The Photography Lounge

Bella Kotak & Pratik Naik - A Photography Industry Power Duo.

August 27, 2020 SmugMug + Flickr Season 1 Episode 5
Bella Kotak & Pratik Naik - A Photography Industry Power Duo.
The Photography Lounge
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The Photography Lounge
Bella Kotak & Pratik Naik - A Photography Industry Power Duo.
Aug 27, 2020 Season 1 Episode 5
SmugMug + Flickr

On this episode of The Photography Lounge, your host Alastair Jolly is honored to be joined by not one but two guests in the lounge. A real power couple in our industry, the incredible Bella Kotak and Pratik Naik.

They discuss the real story behind how they both met but it will be up to the listeners to decide which story they believe to be true.

They also get into the interesting backstories of the winding paths they both took to eventually fall in love with photography and retouching. 

There is a discussion about the importance both of them put on personal/passion projects and how much the incredible communities, we have fostered in the photography industry, mean to the motivation, inspiration and love they have for photography.

Learn more about Bella:

Learn more about Pratik:

 Infinite Tools & The Color Lab::

Find out all about the features SmugMug & Flickr have to offer at:

Follow SmugMug:

Follow Flickr:

Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of The Photography Lounge, your host Alastair Jolly is honored to be joined by not one but two guests in the lounge. A real power couple in our industry, the incredible Bella Kotak and Pratik Naik.

They discuss the real story behind how they both met but it will be up to the listeners to decide which story they believe to be true.

They also get into the interesting backstories of the winding paths they both took to eventually fall in love with photography and retouching. 

There is a discussion about the importance both of them put on personal/passion projects and how much the incredible communities, we have fostered in the photography industry, mean to the motivation, inspiration and love they have for photography.

Learn more about Bella:

Learn more about Pratik:

 Infinite Tools & The Color Lab::

Find out all about the features SmugMug & Flickr have to offer at:

Follow SmugMug:

Follow Flickr:

Alastair Jolly: Welcome to the Photography Lounge home of inspirational conversations with the world's best photographers and the leading minds from the Photo industry.

Brought to you by SmugMug and Flickr,  join me, your host Alastair Jolly, as I go beyond the lens, and dive deep into the stories of what inspires and motivates the photographers and creatives that we all love and admire.

Hi folks on this episode of the photography lounge, it's going to be so much fun because I don't just have one person in the lounge today, but two a real power, couple of the photography industry. He is one of the world's leading retouchers. His retouching skills are utilized by the top photographers around the world, a great photographer himself, he's a true inspiration and a leader of many of the photography communities that we all love. And he finds time to do a little bit of entrepreneurship as well. 

She is quite simply one of the most creative photographers in the industry, crafting portrait images to portray a world of fantasy, sometimes from nothing more than just scraps of paper and gold paint, often, most happy with a glue gun in her hand, she manages to create stunning fairytale portraits that are incredibly powerful and empowering. 

It is, of course, none other than Bella Kotak and Pratik Naik. Hi you two!

Bella Kotak: Hiya

Pratik Naik: Hi, thank you so much for having us. This is incredible. This is our first time that we're both doing this podcast together, actually.

So it is exciting. 

Bella Kotak: I'm really excited too. 

Alastair Jolly: It is, as you say, exciting to have both of you on the one podcast. I couldn't miss out on this opportunity cause so often both of you in different parts of the world, but where do we find you at the moment? 

Bella Kotak: Well right now, you'll find me in a house in Oxford, in England. Pratik has been here for a few months now.

Yeah. Especially since a whole COVID crisis started. You've been spending that over here. 

Pratik Naik: Yeah. I've been here in England for the last, maybe four or five months. So because of COVID and it sent me the opportunity to stay here a little bit longer. 

Alastair Jolly: Cause normally you're spending a few weeks together and then dash off to different parts of the world to do things.

So how are you surviving? Five months or four months together? 

Pratik Naik: It's good. It gives us a chance to actually be together a little bit longer. but also a great is it has really allowed us to work together and bounce off ideas and kind of just see how it goes. So it's nice. Considering normally, we only spend maybe a month or two together, and then we go to different places or we spend some time together in other places, 

Bella Kotak: With other people. Yeah. Yeah. This is weird. This is like just exclusively you and I months on end. Yeah, exactly. In your case. No end in sight. Because every time you coach, every time you're due to fly, your flight gets canceled.

Pratik Naik: Yeah. Yeah. My flight got canceled maybe three times. So I basically had to kind of rebook. Every single time. And sometimes it happens a day before I have to fly back home. So it's pretty interesting. Yeah. 

Bella Kotak: Listen, the universe is telling you to stay in England. Don't go to the States right now. It's fine. You are safer here.

Alastair Jolly: I know it's stressful, but at least you're both together and you're both safe. It would have been nice. We had originally planned to do this face to face. Podcasting is always much easier when you're face to face, but we're doing it over the internet at the moment. You know, it's great that we still get the opportunity to do this.

Hopefully we get to meet up soon, but most importantly that we stay safe, yeah, so many directions, we could take this podcast in, and I'm kinda struggling to know exactly where to start because you know, we know each other so well, but I actually kind of want to start with the story of how you two, both met each other know.

I know you've told this story before, but there are two conflicting stories going on here. There's one story that says you specifically set up a workshop in England, so you could meet Bella. There's another story. It says Bella specifically went to that workshop so she could meet you. What is the actual story of how you both met?

Pratik Naik: What happened was I actually set up a workshop here in England and then Bella was stalking me prior to actually coming here 

Bella Kotak: Wait wait talking or stalking?

Pratik Naik: Stalking!

Bella Kotak: No I wasn’t stalking you.

Pratik Naik: Don’t lie to them. And then, so what happened was I did the workshop. And then she was the first one in the door and I was like, why is this woman so happy and excited?

And then I realized afterwards she was stalking me through. 

Bella Kotak: Okay. So his version is vastly different to mine. And we'll let the people who are listening, judge, which is a more realistic option here. So I happen to, I actually happened to come across Pratik's workshop by Lara Jade. Actually, she shared it on her Facebook.

And at that time I was following her and they happened to see it on my newsfeed. And I was like, Oh, this is interesting. A retoucher is coming to teach Photoshop in England. Nobody at that time ever came to England. I was seeing all these wonderful workshops happen in the US so I jumped on that immediately.

I was like, yep. For £300 I’m going to learn Photoshop. And that day I was so, you know, intent on learning as much as I could, I was the first one in the door and I was excited because I was early not because it was you. I was early for like the first time in my life, probably. 


Alastair Jolly: yeah, written in the stars then the first time you've ever been avidly for innocent. And it was, it was where you, you, you met your husband. So for £300, not only did you get a workshop but got a husband for £300

Bella Kotak: it was the best investment ever. I got like free retouching for life. Yeah. 

Alastair Jolly: So it wasn't the case of Pratik specifically, trying to get to England just to meet you.

It was, it was just that the stars aligned and you 

Bella Kotak: honestly, the stars really did align. I think he was meant to be here because he was actually supposed to see committed to this workshop. And then later found out that the frame awards were happening at WPPI

I got confused. He was actually, yeah. If he didn't have the workshop scheduled it and you would have gone to Vegas and I don't know if we would have ever met. 

Pratik Naik: Exactly. 

Alastair Jolly: It's incredible to think that just one little change of mind, would have meant that I never got to go to your wedding. 

Bella Kotak: Yes. Oh my God. 

Alastair Jolly: How long ago was that?

And it was at two years, you've been married. 

Bella Kotak: Yeah, literally two years and 27 days,

four hours, three minutes. 

Alastair Jolly: It was definitely one of the highlights of the year, two years ago when you both very rarely keenly invited me to your wedding. And 

Bella Kotak: that was, 

Alastair Jolly: yeah, it was such a blast. It was so many wonderful creatives at that wedding sharing that moment with you. 

Bella Kotak: It was really, really special to us to have all of our friends and family there, but to be fair, we didn't actually have all of our friends. Literally 

Pratik Naik: there was no space. Yeah. I wish we had, like a bigger, not a bigger wedding, but like enough people to attend, make everyone come because that would have been really fantastic. Yeah. 

