Kirill Umrikhin is a professional extreme sports and travel photographer from Moscow, Russia. He is only 26 and he already managed to work for a variety of internationally recognized brands like Quiksilver, DC, Roxy, Red Bull, VW, Nissan, Nokia, and many others. His shots are regularly published in various printed magazines throughout Russia, Europe, US, and Japan.
KeepSnap: Hi there, Kirill! It’s great to have you with us at KeepSnap blog. How are the things? Let’s get right down to basics. As far as I understand, you took a fancy to photography when you were still at high school, right? Was there any tipping point in your life that made you choose photography as your career?
Kirill Umrikhin: I think I was in the tenth grade when my dad gave me a Zenit SLR to use instead of a simple film point-and-shoot. Back then I wanted to enter the Moscow University of Architecture, but after taking this camera with me to the trip to Saint Petersburg I understood that photography was something that I should do. After that I got my own point-and-shoot and then, when I was in the 11th grade, my granddad noticed that I was all into photography and gifted me a DSLR. He liked photography himself and I think he saw my passion for it.
KeepSnap: How long did it take you to become a professional photographer?
Kirill Umrikhin: If you mean the first time I was paid for a photography job, then it happened when I was doing the first year of college. Back then one of my photos was published by Onboard magazine and after that I started working as a freelance photographer for Sport Express newspaper that featured Extreme section. Speaking generally, I’m still walking up the road of professional growth and I’m not going to stop. I think that the most important thing when it comes both to work and art is to keep moving forward.
KeepSnap: What was the most difficult thing? Did it always go like clockwork or were there moments when you wanted to give up on it? If so, how could you overcome it?
Kirill Umrikhin: I can definitely tell you that I never had a thought of giving up on photography, but obviously there were some roadblocks. There were things that are classic: once both of my two cameras broke when I was working on an important photoshoot at the World Surfing Championship in France. One of them had sport housing and it sank and then the shutter of the other camera died on me. And if we talk about something not that simple then I would mention that I had problems with my back because of snowboarding with a heavy camera backpack on. But these problems only make us stronger. My work, which is about extreme sports, made me understand that there are no dead-end situations. You just need to pull yourself together and start dealing with the problems. When my cameras broke, I took photos on film all the day until I found another DSLR. And when I started having backache, I decided to cancel some jobs to give myself a break and started looking after myself and working out more. Now I feel great. I remember once when I was covering an award ceremony, my huge zoom lens got jammed and I had to cover the whole thing using an iPhone. There’s always a way-out and panicking is the last thing you want.
KeepSnap: Was there any photo that made you famous or was it all coming in small parts?
Kirill Umrikhin: There are a few shots that are very popular and really a lot of people saw them. For example, the picture of winter Moscow taken from a plane. Also, I’ve taken shots that won various photo competitions and were featured in exhibitions. The thing is that people pay attention to the author quite seldom. Nowadays photos are all over the web and often photographers simply don’t mark them. I’m exactly that kind of a guy who doesn’t like watermarks or copyrights. Probably my image of a photographer is being put together by all those projects and photos I made.
KeepSnap: What camera did you use to take your first professional photo? And what camera do you use now?
Kirill Umrikhin: It’s really difficult to tell you about my first camera. I had a Zenit 122 and then Canon 300D. Three years ago I decided to start using Nikons and I work with their professional DSLRs up until now. Probably my favorite one is Nikon Df. I don’t have it and really dream about it. A full-frame small camera that has awesome retro design. And obviously I can’t help but to mention my Nikon D4s workhorse. You can see my work thanks to this camera.
KeepSnap: Do you think that fancy equipment is important for a beginner photographer or is it better to get the feel of it shooting with entry-level DSLRs at first?
Kirill Umrikhin: I think it’s not right to bother if you have an entry-level DSLR. It’s important for both beginners and professionals to make a lot of photos and think. If an amateur shoots a great deal, analyzes their work, and follows what others do, then it won’t take too long to understand what they are aiming for. Moreover, nowadays any Nikon DSLR performs better than professional cameras 7 or 10 years ago.
KeepSnap: This one is really rhetorical. What qualities should a great photographer have and what does it take to make an awesome shot?
Kirill Umrikhin: To start with, the photographer should love what they’re doing. When we’re talking about extreme sports photography, you should be strong and fit as well as know a lot about the sports you’re shooting. Travel photography is all about capturing the right moment, which means waking up early in the morning and having enough willpower to get to the shooting spot. And yeah, you need to be really lucky to make an awesome shot. However, there are three essential elements in extreme sports photography: the sportsman, place, and time. If all three are there, it’s a winner.
KeepSnap: Did your style and concepts about photography and work change during your career? If so, how exactly?
Kirill Umrikhin: I never stop experimenting and looking for new ways of expression in photography. Something just comes to my mind and something I saw somewhere… Earlier I just made photos and then was choosing the best shot out of them, but now I’m going to a photoshoot knowing exactly what I want. The level of photography jobs changes, too. I used to do a lot of stories and worked on competitions, but now I’m more into personal projects.
KeepSnap: You are doing extreme sports photography. Were they any situations in your photography career that you can call really extreme? Please tell us a story.
Kirill Umrikhin: Obviously, I try to make my job as safe as possible, but I don’t always succeed at it. You can shoot surfing sitting on the beach with a cocktail in your hand, but it’s much more interesting to shoot it when you are in the water or on a boat. A year ago we could die when we tried to save a drowning tourist who was caught by the current near the shore. He was carried away to the reef and was twisted by the waves there. Another several minutes and he would have been dead. We saved him but because of that our boat jumped from a five meter high wave into the air and we fell from it into the water from the height of like 10 meters. Our cameraman broke his leg in two spots and cracked his head. I got away with bruises and injured my knee, but the most important thing was that we saved the life of this guy and were not dead. It doesn’t really matter if you’re in the ocean or in the mountains, it’s always crucial to be on your toes.
KeepSnap: And were there any funny, weird, or ridiculous situations?
Kirill Umrikhin: Once I scheduled two photoshoots for the same day and at the same time, but I managed to deal with it and shot everything right at both places. Recently when I was doing mountain bike photography in the mountains of Krasnaya Polyana, Sochi, a family of wild boars came out of the forest right to me. I had to defend myself with a bike and my camera.
KeepSnap: What do you do now and what camera do you use?
Kirill Umrikhin: Now I’m in Moscow working on two photoshoots. I’m doing my new projects, editing photos, and getting prepared to oncoming trips. I have two cameras that I use, Nikon D4s and Nikon D810 for underwater shooting.
KeepSnap: What professional literature can you recommend to your readers?
Kirill Umrikhin: There are tons of useful information over the web and the most important thing is how you look for it. The book called Dialogue with Photography by Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper was the last thing I read recently. It features interviews with legendary photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Kertész, Robert Doisneau, and others.
KeepSnap: What can you recommend to our photographers so that interesting job finds them themselves and not the other way around?
Kirill Umrikhin: As I already mentioned above, you should love what you do, give all your time to it, dream, invent, and obviously make photos.
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