Tatiana Avdjiev is a lifestyle photographer originally from Bulgaria and is currently based in Chicago. Her portfolio captures a blend of authentic and intimate lifestyle content, often focusing on themes of family, connection, and creative expression. Tatiana’s work has been featured in 500px Editors’ Choice and in photography publications like Photography Masterclass Magazine, TimeOut Chicago, and Imaginarium Magazine.
Q: Tatiana, tell us a bit about what the photography scene is like in Chicago.
A: Chicago can be heaven for photographers, not only for its shiny side full of skyscrapers, lakefront, and other famous places. For me, it’s also because of the gritty and unromantic side—gray streets, graffiti walls, and homeless people. It’s very authentic and even painfully truthful to real life. Let’s not forget the weather—it brings all kinds of flavors and surprises!
Chicago also fascinates me with the mix of cultures, beautiful architecture, and various creative settings for urban portraits. It’s not only me—alleys, night lights, and the riverwalk attract many cameras and drones shooting from different angles. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of those photos.
Q: What kind of prep or planning goes into one of your shoots?
A: I always consider the purpose and location when getting ready and preparing the right lenses and lights. I make a list of essentials, which may include extra batteries, chargers, memory cards, softboxes, reflectors, and backdrops.
When I photograph people, I think of the clothing, hair, and props and discuss the models’ preparation. For portraits, I prefer timeless looks to create a classic feel for many generations.
It depends on what kind of shoot it is, of course. In some cases, I would just grab my camera and go with the flow.
Q: What would you consider to be three essential elements of a good shoot?
A: The fundamentals are composition, light, and subject (or object). Once you grasp those, you can master other skills, like technique, perspective, and from there, even break the rules.
There is something more important, though, and it’s a hidden element that completes the photo—the story behind it, the emotional connection, the enigma that captivates the viewer. Or—the way we label it nowadays—the scroll stopper.
Q: Do you have any tips for directing your models to achieve your desired performance or pose?
A: Directing people can be challenging, as some people try to strike the pose they have in their mind or freeze in an unnatural smile. I usually get them to relax by chatting with them while shooting, and by giving them prompts, like, “Pretend I’m not here and daydream,” “Gaze at the leaves,” “Smell your shoulder.” It doesn’t always work; it depends on who is on the other side of the camera. Some people bring so much of their personality, and are so natural and creative, that I learn from them.
Kids are comfortable in general. They are more genuine, follow instructions, and can transition more quickly to a pretend-play when given examples of life, like, “What’s your face if you don’t have to do math homework today,” “Pretend you love your sister more than you love your dog and give her a hug.” Teenagers are a different story; they need to be in the right mood to cooperate.
Q: When creative blocks strike, where do you look for inspiration?
A: Other works of art are always an inspiration for me—paintings, music, dance, books, photography (of course!), also the surroundings, whether it’s nature or urban setting, or a live event. When I exercise—run, swim, or ride a bike, I clear my mind and invite exciting insights to come. Although I usually don’t get creative blocks— I have tons of ideas, but never enough time to implement—I still need an extra spark sometimes.
Q: Outside of lifestyle, is there a genre of photography that you would like to experiment with shooting more of?
A: Yes, absolutely! I’ve always wanted to do more conceptual photography and bring some surrealism to my art. Also, experiment more with slow shutter-speed ideas that I started a few years ago. And, master fine art portraits.
Q: Your photos often connect to themes of family, expression, and sisterhood. Why do you feel these themes resonate so well in commercial photography?
A: I feel that commercial photography has shifted significantly in the last few years, even more now with the quarantine and work-from-home situation. It has lost the dull corporate monotony and moved to a more realistic, vivid, down-to-earth voice to connect more genuinely with audiences.
I’ve worked for large corporations and noticed how the formal executive scenery has turned into a social playground for regular people in the last decade. Brands want to be part of your family, and use more authentic imagery and approaches. They have become part of your extended family.
Q: Some of your work examines dancers and the practice of performative art. What comparison can you draw from photography and the art of expression through movement?
A: Dance is one of the most captivating and expressive forms of art. Having been a dancer myself, I’ve always admired the grace of movement. Now, when my children and their friends are dancing, I live through that experience again. Even though photography and dance are different, they both share some of the same essential elements, notably the emotional expression that enthralls the viewer, narrates a story, and reaches your soul.
Q: From your portfolio, it’s clear you’ve traveled quite a bit. What would you consider to be the most photogenic place you’ve been so far? Do you have any destinations you would like to eventually capture?
A: Ah, such a difficult question!
There are so many photogenic places that I left my heart at—from the charming tiny streets in the Mediterranean towns to the vibrantly-colored geysers in Yellowstone to the breathtaking views in British Columbia and ocean jewels like the rare Hidden Beach in Puerto Vallarta. I love novel places that preserve their authentic spirit and history. My favorite would probably be Barcelona for its great combination of culture, life, and scenery.
My destination list keeps growing. Some of the short-term plans include sites in Oregon, Utah, and Arizona. Next, I wish to visit Salar de Uyuni, Iguazú Falls, and Havana.
Q: Lastly, is there one specific photo from your portfolio that you’re particularly proud of? Why?
A: Although several photos make me proud, I am genuinely grateful for my photo Tears on the window, which was created in an emotional moment reflecting my soul at the time. It became one of the most popular photos, and it was first selected as an Editors’ Choice at 500px, then became famous in other places, and shared hundreds of times, maybe more, on social media and blogs. That unexpected widespread approval of my creative process boosted my confidence as a photographer and artist, and made me feel appreciated.
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