Bella Kotak: It just so happens I have a really big family on my side and wedding venues being what they were they just. We would have loved to have had just maybe we should do a separate wedding just for our friends. Isn't it? Yeah. Let's go to Hawaii. Let's go to Hawaii together. 

Pratik Naik: This is the perfect time to do it. I wish, I wish you guys could've come, but you know… 

Alastair Jolly: There's a scoop here on The Photography Lounge.

Everybody who's listening to this is no invited to Hawaii for a second wedding. 

Bella Kotak: I feel like most people like we don't care,

Alastair Jolly: like we will go to Hawaii but can we not bother with another one? 

Bella Kotak: Yeah. I mean, honestly, it's true. It's a lot of, yeah. 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah. It was just, it was a beautiful day again. Thank you so much for letting me be part of that.

It was truly wonderful. 

Pratik, I want to kind of focus on you slightly. For a moment. I mentioned in the intro there that so many strings to your bow, you know, you're known as one of the world's leading retouchers, but you're also incredible photographer yourself, but you're also an entrepreneur you're involved in many communities.

Let's go back to the beginning of your career. How did you first get started in photography? 

Pratik Naik: Photography actually came in hand in hand for me with retouching. So what happened for me was I actually picked up my camera when I was in college. And this was about, I would say maybe 15 or so years ago. I can't even remember exactly how far that was, but I got my first, it was a rebel.

Canon Rebel XTI, and I remember, I was just so fascinated with taking photos with pretty much everything. Even before then. I used to have a point and shoot that I would take photos without kind of max it out for its potential. And so it just was something that became kind of like mental yoga for me.

It was just, I love doing it. And I had no direction what I wanted to do with it, except the fact that I like doing it every day. And so I remember. it slowly progressed into shooting people and portraits and models and connecting with people in person that I normally wouldn't get to do if I was behind the screen all the time.

So, I remember after that, I was thinking why don't, why doesn't my pictures look like magazine photos do? Why what's the difference. And clearly at that time, if you're a beginner the answer is always Photoshop. Like, yeah. Obviously, I can't and get any better being a photographer. Right. It's Photoshop.

That must be it. And so I jumped into Photoshop thinking I could totally do this. And I actually enjoyed that. I enjoyed the process of Photoshop because at that time I also had a background knowledge in Photoshop because of classes in high school. And so I just. Merge the two together and started kind of figuring it out on my own because at the time really wasn't much information with retouching.

It wasn't, you could just jump in on a YouTube channel and, and learn everything through like Unmeshs videos or something on retouching, or getting going to a website like mine to learn everything you want about a specific topic. It was much harder that that inspired me to learn as much as possible because I knew if the information wasn't out there, I could probably learn.

More by figuring out on my own and then taking the information and presenting it to people who might be interested in learning too. So that's how, like my, you know, start began with the whole retouching. I soon realized it wasn't Photoshop. It was photography, but I love the, the act of actually retouching photos and, and, and doing that.

And so then became. And progressed, a career in retouching just because I started sharing my retouching work online, my passion for it. So people started becoming more curious as to a, are you available to retouch my, photos? And B are you, going to also offer that as education. So those two questions kept coming up again and again, right.

Till I couldn't ignore it. And then I had to quit my job eventually to pursue that because it actually started taking over pretty much my daily life and I was a excited to do it, but also the demand was there. So it was a marriage of two sides. 

Alastair Jolly: So what was the job you were actually doing while you were learning photography and retouching. 

Pratik Naik: I was doing hotel management, actually. That was my, study in school. And then when I got out of school, I was working at a hotel in the administrative side of sales and catering for the better part of three years. And I remember coming home every evening, literally every evening for those three years.

And I kid you not there wasn't there wasn't like a holiday that I took off there. Wasn't a weekend that I took off. I might go and see a movie here and there, but I quite literally worked for those three years. Every single evening, because I knew I really wanted to do this and I just couldn't stop till I made it.

It was just this obsession. It's almost like when people pay me there, they're contributing to an obsession that is hopefully healthy, but here we are

Alastair Jolly: TBD whether it's all healthy these crazy late nights we spend in front of computers and that type of stuff. When did you officially set up Solstice Retouch? Is that quite early on?

Pratik Naik: It was, I would say, Yeah, it was, I think I set that up right around the time that I was working, and I was about to quit my job. And I realized I kind of had to set up a proper identity going forward. Otherwise it would have been really difficult for me to market myself accordingly. and it was a very specific decision because a I could've gone by my name, but the thing that I realized about, you know, retouching and marketing is that.

People tend to gravitate towards groups rather than individuals for some reason. So I knew I wanted it to be set up as an entity that could expand into having other retouchers on the team. And so I just set up a name that could be a brand name. and that's kind of what I went by. 

Alastair Jolly: And you didn't want people to just calling you Patrick, Nike.

Pratik Naik: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I was like, I'm done explaining my myself, you know, just use the brand name. 

Alastair Jolly: Patrick Nike is a bit of a joke for those of you that don’t know Pratik. So it's really exciting to know that, you know, you did come from that photographic angle into retouching, which gives you a great understanding of, of your clients, know of what they've gone through to take these photographs that you get to, to add your touches to 

Pratik Naik: yeah.

I'm definitely really grateful for that because knowing what I do now. I realized the potential of photography and pushing your boundaries is a lot further than you think it is like the only reason why we don't believe it is because we, it might not be on set or we might not see the raw files of other photographers.

But now that we have communities, I think it's great to keep your mind open and see a, not just how the other styles are of other people, but also being able to see and put your mind in that perspective of a, how would I have shot that photo if I was at photographer and you know, what can I do differently in my work and how can I integrate them?

Those things in my photographs and the limitations are, there are none. And, and that kind of surprised me to think that actually had a lot more to learn than I, than I expected I did. And that's maybe because of ego, you know, we all have thinking, Oh, you know, I'm, I'm, I'm doing okay. You know, there's not much left to do, but there's so much that we can do.


Alastair Jolly: absolutely. I'm also kind of curious. I think I would like to have met Pratik the hotel manager, 

Pratik Naik: I would have definitely greeted you and welcomed you and sold that room even. if you did not need it. 

Alastair Jolly: I wonder what he would be like now after 15 years as a hotel manager. 

Pratik Naik: Probably really depressed. 

Alastair Jolly: Well right now, probably cause the hotel industry, like many industries is not in great shape.

With the pandemic unfortunately, but, yeah, I can't get that image out my mind. Yeah, 

Pratik Naik: people skills. I tell you what, 

Alastair Jolly: so that's what it's all about it. I mean, gosh, that's why I had the career. People's skills definitely take them the same skills, but in a very creative direction,

 Bella turning to you.

I do know a little bit about your story of how you got started, but maybe you could share with your listeners because you actually got started in photography on, on Flickr. Right? 

Bella Kotak: Yes I did so Flickr was like my first proper introduction to photography. prior to that, I always, I've always actually been interested in the art of it because I do.

I remember that it was always like the one person that was always taking photos of any family event or whenever I was with friends and it always had the camera in my hand, but I never really saw it as. I never really thought of it as an art until I stumbled upon Flickr that I could access. So basically, like at that, when I was younger, I used to read, I really, really gravitate to fashion photography magazines, and, and I always used to tear them out more as inspiration to just have on my walls.

But the art of it that felt very accessible to me as just a normal person, was something, an idea that only evolved through Flickr and then seeing other normal people just creating really amazing things. And that introduced the idea to me that, Oh, maybe I can do this too. 

Alastair Jolly: that was good. You were an architect at this point.

Bella Kotak: That's right. Yeah. So I was really lost very early in my life. I knew that I wanted to pursue something artistic and I thought it was something in fashion design or perhaps fine art, but my parents. We are type of family. Well, my parents are the type of parents who really wanted me to get like a solid degree in something.

So I picked architecture just because I had the letters for ART in it. That's literally the only reason I can't believe I did it now, when I think back, 

Alastair Jolly: wow. That's quite a reason to choose a career. The, 

Bella Kotak: because I see an investment of time as well, because it takes a good seven years to actually become a quantified architect.

So while I was pursuing that we needed to learn Photoshop and it just so happened at that coincided when I was discovering Flickr. And I thought, well, a lot of these people that I was following, and Joel Robson was actually one of them, was using Photoshop quite heavily in their photos. So I thought, well, this is cool.

