Fantasy Photographer Lucie Amulett: “My Favorite Look for My Models? Dirty With Ruffled Hair!”
A tough photographer with a heart of gold—that’s Lucie “Amulett” Věříšová. If you’re thinking of wearing heels to a shoot with this likable lady, think twice—she’d be quick to convince you it’s not the best of ideas. We’ve chatted with her about taking pictures in dark forests, about her models, and about her unusual (but superbly functional) production team. Read the whole interview, browse her great photos, and let yourself be swept for a while into fairy-tale worlds of fantasy.
Name: Lucie Věříšová
Who I am: A girl who just likes photography
What I photograph: Fairy tales and other nonsense… but above all, portraits.
When did you start taking pictures, and what got you started?
Just like anybody else with a phone, I’ve snapped a few thousand photos over the years… although my subjects have usually been missing some important part of their body. As for photography itself, I started playing with it about two years back, when I got my hands on an ancient reflex camera and discovered that it’s really a whole different world than shooting on a phone… and that I actually quite like it.
At first it was all just necessity being the mother of invention, because I needed to photograph the pewter jewelry that I make. The answer to the question of how best to photograph jewelry, a headdress, a crown, etc., is very clear (…on a beautiful woman!), and so it was also clear in which direction my photo experiments would go.
In January of 2018, I attended a course by the fantastic photographer Markéta Nováková, where I learned for certain that I had zero skills. So I then went on and studied what I could where I could, the basic rules and principles, so I’d at least know what rules I was breaking. Since then I’ve been taking pictures, pictures, pictures by trial and error in all of my free moments. In my opinion, this is the only process through which I can gradually learn a bit about taking pictures… but it’s taking long years.
Is there a photographer out there that you look up to?
Well, Markéta, for one. Her photos are simply perfect, you won’t find a single mistake. But Jana Pechlátová’s photos are closer to me as far as feelings go. That rawness and realness, and yet it’s all still fairy-tale. My almost-neighbor František Konopa takes fantastic photos as well. With him, I admire his unbelievable originality and inventiveness. I often find myself shaking my head at his collections, wondering how he could have had that exact idea. But to be honest, I don’t have a broad view here, and I essentially just live in the Czech social bubble. If I were an independent observer, I would definitely be interested in a complete different photo genre.
You come from “the nation’s Wild West,” as you yourself say. Does the environment of the Sudetenland—our western borderlands—influence you?
It naturally does influence me, and quite fundamentally so, considering that I take 99% of my photos outdoors in the nearby forests. Our Wild West has its own magic; it’s rougher out here, more desolate and frightening. For example there’s an enchanted forest here that’s too scary to go into not only for me, but also for my furry friend Yoko, who faithfully follows me on my trips into the wilds to seek shot locations. Sometimes I chew myself out for not having learned to photograph landscapes yet… so I’ve at least picked up a wide lens for my experiments, and maybe someday I’ll manage to ensure that at least a little of the atmosphere that’s in these lands will be in my photos too.
What makes a fantasy style more attractive to you than the traditional style?
Fantasy is a genre where you can still “play around.” Fairy tales are fairy tales, and they can take in nearly anything. Even though I have to admit that even for me, my “pain threshold” is getting lower over time, and the effects that I slapped into my photos at an industrial scale in my first year are now mostly something I only use with near-revulsion (artificial snow, rain, and fog are the exception—I simply love those). You can really get into your edits, and you can can feel free to shift colors in any direction you choose. And what’s more, naturally there’s a bit of a romantic hidden somewhere in me like there is in every woman.
You primarily use attractive women as your models. Where do you meet models like these? Are they professionals? How do you choose them?
In short, I’m lucky. About half of the girls in my photos are friends, relatives, and acquaintances of mine. Then there are a couple of actual models who came to me for TFP shoots—sometimes from truly far away. For a few of the photos in my portfolio, I’ve even got my clients’ permission to use them, and naturally the other half of Amulett Foto, “my” little Míša, has portrayed quite a few fairy-tale creatures herself.
