Stanislav Puchkovsky (aka Sean Archer) is a Master of Natural Light Portraits

Merely two years ago, Stanislav picked up his first camera: a Lumix G3 for $600. From that point forward his inspirational journey began. The majority of his mind-blowing work was taken in his attic using friends as models. Now he is known as Sean Archer - a natural light photographer who specializes in female portraits. His work is proof that it’s not about gear. It’s about the photographer; it's about the vision of the artist.

Two years ago, I opened a 500px account and the first person I followed was Sean Archer. His work had a signature look that I instantly fell in love with. He used natural light, and all the photos were taken right there in his own home. The fact his gear cost half of mine at the time was in itself inspirational to me.

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The first question everyone asks Stanislav is how he got the nickname Sean Archer. "Sean Archer is an agent from the movie Face Off. I took the nickname and created a 500px account when I wasn't sure if I was any good at photography."

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Stanislav picked up a Lumix G3 after showing interest in photography at the end of 2011. He had just graduated from architecture school and knew nothing about photography. "I shot in auto mode every day just for fun, my first subject was my moms dog.I knew absolutely nothing about photography, absolutely nothing,” said Stanislav. At the beginning of 2012 a friend asked him to take portraits of her, “To my big surprise,” Stanislav said, the “result was better than her photo from some professional guy before. And I realized that I like the process a lot, from shooting to post processing. It’s like drawing, but much faster. I never had patience to be a serious artist, but just enough to be a photographer.”

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"Everything I know now came from taking thousands of images, hours of processing and fooling around with every setting on the camera." Stanislav pointed out numerous times that everything he learned came from his own experiences and mistakes.

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Living in Yekaterinburg, Russia, he doesn't have much of a choice other than to shoot indoors. "It's not the warmest place on Earth and I started shooting in winter. Indoors was a natural choice for me. I just use what I had - light from the window, wall as a background."

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One of the first question that came to mind was the fact his photos have so many different color/textured backgrounds. Puchkovsky overlays textures in Photoshop to change up the backgrounds of his images.

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In the beginning he started off just photographing friends but as time went one I branched out to their friends. some have modeled in the past but none of them do it professionally. “It’s fun. I never try to be dead serious or something like that. I don’t do preparations. It’s always improvisation. Just, “let’s start and see what we get.”

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A trick Stansilav has taught me over the years to making people feel comfortable is simply by showing the really good shots every once in a while on the camera screen. "Everyone loves it, people see how great they look and they immediately want to take more."

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He uses a single window without any reflectors. If the sunlight is too strong he has a few sets of window shades that he uses to control he light.
Do you retouch and how much retouching do you do?

"Of course I do retouching, I remove spots and any issues in skin tones. It's very important to keep skin texture, but making it clear and bright. Keeping it natural is the key. I don't like the "fashion" style retouch, that makes skin lifeless, like it was processed by sandblasting machine…In portraits you have to be an artist, too.”

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What gear are you using?
"My first camera was Lumix G3 it really shines with the Olympus Zuiko 45mm. If you have good light condition it's very good. Now I'm using Canon 6D with two Canon lenses, 50mm 1.4 and 135mm L 2.0. This combo works very well in low light."

Aside from photography gear, Stanislav loves using a fan to add volume to the hair and trying it at different angles to add interesting looks to his subjects. He adds that playing music is a must for shoots like this.

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"A lot of people thought my Lumix G3 wasn't a serious camera and that you can’t take good portrait with it, my goal was to prove them wrong."

Stanislav finally let me create a Facebook Page for him so you guys have an alternate place to follow him on social media - Sean Archer Photography

 

Dani Diamond | Facebook Facebook Page | 500px | Instagram

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48 Comments

Jesse Rinka's picture

Great person to write an article on Dani. I remember discovering Mr. Archer on 500px as well back when I first joined. His work is just outstanding and whenever I come across one of his images...I often catch myself just getting lost in the models eyes. He truly brings out the best in each of his subjects using a minimalist approach and that is insanely refreshing. Makes me want to sell most of my gear and keep things more simple.

Dani Diamond's picture

Jesse, yeup his work is simple and just perfect. He is sitting there at the top of my list when it comes to portrait photographers.

Tam Nguyen's picture

I also love his work on 500px!

Vitor S's picture

Really Good work. His images gradation often look like "paintings". I wish you could go on with more details on his post-processing work. I'm curious about the steps he takes.

lexpaul's picture

Great interview!!! I've been following Sean's work for a while, and is really inspiring...

Keegan Evans's picture

Wow! Inspired to get even more out of my 50mm 1.4. Thanks for the article Dani!

