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

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.


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."


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.”


"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.


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."


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.


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.”


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."


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.”

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.


"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


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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.

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!

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.

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

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

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.

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

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)

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!

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.

Pays to have good-looking friends.

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)

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


damien martinet's picture

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

"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)

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.

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...

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.

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.