Interview: OwnTheLight (Vitaly Kibenko)
An interview with one of Instagram's most well known photographers; Vitaly Kibenko, better known by his social media name 'OwnTheLight'.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into photography?
I actually first got into photography at the age of 13. My Mum was a wedding photographer. I was home schooled and spent a lot of time watching my mum working. I used to attend the weddings with her; handing her lenses and carrying her kit. It kind of progressed from there. I wasn't the kid who played outside, I was the kind of kid who spent a lot of time on photoshop messing around and editing photos I had taken. So growing up around photography was how I got into it, and from there it developed into a passion.
How did your photography develop from there and when did you move towards professional work yourself?
I shot weddings myself for about 4 years. My mum went back to her old job as an engineer. I basically took over the photography business. By the age of 16 I was shooting weddings completely on my own. In my third year I started thinking this is getting abit repetitive. I got really busy; I was shooting 40 plus weddings per year. I got really bored of wedding photography. It was just different faces but the same old story every weekend. I then moved towards portrait work. I started shooting nature and mixing this with fashion. Obviously living in Washington at the time I was surrounded by beautiful scenery. In one of the early shoots I worked with a bridal company and photographed this black dress. I took it to the Ice Caves in Washington and did a shoot up there with a model. I realised the more I did this style of photography the more and more I enjoyed it. Then eventually Instagram came along; it just became fun to put the photo out there and get responses for my work; it kind of progressed from there.
In relation to Social Media and Instagram; how do you think these platforms contribute to your work?
Social media is insane. Nobody saw this whole world coming. I’m literally paying my bills from social media, I’m living my life and I’m meeting new people. I’m actually heading out on tour with Justin Bieber later this month; opportunities like this just started exploding out of this little Instagram account - it’s just unrealistic! I think the most important part of social media is the exposure part of it; it just allows you to connect with so many different people. It allowed me to connect with companies, people and brands, all at the same time.
Who have you managed to connect with through social media?
I have managed to connect with the whole YouTube scene. I shot a few YouTubers when I was travelling between Washington and California. This then led me to shoot singers and artists; I later met Austin Mahone and Justin Bieber. These artists and YouTubers have all literally come through social media.
Would you say Instagram and Youtube have significantly contributed in how you got to where you are today?
To an extent. I think it's a great door opener but more importantly you have to be able to connect with these people. I think weddings actually taught me a lot about how to interact with people. When I started shooting weddings I had to put myself out there. I think it helped me become more confident. I was extremely shy before I began shooting weddings. When your doing a photo shoot it's really important to be able to adjust to different peoples personalities really quickly so they don't feel awkward around you. So yeah, Instagram has been my door to photography but it's also important to have confidence and personality.
Who has influenced your photography the most?
So there are two photographers from Washington. Yuri Manchik and Julia Manchik; they have been wedding photographers for a very long time. I looked up to their work so much and Yuri kind of became my first mentor. I remember I was emailing him and messaging him constantly until he finally agreed to have coffee with me.
I told him I wanted him to guide me, I wanted him to give me the hard truth about my photography. From then on we met maybe once a month. I used to show him my photos and he used to point out which ones were good, and which ones were bad. He would always explain to me why some photos were good and why others were not. Another person who massively influenced my work is Daniel Lusenko. He doesn't do wedding photography anymore, he now does smart wedding albums. He created a software for photographers and is doing very well himself. He was also a huge influence on my work.
What is your favourite kit?
I shoot with a Canon 1D X. I have variety of lenses but I mainly shoot with a 24-70mm, and also with a 35mm and 50mm. I used to be strictly a prime lens guy when I shot weddings. However I have realised since going on tour that I can’t keep switching lenses every two seconds. So 24-70mm is probably the one I use the most.
What kind of tools or software do you use for post-processing?
I use Lightroom about 90 percent of the time. The other 10 percent is photoshop to make quick edits or corrections to my photos. But this is quite rare so it's mainly just Lightroom.
What is your favourite location to shoot?
My favourite location still to this day is Yosemite National Park. I have been to 48 states and I have basically been to every national park in the United States but Yosemite National Park is still my favourite location.
Where would you like to shoot in the future?
I want to shoot in China, this is a big dream of mine. I also want to explore Europe some more. I recently got to do this when I was on tour but I want to explore more of Europe as I didn't get to see as much as I wanted. This year my top places to visit are Paris, Iceland, Australia and China.
What would you say has been the most significant photo you have taken so far?
That's a tough question. I think to this day my favourite shoot has to be the one in the Ice Caves with the black dress. On that particular day the weather was extremely cold. We only had time to take 15 photos before we had to run back to the car. I think this has to be my favourite shoot by far.
What is your favourite style of photography?
It's something I’m still evolving with. I’m still unsatisfied with my own work. I think this pushes me to go further. When your not satisfied with your work you keep pushing yourself. In terms of my style; I like to capture those raw, real moments, those in-between moments if that makes sense.
What advice would you give to another photographer?
My biggest advice is to not give up. The amount of things I had to go through to get to where I am today. It's unreal. People often think it's glamorous but this is not always the case. When I first got to LA I slept in my car for two months. I was literally living out of my car; thats how bad I wanted it. I think it's too easy to give up, so it's really important to just keep at it. Make sure you remain persistent. Keep practicing and getting better and things will eventually look up.