An Interview With Elena Dragoi
We've been following the work of Elena for quite some time, and were over the moon when she began using some of our pieces in her shoots. We were interested to learn more about her process both as a photographer and a florist. Lucky for all of us, she agreed to an interview. Below, we chat with Elena about her work and how it all started!
Hi Elena! We are so in love with your exquisite photography. How did you start focusing on photographing flowers?
It’s been a lifelong dream to make my very own artwork and create pieces that will elevate a room - let that be in a coffee book, a cookbook, a fine art photograph, or your phone background. My intense self-quarantine over the past several months (I have four autoimmune conditions) sped me along. Day after day, I turned to photography to keep my spirits high, stay in a positive mental state, and focus on the good. Creating became my motivation to get out of bed. As quarantine soldiered on, I craved the outside more and more. I wanted to connect with nature again. I wanted to walk by the lake and feel the mist from the water on my skin. I wanted to smell the magnolia trees and touch their creamy petals with my hands. Flowers have always spoken to me, so this was the piece of nature I chose to bring into my home. Week by week, I ordered different seasonal ones to photograph. They made me happy. Every blossom captured at its prime made a unique impression on an image - and on me too. They brought joy and purpose to me in isolation.
Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, and where/how did you learn photography? Did you study floral as well or are you self taught?
I was born in Romania, raised in Canada, and now live in the US. A few years ago, I began the amazing, yet incredibly challenging journey of living life on my own terms. I walked away from my job (and a steady paycheck) after fourteen years to pursue a more creative path. It was then that I picked up a camera and began shooting. I didn’t know how to take a photo, I didn’t even know what contrast meant, but I knew I had a vision. I knew that I could translate a feeling into an image. So I taught myself everything - I watched tutorials, played with settings, practiced over and over until I developed a style that represented me. With every image, with every passing week, I was better. I learned more and I came to expect more of myself. I still feel like I have so much to learn, but I like to think that I am a sponge ready to absorb new knowledge and sprinkle it over my craft. As for floral photography, I didn’t study it in school. Arranging flowers comes naturally to me. I grew up in a commiunist country - there was very little to play with as a child. Flowers, fruits, and vegetables were my toys so I’ve appreciated their exquisite beauty from a young age. I actually used to collect flowers, press them into books, and talk to them as if they were my friends. It’s funny to look back now and see that they’ve always been such an important part of my life!
Please tell us about your vessel selection process. Do you think the florals or the vessel first?
My process always begins with a blank canvas. Next, the flowers. As my concept begins to reveal itself, I’ll study different species and decide which blossoms best translate my theme. From here, with a floral color palette in mind, I peek into my prop selection to pick a vessel that will complement. I observe how tall the flowers are, how wide I want my arrangement to be, and the mood I want. Once I bring the flowers and the vessel together, I can begin to shift everything towards the goal; I sculpt the final product piece by piece, detail by tiny detail, until the story is told. I always shoot with a connection to something greater than aesthetics - something deeply personal - as meaning behind the artwork creates an infinitely better result.
Please give us a small tutorial on how to build an interesting arrangement, as well as how to best shoot your arrangement once it is complete.
Ok - let me break it down step-by-step!
- Get inspired. I like to work from some of my most personal memories, shooting with people, places, or nostalgic feelings in mind, but nearly anything that connects to your heart will work.
- Pick colors. Different shades and pallettes are one of the most powerful tools we have to convey something visually. Decide what’s resonating with you (perhaps your shoot is centered on a day you spent driving around the coast of California with your best friend - so lots of turquoise and deep blue would be appropriate) then create a mood board like this one. Add in colors that contrast and complement your central ones.
- Choose flowers. Look into different species, get a feel for what’s out there, then start to hone in on a couple of favorites that fit your mood board and concept.
- Organize yourself. Once you have your flowers, separate them by color (this is what feels most natural to me) and place them in individual vases to breathe. Wait 24-48 hours for the blossoms to hydrate before shooting, and in the meantime, brainstorm ways you can arrange them with other props (ie. vases, water, sand, scarves, etc.).
- Select a backdrop. These are usually large painted boards or a painted canvas for me - I always have a couple different colors on hand.
- Fall in love with your props. Your vase and your other ingredients are just as important to the photo as the perfect flowers are, so make sure to select each item with care. They should all contribute to the whole. Some of my favorite things to include are glasses, fruit, wine, candles, linens, silks, and velvets. As you can see, a lot happens before you actually touch the flowers!
- Arrange your masterpiece. Center your perfect vase in a clear workspace and build a work of art flower by flower. I always go one at a time. Include the other props last.
- Bring in your camera. I recommend shooting while connected to your computer so that you can see the image instantly, and use this visual feedback to make adjustments in your arrangement.
- Play with light. I love shooting the same image at sunrise and sunset, as the feeling of the natural light is completely different. Adding in shadows is super fun too. Play and shoot and repeat until you like what you see!
- Edit to your hearts content!
Lastly, tell us about this floral project you have embarked on!
I’m both giddy with excitement and nervous beyond measure to put my Fine Art Prints out into the world. It’s been quite the journey.
It all started on May 5th - my birthday. I was on my 10th week of isolation due to my health challenges and I chose to photograph flowers. I had done a couple of shoots prior to this, but on this day, it was special. I ordered a massive bouquet and I worked with a Dutch Masters spread. I was on fire. I loved the results. This shoot turned up the volume of the little voice inside - the one telling me to go for it, to put my work into the world - I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
I like to tune my work to the rhythms of nature, so my intention is to launch seasonal fine art prints four times a year, in small quantities. These prints will be in limited, numbered editions, with some one-of-a-kind pieces. It’s important to me to keep the collections small. Here, I can really focus and give my blossoms the time they deserve while allowing myself to enter my most creative space. I also have a co-creation program for personalized artwork.
With that, I want to introduce you to my first seasonal series! I am incredibly excited to share that three of my prints include your gorgeous vessels. I absolutely love Notary Ceramics’ collection and the way you approach your craft. I can feel the love and care that goes into every single object you create. I knew from my first visit on your website that your pieces were perfect for me! I can’t wait to see what else we can dream up together.
Be sure to check out her newly launched website, as well as her selection of fine art prints to compliment any home.
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