Maybe I'll take some photos and sort of Photoshopping them become really great at Photoshop. And then, you know, become like the first in my class who really showed my days off where the beautifully and that's how the passion began. So I started off taking self-portraits because on Flickr the 365 project was incredibly popular, especially with young people.

And I felt really like, I could relate to that project and yeah. So started taking a portrait a day, sharing it online. And before I knew it, I was like con like getting some kind of attention. I was noticing a difference in my work from like zero images to 100 images and then 200 images later. Well, this is, I can see an evolution and that evolution is ultimately, what's always inspired me, was photography.

I love to see the growth tangibly in a photo. And then, yeah, after that, I. Got requests to shoot friends and shoot family, and then shoot weddings and shoot portraits and pets and babies. And I quickly said yes to everything because, you know, you're, you don't know what you want and unless you can let go, and you don't know what you don't want, unless you give it a go as well.

So I just said yes, and it took a few years for me to ultimately really figure out what it was that really inspired me with photography. Like to really. Say no, to quite a lot of things that I realized were not bringing me joy or not sparking my imagination or inspiration as much. And that's when I began to really hone down on what was really my passion.

And it really was so fascinating how it came out full circle in a weird way. It came down to like the inspiration that I used to pull out a magazine. It came down to the inspiration that me used to get when they used to shoot self-portrait. So I would go out, shoot with flowers, shoot with nature, and it will.

And that's, and that's sort of the heart of my work now, which is the things that I was gravitating to at the very beginning. yeah. And then all the lessons that I learned along the way, the, the details that I took, they all kind of came full circle. 

Alastair Jolly: Well, came full circle to where you are now. You know, the reason I know so much about your back story, obviously we're, we're good friends and we spend a lot of time together, but, you know, we were very honored to make a SmugMug film with yourself, the fabric of fantasy, and for anybody, who's really curious to see how Bella works. How she creates the stories that she tells, as I said in the intro, literally with a glue gun and scraps of paper. Right? Absolutely. If you're really interested to see a great film, a great story about her. Bella does a work check out this film at, the Fabric of Fantasy with Bella Kotak and that will give you a great insight to that.

That was a real fun time. 

Bella Kotak: Wonderful. That was an honor. Thank you so much for that opportunity to give me that place, to just share my thoughts and then just invite people into my photo shoots. That's that was really wonderful. It was a fantastic week.

Alastair Jolly: The honor was ours to be honest, then it just really great seeing you literally create things from nothing.

You have these stories that you, you've kind of pre-visualize in your head, right. And then you try and conceptualize those and tell them, and you know, the week that we spent with you, I literally saw you taking. You know, packaging from Amazon and crunching it up with a glue gun, and then you turn around and suddenly there was this beautiful gold head piece. Have you always been crafty like that? 

Bella Kotak: I have. I think I get it from my mum. So my mum is very like handy with her hands. She can make anything she puts her mind to. and she's really resourceful. And I really liked that. I think with a lot of my work, I don't invest a lot of money into it because I get scared that if they put too much money or spend too much, and I don't even have that much expendable anyway, that I won't do it justice. So I feel almost like quite better myself, if I'm able to recycle a lot of things that I have, and kind of create things on the fly and like really just with affordable things, I feel like that's.

Something that's can be relatable to anybody as well, because not a lot of people have like hundreds of dollars, they can just spend on something. So if I can create it for 10 bucks, then I'll do that. 

Alastair Jolly: Absolutely. And cause a lot of, a lot of the work that we see from yourself are kind of personal projects kind of passion projects.

We are telling these stories. so you want to be very conscious of how much you invest in and. A personal project, many of the podcasts I've had and the other conversations I've had, it's incredible how important personal projects are. And so this is maybe a question to both of you. How much value do you put on personal projects?

Bella Kotak: I put everything into it. I think it's the most important thing you can really do for yourself as an artist for you start off. I always say that when people start off in any sort of artistic field, they are chasing a personal passion. And then along the way, it kind of shifts and grows, especially when it becomes work and clients become involved and other points of view and to your little world. And sometimes it can get diluted, but personal projects bring it right back. Bring your passion right back to the heart of the joy. What do you like to create? What are you drawn to? What is it about you as an, what is it? What is the story that you want to tell?

And that's what a personal project means to me brings it right back to you and you can really push yourself without other voices holding you back and. A place where you can really just, you know, spread your wings and fly and show people what you're really capable of, like really capable. So I, I think it's so much that they do spend most of my time doing personal projects and then really curate the client work that I do so that I can still have that same sense of joy when I do Client work as well. 

Pratik Naik: Hmm. Yeah. I mean, I just think they're a waste of time.

Alastair Jolly: Okay. Moving on. 

Pratik Naik: No, it's really cool because I think, you know, for me, I think personal projects also inspire ideas. And what I mean by that is for example, this could even be things that you do, to learn, you know, other trades for me, like I started recently learning 3D design, creating in a 3D world online.

And I remember recently I was actually designing a camera in 3D and I don't know why I did it. I was just like, just curious to see if I could actually apply what I learned to it. And I was like, like, I don't even know why I'm doing this. It's not really going anywhere. What's the point? And then later, maybe just like two days later, I started designing one of my panels and it was a, it's an interface design on Photoshop.

And one of the elements of the panel was going to be the main element that you interact with. It's the main element that you actually create the things in Photoshop with it. And I actually ended up designing the panel based on like the architecture of the lens that I was designing. And I've realized that if I hadn't had, if I hadn't played with that thing in 3D or designed a camera in 3D, I probably wouldn't have taken inspiration from that creative project into an actual commercial project.

So we ended up getting ideas from places we don't even think about until it's time to actually execute something. And you end up actually going into your brain and subconsciously putting whatever it is that you've learned into your actual projects. So you just never know what's going to happen from something that is totally irrelevant to something that is relevant.

So I think with personal projects, they're meant to inspire you in ways that you don't even know yet. It's meant to just give you ideas and give you a track. To the future, especially 

Bella Kotak: when it's a place of chase, you're fun because you're just having fun. I remember you asked me like, Oh, am I wasting my time doing this?

Because I don't know where it's actually going, but I'm enjoying doing it. Yeah. And I said, well, then if you enjoy it doing it, then just keep doing it because you. Sometimes you don't need to see the road head. I mean, more often than not, we can't see the road ahead. You don't know where it's going to go, where it's going to lead.

But I think the important thing is that in the present moment, if you're enjoying what you're actually doing, then you're just, 

Pratik Naik: yeah. Yeah. And the thing about photography is. We actually don't have a future path just set up for us because if you ask most creatives, as you do Alastair and going through the other podcasts, you hear about how the road to where they are now actually is a really windy, strange road.

And that's why there's no specific path. It's, there's no like guide. If you do this, you will go there. If you do that, this will happen. It's just, it just isn't that way with our creative, with our creative journeys. 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah, I don't think I've met. I've met probably a handful of people who set out to be a photographer and this, in this industry, those, those tend to be few and far between certainly most of the community that I have, we all have some strange winding path that led us to a different career.

And you know, you definitely, it's definitely hard to, to. Visualize what that path might be you're ahead and where you may end up. But when you think about personal projects, when we first started our careers at that time probably hobbies, in many cases, you don't, we did it because we were passionate about it and because it was a hobby or something we just wanted to do personally.

And then when you realize you have the skills. To take it farther, then you start looking at career. But ultimately, we all started with personal projects. We were all practicing, and I think that's why personal projects, even once you're established in a career are so critical to keep you motivated and inspired, to keep you on trend, to keep you learning.

Just all those things that you did right at the start of your career are just as important now in personal projects are always a great way to move yourself forward and. You don't know what you don't know yet. 

Pratik Naik: Really good point, because, you know, I think with, with turning your hobby into a career, and I'm really glad you touched up on that.

It's something that I wanted to address because if you're listening to this and you're not a full time professional photographer, if you're not a full time professional, whatever it is, an industry, I would say don't, don't let your passion hinder on that feeling. Cause I had that feeling before as a retoucher, I thought, you know what.

I'm not legitimate until I make money doing this. And that was such a bad thing to think because although, yes, I did become a full time retoucher for many years and I was good at it. And I was very successful. The thing that I wish I told myself was not to put the pressure I did on myself about that aspect.