CrustyJuggler66's picture

The wallpaper lines bend to the chicks hips because she's been liquified so much. With amazing looking chicks and great post (for the most part) why is everyone saying what amazing photography it is? Dani as an experiment I say photograph an average looking woman and using only Lightroom's basic panel (no brushes) show me an exquisite portrait such as these. Basically great photographic/lighting skills. I want to be truly wowed again, it's been a while.

Dani Diamond's picture

Good idea, thanks for taking your time and giving feedback.

CrustyJuggler66's picture

Just for the record i'm not pooing the guy, you don't get over half a million views for nothing and clearly that photo was an early career image as i don't see it in his portfolios anywhere. However, the mind boggles whenever i see a Russian portfolio on 500px, the supermodel stream is clearly dense with choice. I know where i'm holidaying next!

Sean Archer's picture

6,7 million views on 500px only, to be correct. And this photo is in my portfolios everywhere)

Anthony Woodruffe's picture

Followed you on 500px quite a while back, just can't remember when but I do remember your images standing out above a plethora of other portraiture photographers. well done for achieving so much in a short amount of time.

Sean Archer's picture

Thank you a lot, Anthony)

emil richter's picture

in my opinion your biggest strength is that I always recognise your images from a mile away. Even when you use a different model (girl next door), different background and different pose, i can always tell its sean archers.
in the photography world having this recogniseable style is worth gold ;D
so well done!

Josh R.'s picture

This implies that one part of the photographic process is somehow better than another. The end result is what's important. His path to get there is irrelevant.

smithcreative's picture

Pays to have good-looking friends.

OneTimePhil's picture

Any chance of getting a post on how to overlay textures in Photoshop to spice up the backgrounds like he does? Whenever I try to do them, they end up looking completely heavy-handed... so now I basically stay away from them, but would love to learn how to do them correctly!

Sean Archer's picture

Try different methods in layer's menu (overlay, soft light etc) and choose the best suitable. Remember to adjust opacity level)

Deleted Account's picture

Hello guys, hello Sean Archer, I'm your fan, congratulations for your photos, I'm always amazed. I apologize for my bad english. I hope Sean Archer will answer this question of mine. I realized that you shoot inside using the sweet and natural light coming from the window, but I did not understand one thing, behind the models are real backgrounds or in post production overlap a texture that then trimming around the subject in a very professional? If you answer my question, you would do me a great favor. thank you

Simon Campbell's picture

His work is great, for sure, but I can't help feeling that it's quite difficult to take a bad shot of all of those models... Anyone who has a constant stream of supermodel-looking women to shoot, will be generating some interesting and popular material...

Mark Richardson's picture

I agree... Hard to find this level of model in my little town.

Sean Archer's picture

In my town they're just girls next door)

Mark Richardson's picture

Lucky.

Terry Alby's picture

Where the heck do live Sean. Seems like a nice place to be. Good for you. Your work is clean and beautiful and so are your neighbors.

Justabeginner photographer's picture

Yea the same shot would look really average with a fat ugly chick. I'm starting to hate photography because it's all fake. If you have a stunning model good gear and some knowledge in post you'll be the king. That's unfair. I'm a beginner and my post is not bad but without models I'll never produce stunning pictures and the fact that you can only produce those pictures with abnormal good looking faces makes me want to quit even though I just started out.

Ovidiu Oprea's picture

Yeaaa don't blame it on Photography mate, if you dont know how to take natural pictures. What you need is to find your style. Its what he did.
You dont want to tell me in Moreno Valley are no nice Girls...
Check out google for tutorials and help. Start out with friends.. family.. neighbors.
And no you do not need a fancy camera. What you need is Skills. Get those skills. Practice. first you need to know your camera, and what if can do. Then STEAL ideas.. yes even from him.. as a base. how he lit the scene (a window).
you do need postproduction for this kind of colors. Photoshop or Lightroom.
then you need to practice those skills. i prefer Nik Software.
All you need is a Camera where you can shoot manually and a Nifty Fifty (50mm)
Its not unfair... its how it works... and yes its timeconsuming.

damien martinet's picture

“Of course I do retouching..." great work but too many on eyes for me

Steve Vlahos's picture

Wow!

alphat0ne's picture

"everything he learned came from his own experiences and mistakes". Does one learn everything they know in a complete vacuum? I'm skeptical. I'd like to know more about his post-processing. I know he said he doesn't do much...but the toning and sharpness work here are intriguing. Knowing more about his technique, or at least how he learned it, if he doesn't want to give tips away, would be cool. I keep running into pros who are happy to publicize their work, but they really don't like sharing information. I respect their position (I can understand not wanting to give information they might consider trade secrets away)...but I feel like we're living in a more open age. Or at least...we could be. Of course, there are just as many photographers who are very open. But when someone wants me to think their genius is self-formed with no outside help...well. I think that's a little silly.

