Canon Ambassador Katya Mukhina is an award-winning wedding photographer whose distinctive images, often shot in amazing locations, mean she is sought after by couples looking for something a little bit different.
As well as capturing couples on their big day, she regularly undertakes international photographic assignments, not only for wedding publications but also for a range of other specialist magazines.
Katya believes her success over the past 15 years has been due to her specialising in relatively niche aspects of the business: adventure weddings and elopements. These events cater for those looking for something original, such as marrying in a one-of-a-kind location or a once-in-a-lifetime situation. "I would say my decision to start shooting destination weddings was the turning point in my career," she says.
Katya spent six years working as a traditional wedding photographer in her home town before starting to look for assignments that would take her further away from home. "I love to explore new places and the idea of shooting elopements in beautiful locations really appealed to me," she says. "Now every wedding is a chance to shoot in a new environment, culture, language and light conditions. My style has always been to encapsulate the story and mood of the day, but more importantly the emotional connection between the couple, and between them and their family and friends. Adventure weddings are no different; these stories are still about love and connection, just in wild surroundings."
Katya, who also runs workshops for wedding photographers, has no problem adapting her approach to suit the shoot. She says: "When I'm doing a traditional wedding, I use a photojournalistic manner; whereas adventure weddings and elopements are more about portraits. I like to use dynamic compositions with movement to help the couple's story look like a movie."
She wants her photo shoots to be part of the couple's adventure, so she spends a lot of time and effort getting to know them. "We often sail, drive or trek to a remote location," she says. "The images not only show an amazing view, but the couple gets a unique emotional experience."
Katya's shoots also need a lot of preparation – she's the producer, stylist, set designer and travel planner – and she often has to go to great lengths to capture the shot that she has been picturing in her head. Her romantic images make a big impact, though, and have helped her collect numerous nominations and awards from a variety of organisations. Some of Katya's most notable wins have come from Wedding & Portrait Photographers International, and the International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers has repeatedly ranked her as one of the top wedding photographers in the world.
Katya also has a degree in sociology, but she has no regrets about choosing to work as a photographer. "I think it was a right decision to change my career plans and start doing what I love," she reflects. "Photography is what I've devoted every day of my life to."
What preparation do you do before the big day?
"I have several real/Skype meetings with the couple, where we discuss everything from the style of the pictures to their chosen colour palette. I do location scouting online and if possible spend at least one day before the shoot on location."
Weddings can be hectic and the time can fly by. How do you ensure you get all the shots you need?
"I move around a lot, shooting with different settings, playing with composition and angles, while my assistant controls the lighting. I shoot about 4,000 images and often don’t get a chance to rest during a 12-hour wedding."
Do you use the same shooting technique for every wedding?
"It depends on the couple and their preferences, so it's never the same. Sometimes there's no need for creativity, you just need to make clients look beautiful and capture their family's love, the fun and the happy moments they'll want to remember."
What are the most important lessons a new wedding photographer should know?
"You have to make the images professional or just don't do it at all, because that wedding day won't happen again. Also, carry two sets of camera equipment, plus lots of spare batteries and cards."
What are the main challenges in this industry?
"Finding your own photographic style, understanding what sort of assignments you want to shoot, getting the clients, and finding harmony between your lifestyle and work. My secret is dedication, constant improvement, perseverance and having a strong work ethic.”
"Photographing a wedding day is not a time to experiment and hone your photography skills. You need to practice beforehand: do landscape and portrait workshops, photograph your friends' engagements, etc. When I started, I paid a lot of attention to the couple's poses, because explaining what I wanted was a great challenge for me at the time. But that meant I didn’t notice how the person was lit, think about moving them to enhance the colour combinations, or think about the picture as a whole. Also, newbies love to stand in one place and shoot the same thing, so change your point of view and angle."