Just because you enjoy doing this as a hobby or for fun or for a passion, doesn't make you any less of a photographer. And for me right now, going through the journey as a photographer and taking that hobby very seriously, it is primarily just a serious hobby right now. And I have no ambition to turn that into a profession because I just love doing it.

And that's enough. Sometimes that's enough. You don't have to, you know, put money to it because if you ask somebody and I can say this, because we have so many friends who are full time photographers, it's extremely stressful. And you have to sometimes fight against those things that test your passion on a daily basis.

And so, you know, don't put those two together and feel like your feelings have any weight based on if you're a professional making money or not. 

Bella Kotak: So true. I remember early on not knowing whether I should ever, like when was the right time to call myself a photographer. Yeah. You're really right about that because.

Early on. I used to think that, Oh, if I earn money from it only then do I have the right to call myself a Photographer. Actually now I actually much rather to use the term artist then like for me, photography is just a tool to create the art. along with all the other things that I like to do along the way.

Like Styling. And because it brings together the love of styling My love for illustration and all the other passions, I much preferred the term. Artists, and it's not necessarily, they're making money off my art, but I know that that's just what I like to do. And that's the label I much prefer to use. 

Pratik Naik: I prefer artists.

Alastair Jolly: That's a whole other conversation. And I remember someone once telling me about I, once I once made the comment when I was starting my career, you know, I'm still an amateur. And someone said, you know, where the word amateur comes from, it comes from amore, a love of something. And there's nothing better than being an amateur.

There's nothing better than being in love with the thing that you do. So that always stuck with me that. Yeah, it'd be in the being an amateur really does mean that you love what you do. 

Bella Kotak: I feel like we are all amateurs at life.

Pratik Naik: Speak for yourself. 

Alastair Jolly: Shall we get deep into that statement there? Bella? What do you mean? You think you're an amateur 

Bella Kotak: constantly lost, not knowing what I'm doing. I love it. Constantly. Well, actually, I'm working on that. I'm working on I'm working on that and working on staying motivated. 

Alastair Jolly: You know, 20 minutes ago you said the first time in your life, you were on time for sometimes when you went to meet Pratik good. I remember the week that we spent together making the film, there was always that eye on the clock, Bella says she needs 10 minutes, which normally means two hours. 

Bella Kotak: Yes. So I work, I think, on an Indian schedule. So anybody who knows any Indians learn we are notorious for saying, yeah, we'll be there at six o'clock and everybody turns out at six 37.

Pratik Naik: Yeah, 

Alastair Jolly: I was actually just going to say, you're on a creative clock where you just kinda get lost in the world of creating all these things and making sure you've got all the right dresses and the right bag with the gold leaf in it. And another bag with the glue gun and the dresses and all the bag with all the accessories.

Bella Kotak: And don't forget, I'm not, I'm working by myself. Most of the time, there was no assistant. It was really difficult to like manage it. Everything in one, go and make sure that I don't forget anything. Cause he only wanted to pay the price was me, but I did. I forgot the ladder for one of those shoots. Do you remember? Then yes, ended up having to stand on the Pelican case to grab that shot of Jay lying in the flowers, in her Chinese or Asian inspired, like visual.

That was really fun shoot. And the light had gone and we had her husband, Jake Hicks holding the lights. 

Alastair Jolly: It was, it was fun. And really watching you do those, you know, real personal passion projects. It was incredible to see what one person can achieve. And it, from every, every angle from the styling to the makeup, to the hair, to the set design, to the photography, to the retouching, to the editing, it really was quite an incredible site to you, you pull all that together. It's really fun.

 I love, I love that conversation about personal projects. They are just so, so important. Let's move towards another subject I wanted to talk about, which is community.

something we are all, you know, really proud of is we have a wonderful community within the photography industry that we're all part of. But Pratik, I remember a conversation with you where you said you had had experience of being involved in communities prior to your creative career. 

Pratik Naik: Yes, actually.

Yeah. Interestingly enough, this was. Quite a tangent, but it's so important because, growing up and in high school, I think a lot of people had experienced gaming a lot. Everyone used to game that I knew, that my friends, but at the time actually gaming now that I look back at it was something really nerdy and looked down upon.

But, but now all the kids are definitely gaming. They're like part of the cool kids, which I'm kind of jealous about. But at that time, I played a lot of online games specifically, and first person shooter games. And I remember back then, especially it was looked down upon to play shooter games and things like that, where you had teams.

But I spent my whole summer actually doing that. I really wanted to actually be a professional gamer. That was my ambition. I put as much time into gaming as I did retouching. I don't think I've ever told anybody that except for you Alastair. Yeah, that's true. 

Alastair Jolly: I'm just going to share it with the world. 

Pratik Naik: Oh, now everybody knows keeping it all secret guys. And so I. I spent an entire summer playing games, thinking that if I just put the hours in, I can get good enough only to realize that, your reflex time is inherently genetic and you can improve it to some degree. But the, the fall for me was actually my reflex time.

And I actually wasn't fast enough to, to be in the top 10% in order to be professional. And so, but what I learned through that experience was I was able to figure out how to cultivate a team. I became a team leader. I found my own group, so that I could actually recruit people and I would go through servers or game rooms in order to find the best talent and convince them to be part of my team. It all started with finding one person that was relatively good and then eventually forming a webpage and a group name, and then having like team colors and graphics. And then I started to go around to different groups and ask people what it would take to join our group.

And it turned out that a lot of people just like being part of a good community. And if you're a good leader, someone that. You like to be around, chances are, they'll give you a chance. And I started developing and occurring a lot of really talented people to the point where we became one of the best teams at that time in the game. And so I was really bad. So they made fun of me cause I was like the worst player that ever seen on this team that had everyone else better than me, but made me realize what it took to actually get a community together and not to be afraid to talk people that you think are really amazing and to what really matters in, in communication and an organizations.

And so that game taught me way more than actually school did when it came to managing and organizing a business. And that was something that I am really grateful for. 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah. A real lesson in surrounding yourself with people who are better than yourself. I have to ask, what was your group name? 

Pratik Naik: It was called The Shadow Walkers.

Bella Kotak: That's a great name. 

Alastair Jolly: Oh my goodness. 

Pratik Naik: TSW, because I was like, we always lurked in the shadows because we were unassuming taking down some of the best groups. 

Bella Kotak: Imagine if some of you Shadow Walkers, are listening to this now. 

Pratik Naik: Imagine probably not. Some of them went on to become really great players and yeah.

Now I can look back on that. 

Alastair Jolly: That's my son's dream at the moment is to be a gamer. I think it's every 12 year olds dream at the 

Pratik Naik: moment. 

What is, what is his favorite game right now? 

Alastair Jolly: my goodness. Minecraft Fortnite, Minecraft. Oh gosh. There's a whole bunch. I can't keep up. Cause it changes from week to week. This week, he's all in on fortnight.

And then it will be like that’s so last week. 

Pratik Naik: Yes. And they keep coming up updates 

and it's become crazy and gaming me, you know, what also has taught me too. Be more efficient with my Photoshop, because if it wasn't for online gaming, I wouldn't have implemented my Photoshop keyboards, the way that I did. And a lot of people now know me for the efficiency I have with Photoshop.

So that is, you know, thanks to gaming too. Yeah. 

Alastair Jolly: Here's an interesting story. We're so honored to have both of you as incredible ambassadors here at SmugMug and both of you use Flickr, which is incredible. But did you know that SmugMug started in the gaming industry? 

Bella Kotak: No, I did not know this. 

Alastair Jolly: Spill 

Well, this is, this is not a scoop, this is common knowledge. So when our founder, Don MacAskill or CEO started creating this piece of software, he really thought it was going to be a gaming software. he thought rather than people sharing photos as well, that wasn't even a thought of the team. He was expecting people to share imagery from game capture.

So like the world of Warcraft and all these places where people are starting to capture scenes and kills and all that stuff. A world that pass me by, by the way, Don thought there was a way that people could start sharing that information back and forward. Then that was the foundation of SmugMug. 

Pratik Naik: Oh, wow.

