Interview with photographer Neli Prahova

Eight years ago, Neli Prahova gave up a career in the City to follow her passion for photography. Today she balances a successful photography business with being a mum. Find out how she did it.

When did you first discover your talent for photography?

There are good artists, good singers, good dancers. I believe my talent is to capture people’s emotions. I took my first photos when I was 14 when digital cameras didn’t exist.

I also have my personal magic for creating the photos. The magic in my picture is a potion of my desire to photograph, my love of photography, the light that creates each photo, my clients, my imagination and my Facebook supporters.

How did you turn your passion into a career? How did you get started?

It happened naturally eight years ago. I felt that all I was thinking was taking photos. At the time I still had an office job in the City and I would shoot on the weekends and edit in the evenings when I returned from work.

There was a period when I had no free time and no personal life. When I had client enquiries that required more than my weekends, I knew it was time to take my photography to the next level. I gave my notice and followed my vocation. Now I’m working more than ever.

How hard was it to make that leap to freelance?

Everything that happens in life is for a reason. It was not an easy decision to leave a well-paid job and to follow my desire. It carries certain risks, investment in professional equipment, and obviously no guarantee, but for me it was the logical step to make.

I had support from my partner which is certainly a great help for any entrepreneur, but I also believe that if you do something you love, you will not fail. So it was all a logical and natural development of my career as a photographer.

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How did your career as a freelance photographer change when you became a mum?

When I turned professional I mainly focused on wedding photography. But when I became pregnant more than three years ago, I could feel my creative desires changing, urging me to use my new skills as a parent to create wonderful images that other new parents would treasure forever.

My biggest inspiration became my son whom I’ve photographed from the time he was in my belly, when I did my own pregnancy photographs, and then almost from day one when he was born.

I commissioned a lady who does professional knitting to knit a lot of baby hats, blankets and I also bought various other accessories, so now I have a whole collection for newborn and baby photography shoots. Babies are so unbelievably cute especially in those first days after being born.

What do you love most about your career?

Before I became professional my biggest satisfaction was when I succeed to capture something truly beautiful, whether it was a landscape or my model’s smile or the emotions of a couple.

But now there is nothing I can compare with the fulfilment I feel when the clients express their delight and satisfaction with my work. I get my satisfaction when people are happy and grateful that I’ve captured a beautiful moment in their life.

And what do you find hardest as a mum?

I guess like many mums I think the hardest part is finding time for myself. I can count on my hand the few times I had a coffee in peace alone reading a magazine over the last years. And those few times were when I was shooting destination weddings and therefore travelling on my own.

Being a working parent, any spare minute is spent answering an email or editing a client’s job. But considering photography is my passion and my work, I love the fact that often my spare time I still spend with my camera running after my boy or dressing him up for a shoot.

How do you balance your photography business with being a mum?

I guess the hardest part of being a working parent is that I don’t have enough time for my son. So many times I have to say ‘no’ to him because I have to work.

As any mum who is also a working parent will testify, this balancing business and family is a very hard job. I often swing between the feeling of guilt that I don’t spend enough time with my child or with my partner or that I don’t dedicate enough time to growing my business.

When you have your own business there never seems to be an end of the working day, unlike in the office where you can turn off your computer and finish the job the next day. I didn’t have maternity leave as such – I had my last portrait session a day before I gave birth and I photographed a wedding when my baby was only four weeks old.

From day one I never had the luxury of taking a nap with my child as I was always catching up on work. The days my son is not in nursery, my working day often starts at 9pm when he is asleep!

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What plans do you have to expand your business, and how will you do it?

I dream that one day I’ll have a team of professional photographers who share my style, my aesthetics and my desire to capture the perfect photo. However such a team takes time, effort and trust to find and create.

What’s been your favourite photography job?

This is a very difficult question. It’s like asking me which is my favourite song! I don’t have one as I have favourite songs for different moods and for different people. I love everything I have photographed with love, whether it’s newborn, children, wedding or event photography job.

Do you have any quick tips on how to take better photos?

There is something magical about capturing an image, a small piece of reality, and turning it into an artefact of that moment in time.

But in order to make the photo good enough to honour that moment in time, some knowledge and practice is needed, and a lot of patience. The more you learn, the more you practice, the more natural it becomes. There’s always something more to learn.

Regardless of which camera you use, my main advice is forget posing. For photos that really say something about your kids, forget saying “cheese”. Kids never do what you want them to do – ask them to stand still and smile nicely and you’ll invariably get scowls, creepy grins, and silly faces.

I quickly discovered the best way to really capture your child is to photograph them in action. Photograph your children being themselves, enjoying their favourite activities and experiencing new things.

What advice do you have for other freelance mums?

Learn from your kids. Learn to be inquisitive, curious and innovative. There are people who spend their whole life doing the same thing, following the same routine. They don’t question it nor do they realise that it stops their development.

But variety and innovation is the key – whether it’s the holiday place, the people you meet or the path you take in the morning. It’s not easy to be a freelance mum but it’s a challenge I love. Every day I watch my son grow and change and he is the one to give me inspiration to keep the innovation in my photography.

To find out more about Neli Prahova and to view her gallery of baby portraits, visit her website.