Miss Aniela | Why the Personal Fuels the Professional

The Fisherman's Daughter

Applying creativity to every aspect of your work, especially personal projects, is one of the few ways to separate yourself from an energetic, passionate pack of photographers. Natalie Dybisz, also-known-as Miss Aniela, is a young, talented testament to this statement. Her career sprang from an experimental portfolio of self-portraits which quickly gained popularity on the photo sharing platform Flickr. Shortly after, she was offered solo shows in London and Madrid, spoke at Microsoft and with the help of her more recent work, spearheaded a whole new genre of photography – surreal fashion photography.

Miss Aniela will be the first to tell you that it’s her personal work and her endless pursuit of new creative approaches to photography that led to, and continue to propel her success – but don’t take our word for it. In preparation for her upcoming course on CreativeLive, Miss Aniela graciously agreed to sit down and answer a few questions:


How do you define surreal fashion photography?

The word ‘surreal’ can mean so much these days, from a slightly jarring expression in a portrait to a full-blown wide scene with bells and whistles that’s either shot in camera or composited in Photoshop. We come to associate the crazy scenes of Surrealists like Dali and Magritte with the definition of the word ‘Surrealism’ as an art era, but I define it as being anything on the barometer of strangeness. In my Surreal Fashion series I like to play with the boundaries between a photo and paintings, cartoons or photos from other scenes, bringing the outdoors into the indoors for example. But I also like to produce simpler fashion photos that have a subtler surrealism in just presenting the model as other-worldly as she can look.

Much of your early work focused on self-portraits. Tell us about what you learned from this experience.

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Courtesy of Miss Aniela’s Flickr

It was my education in discovering what I liked about color, form and lighting mood in making my images. I loved to experiment and just play with my images. It was not a conscious practice for fashion photography as I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go with my direction – I just ‘felt’ my way through self-portraiture and the fine-art I did [back then] has blended with my work in fashion and commercial work today. My self-portraiture was not so much a by-product of development but a full mode of expression that has evolved over time into using other models as my ‘go-to’ tools rather than myself.

What about personal projects in general – what role have they played in your development?

To some degree my personal and commercial work is inseparable from each other because much of my fashion work has taken place within shoots organized on our own creative terms, and jobs I’ve done have been proposed to me on the basis on my fine-art-led creativity. In other more niche areas of my personal work, for example my fine-art nudes, personal work simply allows me to express all facets of the inspiration that fills my mind and leaves me satisfied and able to concentrate on other more commercial briefs.

3) Flickr helped you build and audience for your work at the beginning of your career. What advice do you have for emerging photographers looking to promote their work in 2014?

On one level I’d say, just share your work! Your work really is the strongest promotion. All I did in my early years was just share it, nothing fancy, until I started to get offered and respond to opportunities for further publicity. But then again, there are so many photographers vying for attention these days – it might be worthwhile to think of innovative ways to engage with and build your audience. For example, making cool BTS videos, writing articles along with your work, identifying pressing worldly topics to discuss alongside your work, or some other ways of audience participation that can offer new ways of feeling fulfilled too.

Your commercial photo shoots are complex. Paint us a picture of the preparation that goes into one of these larger shoots. 

Any plan will center on the brief and the budget. One of the first factors to decide on is location, this can be the biggest cost, and the biggest shaping factor for logistics. Then we put into place the styling. Discussions will take place on what kind of specific model(s) are needed. We consult with the stylist to choose the models and also hair and makeup. We check in to make sure our regular assistants are available on the proposed dates as well. We are working more these days with set design which also requires preparation well in advance. It can take weeks of calls and moodboards to get everything into place, yet often commercial briefs have a short time turnaround… the more time we have, the better chance of getting our desired ingredients to make the vision come to life!

How about communication tips for working with a larger crew? How do you make them buy into your vision?

We communicate with the team prior to the shoot using moodboards, and also increasingly, storyboards – which are very useful for setting out the vision to the client, stylist and whole team. We have an illustrator mock these up for us. It’s the client and the stylist who are the most concerned with inputting on the concept whilst the other team members – models, MUAs and hairstylists – are in more of a commissioned role to happily follow the brief.

Girl of prey

When did you get into teaching? What are you most excited to share on a live, interactive platform (CL)?


There’s been an essence of ‘teaching’ in my very earliest talks and in my presentations at events throughout the years; presenting becomes mixed with demonstrating because people get so inspired by the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what.’ I began doing actual workshops in 2010, teaching levitation techniques for a while, then our attention was drawn into developing our Fashion Shoot Experience production. I’ve also written two books, Self-Portrait Photography and Creative Portrait Photography which are semi-educational, partly showcase.

On cL I’m excited to have an extended period of time to talk in-depth about a range of topics from practical to philosophical. I’ve never had a 3-day opportunity like this before to do that. It’s also the first time that I’m properly presenting a workshop with my partner Matt since all those years ago when we first did workshops. We’ve learnt so much since then, having worked with tons of models and scenarios. We’ve been talking about the cL content for weeks during our walks, meals out and evenings together so we’re looking forward to finally sharing our insights!

7) Where can we find out more about you and your work? 

For more on Miss Aniela, watch her Skype interview with Kenna!


Topher Kelly FOLLOW >

Topher Kelly is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor at CreativeLive. Follow Topher on Twitter@Topher_LIVE.