up, I had tons of snowboarding, skating and kiteboarding magazines and admired the amazing photos of incredible tricks and places. I could not even dream that one day I would see my photos in those magazines and even as cover shots!
Was there one photo you took that made you realise that this was your passion and you would want to become a professional photographer?
I've always been passionate about snowboarding and travelling to the mountains, and I always have my camera with me. Trip after trip, I started receiving invitations to join as a photographer. However, the problem was that I worked in a big company office in Moscow as an engineer, and my vacation days were always limited. I think the highlight wasn't just a single shot; it was the trip with the Russian snowboard team to Les 2 Alpes during summer when I witnessed an incredible snow park and saw riders from around the world showing off their insane skills!
Eventually, a friend asked me to start an online shop for snowboard equipment with them. At that moment, it was a pretty crazy decision to quit well-paid work and begin something super unstable. In the meantime, I was also interested in shooting in a studio, experimenting with flash and ideas there. A little later, I opened my own photography studio. It was not an easy time because I have always dreamt of more trips (I had also just started kiteboarding) but got quite stuck again in the city. At that time, sports photography was more of a hobby.
Tell us a bit about your background! When did you first leave Russia and 'hit the road'?
At the end of 2011, I was overworked and tired of all the studio business routine and boring shoots in the city, so I bought my first one-way ticket to Mũi Né, Vietnam. I planned on spending the winter season kiteboarding and taking pictures there. After four months in Vietnam, I decided to venture to Bali.
There were many emotional and thrilling adventures along the way (for instance, losing all my money on the way to Bali and arriving there with nothing in my pocket, haha!) and meeting some incredible people. When I returned home, I realised that I didn't want to live in Moscow; I craved nature, and at that time, I just wanted to travel and discover amazing new places.
Tarifa is one of my favourite locations. I used to spend a lot of time there for several years. It is perfect for kiteboarding and photography, and many renowned riders are always there. However, during winter, I always wanted to go snowboarding. Eventually, I bought an apartment in the mountain resort in Sochi, considered one of the best places for free riding in the world.
Since last year, I have been back on the road - starting from September onwards, I have visited Morocco, Turkey, Brazil, Mauritius, Egypt, Bali, Georgia, and Armenia. At the moment, I do not have any solid plans for a home base; I'm just enjoying the journey!
Kiteboarding came into your life after photography but has become one of your primary subjects! What was your path into the kiteboarding industry?
I decided to give kiteboarding a try, and after just two weeks, I quit my office job! One of my friends proposed a deal where I would photograph him, and in return, he would give me kiteboarding lessons; he was the owner of a kite school and used to compete professionally. So, I started attending many events and championships around Russia.
While I was in Bali, I made a new friend named Ksenia. Around one year later, she invited me to shoot a kite camp featuring Alex Pastor and Mallory de la Villemarque at Dakhla Spirit. I couldn't believe that such an incredible opportunity had come my way. Needless to say, I was extremely nervous and desperately wanted to capture the perfect shot!
Little did I know that instead of staying for two weeks, my trip would end up lasting two months. During this time, I took loads of photos but also had the privilege of meeting inspiring people who greatly contributed to my progress as a kite photographer. A special shoutout goes to Mallory de la Villemarque, who allowed me to improve and kickstart photography for the World Tour!
When did you first join the GKA and GWA Tours? What is it like shooting in a competition environment?
I was already involved in freestyle tours before the GKA, but when it became a part of the GKA, I was thrilled to continue photographing the competitions and, later, the GWA events. Being a photographer at these events is not easy work. It requires a lot of energy to shoot all day, edit immediately, and deliver the material quickly for social media, organisers, and the riders. But it's incredibly rewarding to be a part of it, capturing pure emotions on the beach and incredible action on the water! And, of course, it's amazing to work with such a talented professional team and photograph the best riders in the world - that's what I love!
What makes photographing kiteboarding so different from your other subjects?
Photographing kiteboarding on camera is often more complicated than other sports. Some shots require capturing both the rider and the kite. When shooting from the water, the conditions are not as smooth due to the wind and choppy waves. At the beach, flying sand, dust, and salty water can damage your camera and lenses, causing faster deterioration. Despite these challenges, I find this sport incredible! It is so cool to feel the energy of the water and wind and to show how the riders can use those elements. And, of course, I'm inspired a lot by the riders! It's unbelievable what tricks they can do, how high they can jump, and the size of waves they can ride - with the power of the wind!
You do a lot of in-water photography! What does it take to capture the perfect shot from the water?
I love shooting with a water housing; the best thing is that the results can always be unpredictable. Random splashes or reflections on the water can make the photo very unique. I enjoy capturing photos during the golden hour of sunset or sunrise, particularly when shooting against the sun; it always creates magic!
How do you balance staying true to your unique style while adapting to different clients and projects as a photographer?
The most effective way to understand what the client wants is to have a briefing. Then, I can try to blend my perspective with the client's requirements. I would hope that most of my clients are familiar with my style, which is why they choose me!
We can only imagine how busy you are when you're working in these stunning locations. Do you ever find time to squeeze in a kiteboarding session yourself?
Typically, when I have to work, I don't have enough time for a kite session. But I really do take pleasure in being in the water with my camera; it might be one of the reasons why my passion is for kitesurf photography instead of snowboard photography - because riding in the mountains is something I genuinely crave! During my recent trip to Mauritius, we stayed for four months, and I had the chance to kite a lot after a long time. I also recently started surfing and visited Manawa, and it's been a new experience and a lot of fun!
You're packing for a shoot but aren't 100% sure of the conditions; what do you pack?
I would take my Canon 5D Mark IV Camera (usually 2 of them) and several lenses, including a 50mm, 85mm, 17-40mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, 100-400mm and a 1.4x lens extender. I also bring the Aquatech and Outex water housings.
Favourite location and backdrop you've photographed at?
I love Le Morne in Mauritius, the palm trees of northern Brazil, Table Mountain in Cape Town, and Balneario in Tarifa; they are my favourite backgrounds. But I am always excited to explore new places and landscapes, particularly those near the water!
Any tips for aspiring kite photographers out there?
Learn the rules of photography! Try experimenting with different angles and distances. I often notice that beginners tend to stick to close-up shots when photographing kiteboarding. While these shots can be nice, it's also interesting to capture the height of the trick and the surrounding landscape. By including foreground elements, you can draw the viewer into the image.
Don't be afraid to approach riders and ask to photograph them. It will be a valuable experience for you, and they can use the content for their social media platforms!
Thank you so much, Svetlana!
By Jen TylerItalian/Egyptian Jen Tyler grew up on the sandy beaches of the Red Sea and has been on the IKSURFMAG & Tonic Mag team since 2017.