Changing viewfinders – Slawomir Janicki (from soldier to wedding photographer)

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During his final tour of Afghanistan in 2013, Master Sergeant Slawomir Janicki was presented with a career-changing opportunity. The Polish army was looking for volunteers to take official photos of his unit. Having a passing interest in photography, he put his name forward and ended up swapping his Beryllium 5.56mm assault rifle for a Nikon D300 camera. The images he saw through his newly adopted viewfinder would change his life.

Tell us about your introduction to photography.
During my nine month tour in Afghanistan with the Polish army, I volunteered to become the unit’s official photographer. Once I started taking photos I became fascinated. I had previously served in the army for 15 years, touring in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then the army introduced me to a passion I couldn’t let go of. When I returned to Poland, with the army’s support, I enrolled in the “Akademia Fotografii Warszawie” to learn about wedding and portrait photography.

Was there a decisive moment when you realised you wanted to become a professional photographer?
Whilst touring I saw immense poverty and the terrible living conditions children endure. Taking those photos opened my eyes and heart. I felt the hardships. One specific moment that stands out is when I saw people using local materials to build mud houses – there wasn’t any plumbing or proper sewer system.

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Photograph: Ewa Cieszkowska

What have been the highlights of your photography career so far?
The most memorable moment was when I won my first award, given by the Polish press (Foto Courrier) for a photograph of a therapist’s hands. This happened so soon in my new career that it encouraged me to be the best I could. Winning the Best Wedding Photographer last year by Expatriates Magazine was also a very special moment. I’m also very proud to have had my photos featured in Essence magazine and Flog.pl.

Your photos are fascinating. What do you aim for during a shoot?
The most important thing is to make people happy. I like my photos to show the beauty of relationships, human life and the uniqueness of the world that surrounds us. Every time I pick up a camera I try to capture that specific moment and make it last for eternity.

How does one make a photo last for eternity?
By capturing the emotions between two people. There has to be emotion, whether happiness, sadness or anger. It must be captured to make the image eternal.

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What differences are there between photographing weddings, portraits, children and fashion?
Wedding photography is like reporting an event. The key is to blend in and not interfere, to be a ghost among the guests looking for interesting, touching and joyful moments. Fashion photography differs greatly depending on the product your client is trying to sell or advertise. The images need to reflect the client’s objectives and visions. Photographing children is altogether different. It’s very natural. Children are usually at ease and don’t pose. They run around without paying attention to the camera. Portrait photography, despite what you may think, is not as easy as it sounds. To reveal a person’s beauty they need to be open and relaxed, this is when natural beauty is captured.

Where does your inspiration come from?
When it comes to photography, my biggest inspiration comes from Russian photographers such as Anka Zhuravleva, Margarita Kareva and Oleg Oprisco,  but overall my biggest source of inspiration comes from paintings, particularly 17th century religious paintings where the main subject isn’t the same colour as the rest of the picture.

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If you were booking a photographer for you own wedding what questions would you ask?
Firstly I would check their availability and I would want to see their previous work. A professional photographer will always have a portfolio, so be sure to ask to see it if they haven’t shown you. Pricing is also important. You need to be sure the photographer’s cost can be budgeted for. There are always cheaper photographers available, but these are some of the most important photos of your life, don’t compromise if you don’t have to. And finally, although it’s not a question, be relaxed, meet the photographer without a camera. If you can relax with your photographer the photos will be natural and beautiful.

What camera did you start off with and what are you currently using?
I began with a Canon G10 before buying my first reflex (Nikon D90). I now work with a Nikon D810 for the studio and portraits, and a Nikon D4 and D5 for weddings. It’s all professional photographic equipment, but a photographer’s knowledge, experience and vision are much more important than the equipment he or she uses.

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Why do you use two cameras for weddings?
During an occasion such as a wedding it’s important to be attentive and capture those instant moments. I change camera during a wedding but never the lens.

How can you be booked for a wedding?
I can be contacted on www.artjani.com but before discussing a booking I like to talk, without the camera, to show my previous work and to let the couple decide if they want to include me in their special occasion.

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