Alastair Jolly: Yeah. Back then the product was actually called ModGod. Yeah. Before we, and then, then people started to say can we share photos on this rather than just sharing our gaming stuff? Can I actually share photographs back and forward on your platform? Yeah. And that was where the commercial idea became well, we could be a photography company. And at that point, both our founders, Don and Chris MacAskill were extreme, passionate amateurs in the photography world really, truly loved photography. And they thought, you know, if he could turn ModGods into a photography product, that would be the right path. So that was what, 19 years ago.

Pratik Naik: Oh, wow. And so. have you, did you ever have to actually, game a little bit just to kind of comprehend the customer base too? 

Alastair Jolly: well, that was long before my involvement. Yeah. I was never, never a gamer. Yeah, no, I am old enough to like my gaming career was Pong. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, no, I'm not a gamer. I don't have that reflex that you were talking about it definitely don't have the reflex there, my skills, lay in talking with people, building community, people relations. And that led me to a 16 year career as a professional photographer then, then moved to SmugMug, which was, yeah 8 years ago, which is incredible now.

And that has inspired me and motivated me so much to get to work with people like yourselves and all our other ambassadors that has inspired my photography more than anything previously. 

Pratik Naik: And you know what that really shows because if you are not doing photography before and you were just somebody at some company talking to, you know, creatives to try to get them on board, People would kind of see through that.

And I think that's what the magic of this is that we can talk to you about things that we normally do and you understand right away. 

Bella Kotak: Yeah, I think so too. 

Alastair Jolly: You know what is incredible. That goes down to even, you know, our engineers and our help support staff and stuff. Most people at SmugMug are into photography.

You know, it's not a prerequisite, but it's certainly something we love is that, you know, you have a background in photography or a love for photography. And I know so many of my colleagues were customers of SmugMug before we became employees. So I definitely think it shows, but listen this podcast is not about me, its about both of you.

Bella Kotak: But it's a good point there that you raise them to be passionate in the creative field that you actually are in. Isn't it like if you're wanting to whatever, field that you ever want to work in to be passionate in it. And also if you have a company to hire people who are passionate already about your product or about, or in the field that you're in.

Alastair Jolly: Yeah. I mean, ive said this just before I spent 16 years photographing weddings professionally. And by the end of that career, you know, I had. I had lost a lot of motivation for the, you know, taking photographs.  I'm way more passionate about photography now than I was at the end of my career being amongst.

The best creatives in the world like yourself. just that being around everybody is just so motivating a thing that really brings us to the, the crux, of why we love our communities so much. Why community is so important is that the support, the inspiration, the motivation that brings in so many different.

Bella Kotak: Absolutely. Absolutely. I started cultivating my community on Facebook a few years ago. So we have a Facebook group called fairytales and fantasy with Bella Kotak. And I, at that time, that many creatives sort of in that realm of, in their niche of photography. And it's been amazing to see it grow this sort of, I didn't, we're still trying to figure out the name for our genre, whether it's like.

Fairy tale, photography or fantasy photography, or just stories telling photography. but it's so wonderful to see this sort of genre grow and our community is sort of enabling that growth at a speed. That really is surprising me actually, 

Alastair Jolly: How exciting to be part of a genre that you can’t even actually describe very well.

You know, I don't really know how to describe what we do. That's awesome. I wish I was involved with, in something that I didn't 

Bella Kotak: know. We've had many conversations in a group about this, whether we are like neoromanticism. So like, what is the name of this movement? Because that's what it actually feels like.

It doesn't even feel like a genre in photography actually feels like a movement and a movement that we are seeing spill into, the commercial world. So for example, I think it was Dior recently released a video and it was very magical and they shot it in like a garden in Italy and there was mermaids and nymphs, but like just, there was just some wonderful characters. It was very fantastical, and it just made me think, well, here we go. Like where? Yeah. Where. Like this is inspiring. These types of ideas, and these are brands to pick up on it. Yeah. 

Alastair Jolly: Well if you can't describe your genre. Maybe you could just call yourselves The Shadow Walkers. 

Bella Kotak: Yeah, that's a great thing. I'm stealing that name. That's a good one. 

Alastair Jolly: So, you know, we, for a long time have been very proud of our Ambassador community here at SmugMug and the wider photography community. But that is ultimately what led us to acquiring Flickr a few years ago is that desire to have a community element to our, our product base.

And it's incredible to see how many people are involved in so many different genres, so many different hobbies and topics and careers, all having this incredible conversation on, Flickr. And yeah, we're so delighted that both of, both of you use Flickr and, you know, just to, to hear those stories of, you know, I didn't know you had your star on Flickr and I now hear that all the time.

That is like, that's where I started as well. I love my community, there. Yeah. The first podcast we did on The Photography Lounge was with Brooke Shaden another great photographer who comes from the Flickr community as well. And, you know, she's, she's been on there for over 10 years. It's incredible. Just the people that we already know that you know, are involved in our community over in Flickr.

So obviously I would encourage people to go be part of it. 

Pratik Naik: The first, the first actual photograph I ever took with any camera was uploaded to Flickr. It was like a Teddy bear. I took getting my first like point and shoot. I wanted to test it out. So I put it under a lamp thinking while it could all detail and color.

And I was like, I am an artist. 

Bella Kotak: My first photo is shared on there too. Yeah. Yeah. It's just with the pointing shoot. Huh? 

Pratik Naik: Yeah, we should go find it again. I, 

Bella Kotak: I actually think I made it private.

Alastair Jolly: it's funny. You mentioned photographing Teddy Bears that'sthats how I started practicing my career as well. I 

Bella Kotak: Is this a common thing in Teddy bears?

Alastair Jolly: Well, they're there, they're accessible and don't cost anything. And I used to take two Teddy bears, black Teddy Bear and a white Teddy bear. And I took them well, I bought them specifically for this cause.

I didn't just happen to have two Teddy Bears, but I used to take them out into the garden, and I would sit them in and full sun light I would sit in them and shade, I would sit them in dappled, light. I would sit them, you know, at all different teams of day and just practice, taking that, those types of photography.

And then, you know, when I went into wedding photography, having a Bride in a white dress, the groom in black clothing with all different types of light, that really established me and my, my skillset, being able to photograph any type of light. So Teddy Bears are important. 

Bella Kotak: Alastair you're genius. That is so clever.

You learn, you learn so much about lightning exposure 

Pratik Naik: and then, and then the story guys you don't know is that, Alastair eventually got two Teddy bears together, got them married. And then he was like, this is my passion for weddings. That's how it started. 

Alastair Jolly: I have a whole community of Teddy Bears They are called the shadow Teddys

Bella Kotak: I'm so curious if you were also a part of the Teddy bear community. If you also started off 

Pratik Naik: Its our new group, 

Alastair Jolly: if you were affected by any of the topics on today’s Podcast, please call.

Bella Kotak: I would actually love it. If we did start like the whole group, just on like the Teddy bear, it's 

Alastair Jolly: It sounds so bizarre, but it really was so important in my career. Can you, can you imagine with my neighbors? My neighbor leaning over their window. And I was like, photographing those two Teddy bears

Bella Kotak: to be fair. I feel like if you're a photographer, your neighbors, have probably seen some questionable stuff. Anyway, we were 

Alastair Jolly: I don’t know what you can be talking about, 

Bella Kotak: my neighbors have seen all kinds of stuff. yeah, like wigs and this, and then they're like, what is going on in that house? Yeah, 

Pratik Naik: we were shooting model the other day and she had to actually warn her neighbors that she's a photographer.

She does weird stuff like getting on rooftops and all kinds of stuff. They had to tell her to make sure she had told them that it's normal. 

Alastair Jolly: There's things we do. How many times have you photographed each other? 

Pratik Naik: Ah, I photographed, Bella a lot actually, maybe six, seven, eight. One more. Is that like, maybe more than that?

If you consider like holidays and she's like, take a picture of me in front of this door 

Bella Kotak: so you can make sure you, 

Pratik Naik: and then she'll be like, no, no, no, the angles. All right. I remember on our first date, we went to Italy 

Alastair Jolly: Pratik are you a husband of Instagram. 

Yeah. I take it very seriously. 

Bella Kotak: You're getting free lessons and angles and posing.

Pratik Naik: We were in Italy was like our second date. And, we were going around Rome and she was already getting lost initially. Cause I let her like lead the way and she was like, I'm gonna, we're gonna, we're gonna be having an adventure. And then we went around and then we ended up. Same spot an hour later. That's enough.

I'm gonna, we've got to figure it. 

