Yaroslav Danylchenko is an advertising food and product photographer based in Kyiv, Ukraine. Forced to flee his studio and apartment in the first few days of war, Yaroslav and his team have since relocated to different cities of Central and Western Ukraine. With only basic equipment and a rented studio, they continue to work remotely, but hope to return to Kyiv as soon as possible.
There was a moment to decide what is more important – my bag with photo equipment or a bag with medicine, basic clothes and food. Essential things are the only things that can help me and my family to survive. Because of this, I chose to leave heavy professional equipment, took with me only a laptop and a small ultrazoom camera.
While the commercial part of Yaroslav’s business is mostly paused, he continues to do post-production for clients abroad and retouch for his stock portfolio at Stocksy.
I think it’s understandable that the local advertising market is down and will be down for some time. We all have other priorities inside of the country. But at the same time to support our families, economy, army, and team, we need to work. Because of this, I’m looking for retouch projects abroad. I hope when it ends I will be able to fly for assignments to other countries or continue providing full-cycle photo production in my lovely Ukraine.
Prior to the devastation of the war, Yaroslav maintained a successful business relationship with McDonald’s Ukraine for almost seven years. It was in 2015, when the Ukrainian office of McDonald’s decided to start shooting more real products and they needed a food photographer. At the time, Yaroslav didn’t have any burger images to submit to the client, but that didn’t stop him. He headed to the grocery store, grabbed the ingredients he needed, and got to work. As luck would have it, the image he created that day led to a long and fruitful collaboration with the brand.
I received a brief, but realized that I didn’t have such images in my portfolio of sandwiches/burgers. The next day I went to the nearest supermarket, bought ingredients for some kind of sandwich, did some retouching and sent the image to the agency.
Fast forward seven years later, and Yaroslav has photographed countless images for the company’s advertising, including billboards and signage. The objective behind every shoot is to showcase the food in the best way possible to ensure that all elements within the photo — lighting, composition, subject — work together harmoniously. The food must appear tasty and delicious in the photos, while using the same ingredients used in McDonald’s kitchens.
We need to show the tasty meat in burger and dripping sauces, a combination of delicious textures.
Each project starts with TBWA providing a creative brief, which sets the direction for the shoot. While Yaroslav’s main role is that of photographer, his experience as an art-director, food stylist, and retoucher has made him especially valuable to his clients.
First time I was a silent guy who stood near the camera and tried to do my best only as a photographer. But now I think everyone on the set is more than just a photographer, food stylist, retoucher or producer. We can discuss some shots with the agency on PPM and advise how to do it in the best way.
Unexpected challenges can arise with any shoot, but working with food can be especially unpredictable. When photographing new products, it all comes down to trial and error, since the team is often showcasing products that have yet to be fully developed and brought to market.
For example, it’s not easy to work with shrimps, they have a specific shape and limitations to show them in compositions. When customers decide in seconds what to choose in a restaurant, it is our duty to help them recognize everything in the photo. We do a lot of unseen work. The final result often looks very simple, but it’s very complex in reality.
While Yaroslav’s main objective is to portray the best features of the product, with the help of lighting and solid communication, post-production is an essential component of every project.
It is very important to carefully work with colors, textures, details and shadows. After years of work, the retoucher knows the exact color of green salad or meat that the agency and client want.
Professionally, Yaroslav is having conversations with many people worldwide, trying to find new partners and clients. Thankfully, internet access enables him to do this. Before the war, Yaroslav was busy with local projects in Ukraine and didn’t have much time to become an international photographer or production studio. Now, he is working tirelessly to expand his business globally.
It’s not easy to concentrate and work when rockets fly under your head, every single day. I listen to multiple air raid sirens, something explodes from time to time that I can hear. Today is two months of full-scale war and we are used to all of these. We just have no choice and we need to deal with it, do our best till victory and after.
As a result of the devastation wrought by the war, Yaroslav is looking for remote work, as his production studio cannot currently offer the full-service advertising photography projects they are known for.
See more of Yaroslav’s images on his Instagram.