My first instruction is always “take some decent forest shoes; seriously, don’t ride over here in heels.”
On your blog you write that some of your models gape in surprise when they hear what you’ll be wanting from them. Can you describe this kind of situation for us?
I can, but I’m not sure if I want to. Don’t want to stop all the girls from coming to my shoots… No, I don’t bite, and everyone has veto rights with me. And what’s more, we clarify the what and the how in advance. It’s often cold or hot outside, we climb up trees, bathe in swamps, and so on. My first instruction is always “take some decent forest shoes; seriously, don’t ride over here in heels.”
For example—one time a gorgeous pro model who was used to doing ad shoots in photo studios arrived at one of mine… I have to note that she made her way through the thickets up to the top of the peak with a grace that was all hers, even on those half-meter heels. At the top she got a sparring partner, a crash course in fencing, and a sword in her hand. It all turned out great. All the same I have to admit that for me, the best models are the LARPers. Those tend to be girls who aren’t shaken up by an ant or two.
There don’t tend to be many men in your photos. Why?
Because they aren’t out there. At least not the ones I’d like to photograph. My taste is in a different place than today’s trends, I guess. And I also think that snapshots are a better fit for men.
For me, the very most photogenic man is my husband, and I’ll gladly photograph him in any clothing at any angle, that’s just how it is… but the thing is, he’d bite my head off if I made his photos public.
I think that in short, you just aren’t going to see any men in my fairy-tale photos.
Your portraits also include depictions that seem as if snipped from a fantasy novel—a woman leaning against a tree with a hilt laid to her neck, a Harry Potter, Valkyries. Do you seek inspiration in literature, or in film, or do you ride the wings of your own fantasy?
Inspiration is everywhere. In movies, in books, in pictures, and in my head. But generally whenever I feel an idea is all mine for once, someone swiftly dispels that illusion. Every picture has already been taken, so now we all just keep making variations on similar themes. But fortunately these variations are innumerable.
I try with all my might to never copy, but the pictures (the photos) that have made the strongest impression on me simply do lodge in my consciousness and crawl out when I’m not watching. Just now I read a great Czech novel called The Listener. I’d really like to take some pictures based on it, but I’ll have to wait for future volumes, until more of the main character becomes visible than just their eyes…
Do you have to instruct your models on what to do?
Yes, I do, naturally. If a photographer has a vision to share with the world, they need to share it with their model, because the model can’t read their mind. Here and there I’ll jump around in the water in my overalls to show how I want “my” nymph to look, which must be hilarious for any onlookers… after all, I don’t look like a nymph at all.
But there are also models who don’t need any advice. Then you just snap and shout for joy. My favorites are the more primal pictures, where I let the girls clown around a bit—I just give them some guidance. During TFP shoots I often end up running, jumping, spinning, and so on… but for that, you really do need a pro model, one who can hold their expression even when they’re in motion. I can’t take that liberty with paying customers, of course.
Can the models themselves also bring in their own ideas about how they want to be represented?
Naturally, no limits on inventiveness here. I just have to make sure to agree on everything in advance, so that I know what to expect, and above all where to seek a location. Sometimes it happens that the topic they want goes against my grain; in those cases, I recommend a different photographer.
How long time does it take to prepare the model before you get started shooting?
That varies a lot; it depends on what we’re photographing. For children it takes about 10 minutes; adult models have to go through a make-up touch-up that takes about an hour. But what I like most of all is the “punk look,” where in short you get them dirty and ruffle their hair. Even I can handle that in about 20 seconds. Redheads are a special category; for those, any kind of cosmetics before a shoot should be illegal. But in all this I’m just talking about preparations after the model is on-site. That’s preceded by hours of my wandering the forest and seeking a site, making a costume, and similar silliness.