Bella Kotak: This is just how there's a metaphor for my life. Isn't it? Isn't it. You just let her go and do her own thing. She'll wonder get lost, confused and end up right back where she started.

Pratik Naik: And then, and then I was like, okay, cool. So then we went somewhere else entirely, to some of the sites we wanted to see.

And then I remember at the time this was. Maybe the first or second time she'd asked me to take her photograph. And then she gave me her phone, and then I was starting to take photos and she was like, why are you so low? Why are you taking features so low? And then I remember because she wanted me to like stand straight and take photos.

And I was thinking. Well, what I learned from retouching like Laura's photos or whoever is that if you want to take nice fashion photos, you gotta be lower and make them look taller. And then she was like, Oh, okay. Okay. So we like compromise a lot on different angles and, and, and like her best angles.

Sometimes she thinks her best angles, like one direction. 

Bella Kotak: It's true. I do have a favorite angle. 

Pratik Naik: Yeah. And then I'll tell her, actually it's not, it's actually going to be this angle. And then I would prove it by actually posting that photo. And she gave me permission to do it, i'd post a photo. And everyone's like, wow, this is so cool.

And then she would start slow, start opening up to some of like the other, other favorite features. 

Bella Kotak: That's actually, it's really, really true because I am one of those people that's really conscious. I'm very self-conscious, which is why I'm behind the camera more often than in front of it. So it's always really interesting giving it up and letting somebody else capture you.

And then they pick that, especially for somebody who's like a massive control freak like myself, that was like a lot. 

Pratik Naik: And I think that inspired me to realize that photographing people's actually really great because you're able to tell people that they're actually beautiful from more angles basically than the ones that they think they normally look at or, or showing them that they different side of them, they never really get to see.

And every photographer has such a different vision of it 

Bella Kotak: giving that sense of like beauty and then it actually does feed a sense of inner security.

Pratik Naik: Yeah, it really does. 


Alastair Jolly: I used to love that as a, as a wedding photographer. Honestly, every single client I ever had used to see to me. Oh. I'm not photogenic, you know?

And then, you know, when you're doing the showcase and shooting them, all the images in this knee, you know, they start crying because they're so in love with how good the images look like. 

Pratik Naik: It would be bad if they started crying. Cause it looked really bad though. 

Alastair Jolly: Could you imagine? Oh my gosh.

It's funny. After every viewing of the images, my wife, Heather used to say, did she cry? 

Pratik Naik: Yeah, 

Bella Kotak: that's really good. 

Alastair Jolly: I love that. You know, when you can. You know, make someone really, really love looking at themselves when, especially when they've opened with I'm not photogenic and I don't photograph well. And I hate looking at myself.

Pratik Naik: Yeah. Yeah. That's rough. Especially up to the date they get married. Yeah. You know, like they're getting married at the time and they're still thinking that imagine like all those years that have gone by for them not knowing anything else. 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah. But that's why I take photographs. Cause I hate getting my picture taken as well.

Pratik Naik: So is that an open challenge Alastair or are you telling people that every time they meet you, they have to take your photograph to see your best angles? 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah, I'm around all these amazing photographers, its about time I got a decent profile image. 

Pratik Naik: Exactly. Yeah, that sounds perfect. And I guess next time we were going to do that, I think that'd be a great idea for the next, like a conference or meetup or something.

That'd be really fun. 

Alastair Jolly: All take each other's new profile images. Yeah. Yeah. That would be kind of 

Bella Kotak: Pratik takes amazing portraits.

Alastair Jolly: we really should talk about them more and that's why. I consciously put that in the introduction that you're a great photographer because you know, you are world renowned as a retoucher, but your photography is incredible.

Bella Kotak: Yeah. Thank you very much. He has a real sense of like balance and lights and yeah, you're more experimental. You're way more experimental with lighting than I am. You've inspired me. 

Pratik Naik: Oh, thanks.

Bella Kotak: I mean, it was meant it was going to happen. You kept saying you need to introduce more lights. We never would do for sure. You always like challenging me to step into a world where I was. I was actually very nervous to do that. 

Pratik Naik: That's true. And I remember when we went out I would assist Bella on a lot on her shoots initially, and it, it, it stemmed from me assisting other photographers on their workshops and shoots and, and seeing their lighting styles and also seeing.

The raw files and understanding what their set ups were, environments they were in, when to add light, when to not have light, et cetera. And when I assisted Bella, I started implying or taking that information and applying it to, yeah, her shoots thinking we could massively improve this if we did this and still keep her style and Id' start to analyze the photos that we're getting really good feedback.

And figuring out the lighting styles that had the best feedback matched each other and what was similar. Yeah. And what was different and constructed that way. And so once we started getting this blueprint of Bella's identity of lighting, I was thinking we could take that identity enhance that by adding specific elements or enhancing the same elements that made her known for.

You know what her lighting style was. And so we started playing around and, and, you know, adding more lights effectively, and now she uses a lot of like loom cubes and flash and ProPhoto lights and things like that. So it was something that was really interesting seeing it applied and her discovering different ways of lighting.

Bella Kotak: That's true.

I shot weddings as well. And I shot them for about five years and I learned a lot of my photography from shooting weddings. And when you are shooting weddings, you, you learn a lot because you essentially sometimes the first shooter or the second shooter. And especially if you're the second shooter, you learn a lot by observing the first shooter, but I never had the opportunity to ever really shadow or.

Follow other fashion photographers or other photographers who in the genre that I was in. So I pretty much covered that path by myself, which took why it took so long. I think I actually took like three times longer than it would have had I had a mentor or creators around me that I could go assist on.

Cause I live in the countryside. Nobody was really doing what I wanted. Like I was inspired to follow. Yeah. But then, yeah, but then you were doing that, like you were out there assisting and supporting, and then you came and brought all of that wealth of information over and opened my world up, which leads me to the point that if you can.

Follow and assist other photographers in any genre or field that you're remotely interested in. That's where you get like your growth very quickly in, rather than focusing on like one photographer, like following 10, assist 10, assist five, assist 15, 20 different. Every photographer has their own vision, but you'll pick up so much along the way that you can then bring and feed your own craft.

Because the only way you can really grow quickly is through observing and then like implanting. 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah. And learn what each of them does well and what each of them does poorly and take all that knowledge and craft. Crafted to what works for you. I work with some, a lot of wedding photographers early in my career, I work with some terrible photographer early in my career, but it was a great learning.

Why are they doing that? I will never do that if I have my own business type ideas. So yeah, it's very, very important to, to work with other photographers. And again, it comes back to community is, is so important, but you realize how fortunate both of you are that. You're both creatives. You're both inspiring each other and learning from each other, but you're both open to it and willing to a lot of couples would struggle.

Being inspired a told what to do by the other partner, but the fact that you're so willing to learn and try things and take on those suggestions. That's really cool. 

Pratik Naik: Yeah, it is. It's, we're fortunate that way in Bella also helps with like, with me on my end, by showing me like really good angles and poses and the nuances that I look for.

So that way I can make sure I don't miss out on stuff because as a guy, I don't know if it's stereotyping, but for me as a guy, I normally. By nature, have a really hard time just understanding what the elegant poses are and stuff. And I feel like it comes really innate and naturally to her. So I learned a lot by seeing her working and getting the advice on my shoots that she comes on to.

Bella Kotak: I think it stems from a couple of things. One of them is respect. So you have to have like a respect for your partner and their creativity and their vision. You don't necessarily have to take onboard every suggestion because ultimately it is your shoot and your yeah. Your vision, but I'm always open to suggestions and I've always respected his point of view.

And then it's sort of like the stability in knowing that you're on the same team, that everything that puts forward is for the team. So whenever, like if Pratik suddenly succeeds further than I can reach him. I had the security that we're on the same team and it's the same with me. There's no competition.

His win is our win. Yeah. I really stand by your growth. I'm like your biggest fan. And I think that's important. And I feel like he's my biggest fan. Yeah. 

Alastair Jolly: Awesome. I think I'm your biggest fan. 

Bella Kotak: We are both your biggest fan.

Alastair Jolly: I love it. You're both on the same team. Team Shadow Walker. 

Pratik Naik: Yeah, we should just read it, bring it back.

You see how it catch it is. 

