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Rising Stars: Meet Yana Benjamin

Today we’d like to introduce you to Yana Benjamin. 

Yana, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I grew up in Bratislava, Slovakia as a free-spirited child, always looking for the next adventure of street explorations and random objects collections. I was surrounded with art history and photography books and my parents took me to fine art galleries for day trips. My dad had a collection of vintage analog cameras, so I soon started to experiment with the visual form of a film photograph. The first photo adventures I took were in Budapest and Prague. I created documentary photos of people in subways which ended up being a study of sorts on the shared human condition of never-ending commute through life. I developed these black and white images in a makeshift darkroom, and this very project later helped me get into Journalism school. I graduated with a Master’s Degree from Comenius University in Bratislava and became a news reporter for a press agency for about a year. I realized that I was craving visual storytelling through the photography medium, so I seized the opportunity to move to California. I studied photography at San Francisco Studio School, in the classical street photography style, which provides the foundation of my approach: capturing “the moment” and telling visual stories. I now live in Michigan, which is also where I started my photography studio in 2012. 

A few months before the pandemic, I traveled to the Austrian Alps to take an adventure wedding photography workshop. I realized I have been craving a change for so long, that I immediately started transforming my wedding photography studio into a brand that focuses on intimate weddings and adventure elopements. And then the pandemic happened. While the covid year was difficult for couples and wedding vendors in general (and the market hasn’t fully recovered yet), thanks to this visionary pivot, I have been able to work with amazing couples that decided to elope instead of hosting a large traditional event last year. Transforming my business to a boutique studio that only takes limited amount of wedding and elopement bookings per year, was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my career as a wedding and elopement photographer so far. It allows me to fully focus on meaningful connections with my couples and ultimately capture their love through unposed, authentic moments. 

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Being a business owner and a creative requires ingenuity and a constant desire for learning. A common belief is that photographers have a glamorous lifestyle often traveling to beautiful places and constantly creating new connections. But let me tell you, I wear so many hats, that it’s hard to count on one hand. I am my own project manager, editor, photographer, social media manager, web designer, sales consultant, etc. As roadblocks and technical challenges related to business administration can often be resolved, the most difficulty I have experienced was with burnout caused by being overworked. Many artists and photographers also experience self-doubt and imposter syndrome, which has been difficult to overcome for me at times. Instagram and social media often leaves creators in despair comparing their work to augmented images, or the best in the world. That’s a lost game. So, I often remind myself to stay focused to provide an excellent client experience to my couples, and that helps me stay grounded and happy. 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
In the past decade, I have been working to create an inclusive brand that elevates diversity, cherishes unorthodox styles, and values experiences over things. It is deeply satisfying to create meaningful, authentic, timeless imagery for couples I connect with on a personal level. Fusing my love for providing services of a boutique photography studio and my passion for the wild outdoors, I craft experiences that go beyond standard traditions and societal ideas of how a wedding should look. I empower my couples to follow their own unique path and celebrate their love in a way that reflects them, no one else’s expectations. Through my approach, I had a chance to work with the sweetest couples in breathtaking venues and landscapes, in the Austrian Alps, France, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, California, Utah, and Michigan. Having the opportunity to be so closely involved in passionate expressions of love (whatever that might look like) creates unspeakable value and happiness in my life.

The visual aesthetic of images from old film cameras influenced my style from the very beginning. As a classically trained street photographer, I used to develop photos in a makeshift darkroom, because I loved the magical moments of excitement while waiting to see the image appear on the paper while immersed in miraculous emulsions. So, my editing style is inspired by film, focusing on true colors, accurate skin tones, and warm, glowing, airy tones. I pride myself in producing images that are timeless, as I strive to create images my clients can view throughout the decades.

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
I had several mentors when I was starting my photography career. While I studied photography, I got myself an internship with a Canadian fashion photographer Liz Caruana, who lived in San Francisco at that time. I was her assistant, content developer and behind-the-scenes photographer for a couple of years. It was absolutely invaluable being able to observe her work a commercial and high fashion shoot. She also showed me how to take care of gear and gave me some great pointers in editing. I also considered my professors at San Francisco Studio School, Lon Clark and Laura Harden, as my mentors for about 4 years while I attended the school. I especially appreciated our discussions about formal elements of a good photograph, and our group crits consisting of other visual artist (not limited to photographers) were absolutely pivotal in my development as a photographer. If you are starting your career as a wedding or elopement photographer, my advice would be – get yourself an internship, volunteer to second shoot for free to learn the ropes of the business, attend in-person workshops and portfolio building sessions! These experiences have always been the most valuable for me, learning from others and exploring other perspectives!

Pricing:

  • Wedding photography packages start at $3,499
  • Elopement photography packages start at $2,999
  • Engagement sessions start at $500

Contact Info:

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