I have a fantastic team. A make-up artist, a hairdresser, the model, an assistant, a lighting assistant, and sometimes even a psychologist, all in one person—Míša.
Are your photos the work of a team, or do you take care of all the tasks yourself?
I have a fantastic team. A make-up artist, a hairdresser, the model, an assistant, a lighting assistant, and sometimes even a psychologist, all in one person—Míša. And two guard dogs to make sure that nobody ruffles a hair on the heads of us fragile women in that deep, dark forest.
You often spend up to hours editing a single photo. What’s your post-production workflow in Zoner Photo Studio to achieve that dreamlike, even fairy-tale atmosphere in your pictures?
Here yet again it’s trial and error. Naturally I’ve read articles and tips on how to do it, but I am very often guided by instinct. First I fine-tune the lights, shadows, and exposure. My first step often tends to be using the Radial Filter for brightening the model and slightly sharpening her. Then I retouch the skin, without yet leaving the Develop module, where I manage to get better retouching that keeps the skin texture, which is important for me.
I try out various presets, including a few favorites that I have, and then I move on into the Editor. That’s where I do my cropping, retouch away anything unwanted, do sharpening, and fine-tune her skin tones. Once I have more or less a clean picture, I play with the Liquify feature. In fairy tales, I’m not afraid to give my models an instant diet, shrink any double chins, and add volume to their skirts, dresses, and hair. But I do avoid enlarging their eyes and lips, because I feel like this reduces photos’ expressiveness.
I use layers and change and shift the colors. I often join several pictures into one, change the sky, or add that snow I’ve mentioned, plus other effects. I really don’t have one unified approach. Perhaps the only foundation that I stick to is one invaluable tip I received at Markéta’s course—and that’s to minimize the color count. If I manage to leave only two basic colors in a picture without fundamentally shifting the model’s skin tones, I’m satisfied.
The truth is that in the vast majority of my older pictures, I see inexcusable mistakes, but I’ve decided not to intervene. In short, once I have a photo (or we could call it a graphic) as finished, I don’t come back to it. I’d appreciate having a virtual colleague with a similar view who would constructively criticize my fairy tales through unbiased eyes before I declare them finished.
Does ZPS limit you in any way? And in what sense, meanwhile, is it perhaps invaluable?
It truly is invaluable for me, and we’re a great fit for each other. I’ve tried other, better-known programs too, but Zoner is more user-friendly for me. I don’t know any limits to this program. If anything’s limiting me, it’s my own impatience, rashness, and inconsistency.
What photography gear is a necessity for the way you work?
I can’t make do anymore without a Fujifilm DSLR and a 56 fixed lens with a lens speed of f/1.2. I don’t need anything more for a foundation, just a reflector, a good photographer’s backpack, and decent shoes.
On your blog you write that acquiring all the technology and other gear, plus the makeup and the costumes you use, has cost you a bit under $8,800. Is photography earning you a living?
Not a chance. Although I don’t take pictures for free anymore, I’ve counted out that it will be at least a year before I earn back what I’ve invested into photography. I have an irresistible desire to constantly expand my costume and prop collection, through which I apparently make up for my lack of an need to clothe my own self. I also have plans for a studio—or more precisely photography infrastructure with a built-in workshop and prop room. I’ve sworn to myself that I won’t spend more on photography than I earn. The truth is that if I didn’t take a wedding or a family or kid shoot here or there, I wouldn’t have a chance of sticking to even this rule.
You definitely have no lack of imagination. Is there a picture or situation that you’ve long been wanting to photograph, but there hasn’t been an opportunity or the right model?
I’d love to take pictures underwater. And I’d also like to photograph a fencing battle, but not the kind at craft fairs, with spectators all around. More somewhere out on a meadow under a castle.
Do you have any closing advice for photographers who would like to try a fantasy style too?
It’s a strain on your wallet, but it’s fun. As my better half likes to say: “Better than robbing grocery stores.”
Last updated 19. December 2019