Alastair Jolly: I think it'll just; I think title the entire podcast

Bella Kotak: Rise of the shadow walkers 

Pratik Naik: wow. When is Star Wars opening you see? 

Alastair Jolly: There's been a couple of hints during this conversation about some of the entrepreneurial aspects to you, both of you. And I want you to give you an opportunity to talk about infinite panel and the color lab, which are taking you more into the software development side for the industry.

Do you want to talk a little bit about how that all started off? 

Pratik Naik: Yeah, sure, absolutely. it all started off actually maybe three or four years ago. I remember walking in a park actually, and Bella and I were walking in, I was thinking to, you should really, you know, give your colors out to the community itself somehow.

And I think at the time you were quite hesitant. 

Bella Kotak: I wanted to, I wanted to, I just didn't know how, like I, because it was doing workshops and everything anyway, and it was getting loads of questions about color toning in particular. And they wanted to do something in a digital world, but I didn't really know how I mentioned actions to you then that was kind of it.

And then you had more, ideas.

Pratik Naik: Yeah. And so we were like, what if we just do a site specifically for your colors? And we started initially, which was Fine Art Actions, and now turn into The Color Lab. Which is the And it was specifically about forming a community about, you know, color grading, getting all of the people that follow her into the platform and also sharing her color, grading work with people so that they can learn from her and see her layers.

And because when I was working next to her, I would find that the most fascinating. And I knew if I found that fascinating, I'm pretty sure that many people that. Where my students and her students would really be interested in that. And actions are such a great way of downloading someone's color set and studying and working through it and learning how someone found it.

Bella Kotak: Yeah. And it was really interesting because I never thought that that was something special. I actually was really nervous about it. Didn't you remember that? And I be like, Ooh, who'd be interested in this. It's you know, can't everybody do it? But you were there to sort of, yeah. Fine tune it. So, because you're more a pro in Photoshop, you were there to sort of harness everything that I'd like done and put it in a very comprehensive action way in a way that it translated beautifully into an action.

And then that's sort of something that we could then share with our community. And then from the first release, which was a Royal collection, I remember how proud I was that we'd made a product. And then the reception was amazing. Like it just sort of spiraled from there. We got so much good feedback.

People still use actions from the Royal collection today. It's still one of our top sellers and then it just sparked everything. So after that I started making more collections and then reaching out to other artists in our field that people that I thought really understood color and were able to craft a storytelling sense of identity with their colors. 

So Kate Woodman was one of them. Joel Robison, funnily enough was another one. I know you look after him as well. And Lillian Vu, who's a friend who is also in our genre. She creates really striking imagery and her color tones are very part part of her identity. And so I just reached out to all of these creators and they started making collections for us and we could then share that with our community. It's so great because people literally create a story selling colors and like two clicks. And after that, we started going into videos and more of a me, a different world, like showing people, well, this isn't like now that you understand the basis of color and color toning, let's show you how you can do it yourself at home.

Come along with me in all of those things, all of these were actually like Pratik's ideas as well. Like you feed me ideas and then we just implement them. And. 

Pratik Naik: Yeah. And basically the evolution of color lab came because we wanted to take that idea of just Bella's fantasy work and push it to not just that realm, but other types of photography and other different looks, 

Bella Kotak: other genres like portraits and weddings and food people use our actions on food photography, and it actually looks amazing.

Yeah. And landscapes and creating moodiness when you're digging those landscape shots, they translate so well. In other genres, it's been really, really inspiring to see people just take them into these different worlds 

Pratik Naik: and also the education side, because we realized that. Along with the actions themselves, people started to be very interested in learning how to do them.

So we started coming up with a lot of videos specifically about how to color grade, how to do retouch, all kinds of things that are in tangent too, but even more important than just actions themselves. 

Bella Kotak: Yeah. Always expanding. 

Pratik Naik: Yeah. Because like, even with her community and my community, a lot of them are overlapping too.

A lot of artists will use my products in her products. And so that's where kind of came into play. And simultaneously as that was happening, I think maybe it's been about three years now. I ended up developing an idea that I've had called The Infinite Color Panel, which is another color grading tool for Photoshop.

What's the difference between that and actions are that it's a, it's a randomizer, the it randomizes five different adjustment, layers on your photograph. And it uses the settings that I've had for my colors in my editorial and commercial work. So no matter what you randomize it, yeah. Actually ends up giving you something appealing.

However, with actions like Bella's, you know, you have a more intricate. Array of layers. So you might have like 15 layers or 20 layers that are handcrafted as opposed to this one, which is not handcrafted. However, it does have a, a basis of a, of a good blueprint when it comes to color grading. So a lot of people like to use the actions and then use infinite color, to take a spin on whatever Bella created and come up with something different.

So you can take something you have and create unlimited number of. Of uses. And so when Infinite Color came out, it was an extension specifically just for Photoshop. The community kind of really did blow up and we ended up having to create a group. I had to shift my business to kind of accommodate the growth of it and nurture the community, and also start thinking about future ideas and how I can get this product to more people's eyes. And eventually we ended up developing more tools. Like we have infinite texture panel, which is a library of tens of thousands, of pretty, really high res textures from stars to flowers, to anything you can really think of. It has AI in it.

So if you search for something, it knows exactly what you're looking for and it finds a photo of based on the word. And then not only that, but also finds similar textures from the texture that you're trying to find. Two other textures that are similar to it based on like the characteristics of that texture.

So AI has played a huge role in like my advancements for products. And so we ended up developing a whole new website called Infinite Tools, which is and it houses some of our other developments that we're doing. And we have so many other things that are coming that. We I've always wanted as a retoucher in Photoshop.

That's kind of how that started. 

Bella Kotak: It's so exciting because I get to play with these tools. Yeah. Before they go public and infinite texture, oh my gosh. It's changed the game because I would spend hours searching for like stock photography and then cutting things out of stock photography and Infinite Texture. It's like, Two clicks and I can pick like from 10 different butterflies.

Pratik Naik: Yeah. And they're yours for commercial purposes. So you don't even have to worry about like licensing or nothing. 

Alastair Jolly: Cool. That's really cool. Have you been enjoying that different angle to the industry, that kind of business world, that development world?

Pratik Naik: I'm unique because I really enjoy the community aspect.

I love seeing what people are creating with them. The admins admin side is something that I've always had a tough time with because it's not exciting, you know, in a natural sense, we always want to be creative as much as possible. so I've had to lessen the retouching time, which is, which is a interesting balance.

For me considering how I used to retouch pretty much like 14 hours a day. Yeah. But yeah, and, and, but I've embraced that role a lot. I've embraced, you know, how important it is because seeing exactly what it means to people to have tools that I never had when I started is something that I want to continue doing.

Not because of the money, but specifically, because I get to see people get excited again. The way that I wish I could get excited for when I started. So that, that for me was my biggest joy of all of this. I think people can see that when I interact with everyone on a daily basis and get so excited when they share their photographs.

Alastair Jolly: Yeah. The tools are really, really incredible. I have used all of them and I love them. And no wonder that the community gave you such a great response. They are phenomenal tools and I'll make sure to put all the details in the show notes where people can find links to all that. 

Pratik Naik: Awesome. 

Bella Kotak: It is so fulfilling to see people grow and you've, and you're following their journey.

And then they, then you're meeting them and they become your friends. That's something that I really love about our community is because people post regularly, they, and you, and it needs to become familiar. So like Emily is one of them. Our friend Emily Teague would post regularly, always comment and share her pictures.

And then we met her in real life and immediately knew who she was like, Oh yeah. 

Alastair Jolly: Another great SmugMug Ambassadors. Yes, 

Bella Kotak: exactly. And, but that's because of the community online. Like if you just share and you know, just interacting, we can see your growth. That's just so, so, so rewarding. 

Pratik Naik: Yeah. And it all comes back to SmugMug.

I feel like everybody we've talked about somehow. Yeah. We've all come back to his platform because I think you have this vision where like, you know who to look for and you know, who embodies what the community is about. And I think that's why we actually really enjoy being part of SmugMug is not just because the fact that we get awesome websites right, but the fact that we actually interact and engage.

With the people that naturally share the same passions. 

Bella Kotak: I think it's exactly that 

Alastair Jolly: indeed. We're very proud to have you all as, as ambassadors and, you know, it's such a great way to, to be together and, and we love helping people tell their kind of photographic stories. You know, there's so many different ways that we tell those stories.

