As a kid, photographer Ilya Nodia absolutely loved the Russian TV show “Titans Wrestling.” It was a local TV channel that bought records of American wrestling and translated it. He fell in love while watching characters such as Hulk Hogan, Bill Goldberg, Sting, Kevin Nash, Diamond Dallas Paige and made his parents crazy while he collected merchandise and themed wrestling toys.
Can you blame Ilya? Say what you might about wrestling being fake, over the top, or a potentially bad influence for very young children, but there is no denying that it is incredibly entertaining! The spectacle of it makes it hard for anyone of any age to look away!
Another show that he loved was “Celebrity Deathmatch” on MTV, which seems like a pretty reasonable follow-up choice considering it brought all the madness of professional wrestling and combined it with Play-Doh figurines. Up the violence, up the gore, up the crazy with none of the real-life consequences? Awesome, I guess!
Fast-forward to 2018 and much to the delight and approval of his parents, he was not wearing tights or flying off the top rope to deliver an elbow slam to his opponent, but rather was then both living and working as an accomplished photographer in Los Angeles.
While being able to get big commercial photography projects all around the world, he still consistently went back to his hobby of looking for interesting people to photograph and write about. The “business” of it all matters, of course, but there has to be personal value in what you are shooting, and that is definitely something Ilya practiced and preached. This opened a lot of secret doors to the different lives of incredible people. This was how he found Simone Sherie in Santino Bros Wrestling Academy.
Oh yes, you know where this is going. He got to combine his two passions!
In 2014, Simone moved from Australia to Los Angeles, where she discovered a new life. Her dancing hobby was replaced by boxing, which was then translated into professional wrestling: a mix of entertainment, aggression, sports, acrobatic skills, and, of course, furiously energtic performances in front of a screaming crowd! I believe this can also be summarized as “adrenaline.”
Like Ilya, Simone madly adored watching Pro Wrestling during her childhood, and when she first entered the ring, she realized that she was waiting for this all her life. Whoever tells you not to dream big clearly hasn’t met Simone: started in Australia, moved across the planet, and found her true calling in the middle of a wrestling ring. Can you say “wow”?
Ilya’s idea was to make a mix of quality pictures with an “advertising” style, but at the same time, give more dynamic, blurred motion and toned colors. He has been recently trying to do it as often as possible; this method looks more natural, even if it's all a big production.
They found a free time slot at wrestling school, and Ilya brought all his equipment there. He was unable to scout the location before the shoot, but fortunately, his experience allowed him to still make great on-the-spot decisions based on what was available.
The main task of this session was to show a person in their environment, so he first focused on shooting portraits of her. Ilya is a huge fan of photographers like Dean Bradshaw, Joey L, and Dave Hill. As all of them are from the USA, American style photography is something close to his heart. He loved their approach in using a soft light on the portraits and wanted to achieve the same look.
For the images, Ilya’s main light is a large 140cm octabox so as to provide soft light for the model’s face. In some images, he added additional flashes for extra light.
Shooting the fight action itself was quite challenging as action looks at its best while in motion. This meant repeating the moves over and over again to catch the best angles and poses. He also had to pay extra attention to safety so the fighters don’t end up on him. What a testament to the athletic abilities of the fighters to be able to execute these highly acrobatic moves repeatedly and in such a controlled manner. The punches might be “fake” in the world of wrestling, but nothing is fake about these athletes and what they can do in the ring!
Ilya used HSS to capture the movements during the action shots.
He also used warm-colored gels in the images to add to the mood he wanted to go for.
The light he chose to use for this shoot was the Godox AD600, a powerful and fast strobe that worked on batteries. He always found them to be very reliable, and the price point is cheap enough that one would not go crazy if someone loses them at the airport or ends up breaking them in a fight ring.
The lighting for this set followed a very simple formula that gives wonderful volume to the images. He had the octa to provide soft key light to the face, another light at the back with a gel to provide rim light or mood, and natural light to fill the shadows. If it was still too dark, additional lights were then used on the walls and models.
He also states that if you do not have enough flashes, it does not matter; you can always take pictures of people first, then shoot the environment separately and make a composite instead.
In closing, Ilya loved the final results that were achieved. They were natural, dynamic, and of great quality. They would also prove to be very useful to Simone in her profession. I love so much about this story: the combined passions, the great final shots, and the journey on how they both got there. Well done!
All images used with permission of Ilya Nodia.