Sean Archer's picture

A couple of years ago I worked as broadcast designer, that's why I know software like PS. And when I started working with portraits I used that experience, of course. It's not a secret)

alphat0ne's picture

Naturally. I suppose what I'm trying to do is figure out how you go from a RAW file to the finished aesthetic you have. Like I said, I don't fault you for not wanting to reveal every step of your workflow...but know that there are those of us who admire the style and tone of your photos who would like to see at least a little bit of how you do it.

Justabeginner photographer's picture

It's just the skin retouching he uses and dodge and burning. Use frequency separation to match all the colors on the face to give the face a doll like appearance. Make sure the make up is good as well. Sharpen the heck out of the eyes and hair and skin. Toning is actually pretty easy compared to Dani Diamonds. You can see that he uses curves color balance color fills etc. it also has a slight matte look which you can achieve with curves. And the most important part is having the perfect model. If you shoot someone with bad skin it'll never look like that even after haeavy retouching. And lastly don't forget to liguify the face to make it look unnaturally beautiful.

Ovidiu Oprea's picture

how about you comment less and use your camera more?
I have been to one of his workshops.. and he didnt unse liquifier.. no frequelcy separation and if you know photoshop (looks like you do not). And its not about the perfect model XD
its not his fault you dont know how to talk to girls.. of you improve your skills and shoot your friends first, you have pictures you can show. And you can be sure to get nice girls like these posing for you if you show them what you have done so far.

Non Photographers are easily impressed ;)

Sean T's picture

So you actually don't use "I dont use masks, frequency separation etc" you work destructively? Mask that is? thanks

Phil Stefans's picture

Great photos, gorgeous models, but is it still really a great natural light portrait if you have to extensively retouch the photos to balance the exposure on faces, brighten eyes etc? Not having a dig at the tog as he is obviously really really talented, just the terminology...I always believed great natural light photographers relied on spotting great lighting, reflectors etc, not great retouching skills...

Justabeginner photographer's picture

Photography is all about retouching these days because with the new technologies every idiot can take out of focus natural light portraits. For the average joe even my shitty picture in my profile looks professional.it just needs to look like you didn't shot it with an iPhone and then you can call yourself a professional photographer and charge people a leg and an arm for workshops lol.

Rudy Conrad's picture

While the models look great and the photos are good, I find them uninspiring. There are many togs out there that make me want to get out and shoot but these photos don't make me linger for more than 2-3 seconds. All his photos look...well, the same. This may be by design/style but it gets boring quick.

Rudy Conrad's picture

I do need to add that I am referring to his complete portfolio as seen on 500px. The ones included here are excellent and stand out.

Juan Muino's picture

Absolutely lovely! I'm now thinking of moving to his neighbourhood though - his models are stunning! Stanislav, really well done.

JOHN PARISI's picture

although I have been photographing for 100 years, i still cannot get this kind of results but after the initial desire to throw my camera away, the work is inspiring. ...something to strive for. I does help to have lovely models but everyone deserves a beautiful portrait and hopefully they are beautiful in someone's eyes.

Justabeginner photographer's picture

Then you should invest some time in post processing techniques. His work is all post processing skills more than photography skills.

bamn moneta's picture

He is cheating. All beautiful models...lol.. excuse me ladies come pose for my Nikon

Humberto Vinícius's picture

Hello! No doubt Sean Archer is a photographer who deserves the acclaim they give you. Use natural light coming in most of the time a window, this is very creative. And be creative in artistic means assures the top. Congratulations Sean Archer.

A curiosity. In addition to Adobe Photoshop (PS), there would be other softwareis that you assist in the production of imangens or would only PS plugins?
Thank you for listening.

Russell Pearson's picture

Love both your guys work, Sean and Dani...amazing, such an inspiration to me, not just portrait but all kinds of photography, just had one of my images used in this months UK Lonely Planet magazine...so happy...thats for inspiring thousands of photographers..

Con Guerrero's picture

Great article, Dani. I had long admired Stanislav's work, but had no idea it was all naturally lit and shot with inexpensive gear!

Karthik Thorali's picture

such a beautiful work they are. I have been following Mr. Archer and Dani for a while now, and study different portraits to findout how it works

Deleted Account's picture

Hello guys, hello Sean Archer, I'm your fan, congratulations for your photos, I'm always amazed. I apologize for my bad english. I hope Sean Archer will answer this question of mine. I realized that you shoot inside using the sweet and natural light coming from the window, but I did not understand one thing, behind the models are real backgrounds or in post production overlap a texture that then trimming around the subject in a very professional? If you answer my question, you would do me a great favor. thank you

Ronald Averanga's picture

hello everyone!!! does anybody know about a Sean Archer Tutorial ?? and where to purchase it?? thanks

Mark Harris's picture

"Natural light" then a lot of post ...how is that NATURAL? lol
You can get there faster with lighting instead of so much post.