As we can tell by all the different people we interact with that do all these different genres, some which they can't even describe what is, 

So what's next, you know, we're obviously still kinda, you know, deep in a pandemic. so what is next for both of you. Pratik you've obviously had difficult difficulties trying to travel back home to Texas.

What is next? Do you know when you're next travels are? 

Pratik Naik: Yeah, it's supposed to be in a week from the date of this podcast. However, I don't know what's going to happen. I mean it might cancel again, and, 

Bella Kotak: I hope so. I'm quietly hoping, like give, give, like give me an extra month. 

Pratik Naik: but I think. 

Alastair Jolly: I think she started the pandemic. 

Pratik Naik: I think so. Yeah, she did this just so that I'd get stuck ultimately.

I wanna, I like taking challenges on board and I think this is a challenge for me to see how I can adapt a, myself and my business, but also implement those strategies and help other people adapt their world. Because right now I don't foresee things becoming. You know, normal quote unquote, how they were, but I think there's still opportunity within that realm of a normalcy since everyone's kind of starting on a similar slate.

And that gives me the opportunity to figure out how can we take those issues that we have an adapt it to become opportunities. Like a lot of people have started businesses in the pandemic. Yeah. We've made masks. People have started learning new crafts and selling them. Like our friend Olga, who started making resin coasters and her business is blowing up.

So it's like everybody has potential. We just have to find what it is now and adapt and be creative and apply our creative minds to this problem. So that's kind of what my vision is. 

Bella Kotak: I think it has been really interesting to see how people have taken the time out to also pursue their passion project.

It's because they've got time now, a lot of the problems, a lot of the, I guess, excuses, a lot of people would had was, Oh, I don't have time to do that. I to say no time. Like, and the truth is when do you, especially, if you do are managing a career in clients and a family, it is tricky to find the time.

So it's been really interesting to see a lot of people sharing a lot of their passion projects online, just because now they do have. A week to dedicate to it or two weeks. And I feel like there's a lot of growth happening in this moment. and we're going to start seeing a lot of the results of that really soon.

There'll be really, I don't know. I feel like there'll be lots of writers who are becoming new writers and new music. It's really exciting. 

Alastair Jolly: Well, I just want to finish with one big question. How would you both like to see the photography industry grow or change in the future? 

Bella Kotak: I would like to see it to become a lot more inclusive.

I still think that were only just having this. Like for example, the black lives matter movement was really something that I felt was so important. It, I think it created a real change in the way that we've started to see the world. And I've noticed that, especially in various genres of photography, there's still not enough diversity.

There's still not enough inclusion of just yeah, people of color and highlighting the various sort of ambassadors. And I dunno, I just, I just feel like there could be a lot more that we can still do. And that's the change I want to see. 

Pratik Naik: Yeah, I want to see more shadow walkers. I think that would be no, I think, that's a great point and inclusivity is really fantastic.

Bella Kotak: Still a lot of tokenism, that I noticed in our photography, I feel like I've noticed, started to notice that a lot more viewing the world with slightly different eyes now. 

Pratik Naik: Yeah. and also when it comes to the industry itself, physically speaking, I think when it comes to engagement, because now with the conferences.

It's starting to change. I'm very curious to see what something would be people are excited about and we used to do, or we will do and continue to do so is, retreats that we have as photographers and retouchers, and those are extremely popular and there's a high demand. So I want to see more, maybe smaller scale events where it might not necessarily be retreats, but it could be photography events dedicated to a smaller community or different ways where people can come and interact with photography in a way that is exciting again, rather than just trade shows. I think that would be the way forward. 

Bella Kotak: I like the two more like creative shows, not even like a show, but just creative 

Pratik Naik: creativity into the show, because right now it's just here's booths. Here's people talking at booths. Here's people talking on a stage and you can hope to get inspired if you go to attend the right one.

But I think there could be more involvement with the people attending that would be more suited to like photographers, you know? 

Bella Kotak: Yeah. 

Alastair Jolly: I think that whole world is about to change dramatically. I think it's, you know, we had a big shakeup with the pandemic. People have opened our eyes to the value of the lack of value that we're getting from tradeshows and, you know, we, as a brand haven't exhibited at trade shows for a number of years, because that's not how we want to interact with our community. I think we began to realize within ourselves that the reason we went to these events was to be together with our community, not to just stand on expo floors and that type of thing. So pandemic certainly opened up people's ideas about how we're going to do that in the future. I'm excited to see where it goes and what it leads to. Yeah, that'll be good. 

And to your point, Bella, a hundred percent agree that we need more diversity, more inclusion, more equality within the photography industry. An industry that when I started was, you know, extremely.

Almost exclusively male dominant industry, we've had a lot of change in that direction, but not nearly enough. And then, you know, the inclusion of every, every community needs to improve. So a hundred percent agree with you there and you have all the support of SmugMug to help it any way that we can there.

Bella Kotak: Yeah. Think it's really cool. I started to see it. I started to see a lot of brands sort of embrace the, especially in the ambassador's they pick. I've noticed that a lot of brands are really being a lot more conscious about it. but I do still think there's like a way to go. Definitely. and I definitely think that on a scale that people can implement in their own shoots, I feel like, yeah, people can definitely start thinking more about inclusion in their own shoots.

And I'm seeing that as like, from experience, because I used to not actually think about that. before I never considered about representation before he was like, like, if I has some color and I'm just shooting my friends and I never used to think about the implications of my work on a wider scale until it was brought forth, to me, from other like my audience.

And they were like, hello, why didn't you shoot, you know, more people of color. Why don't you do this? Show more body shapes. And that's when. I started to get my eyes open to that a few years ago and realized, Oh my God, that's true. It's actually really important. I'll work does have an impact, even if we don't think it does the moment your work is out in the world.

Being seen by an audience, you are impacting somebody if I want. And I know personally that. I want my work to be a space where people can envision themselves connect to it and know that they too can be like the hero of their own world. And for that to be true, that means that I need to showcase that I need to embrace all body shapes and all colors and all styles and yeah.

Really show people that. This is you, this could be you and you are perfect. And you're beautiful too. Yeah. So I definitely can say that I've started to definitely be a lot more conscious of how I create my work. And I feel like a lot of photographers can start doing that too. Cause I know, I feel, I feel something whenever I see myself represented, like represented in, in any, in any genre and not just photography, but in movies, if I see like Indian characters in movies and I'm like, wow, That's so cool because it's not often that you do see someone that you can relate to as a person of color in the mass wider media.

And that's really important. I feel like the, yeah, we can definitely work more on that. 

Alastair Jolly: Like I said, at the start of the show, your work is not just powerful, but it's also empowering and we can do a lot to empower people in the decisions we make and who we work with, who we shoot with, what we show the stories that we tell.

 Both of you. Thank you so much for giving me so much team today, really appreciated the opportunity to have you both on the one show at the same team was, was such fun. There was no argument, which is, 

Bella Kotak: I mean, he did try, he tried a little then too. 

Alastair Jolly: You both agreed that you were a stalker and that 

Pratik Naik: she was a shadow Walker.

Bella Kotak: The reality is you as a stalker. That's the truth. I didn't know anything about him. Is that him? And then you stalked me. You stalked to my Flickr. Well, you did say that. Oh, 

Pratik Naik: you did know me more than I knew you, so 

Bella Kotak: yeah. I had no clue who you are. You were very quiet online 

Pratik Naik: so you knew me online before you met me in person.

Bella Kotak: Yeah. That's enough. We're going to have to agree to disagree. 

Alastair Jolly: So my technique at the moment, just to say nothing so these two can just continue and see what we capture here. So you used her Flickr account to, to see who she was.

Bella Kotak: And he's like, I have read your captions. And I was like, Oh, I thought this was a kind of girl. So I could see myself with them.

That that's exactly what you thought. 

Pratik Naik: That's, that's the accent I use as well also. 

Alastair Jolly: But what we have to do now is go back and find all those early

Pratik Naik: it's all there but check it out. 

Bella Kotak: I did, I actually did. I'd left it there. I've left my, older images, just to show people that look like, yeah, this is where we all start. It's okay. If it's not perfect, as long as you'd like, it 

Alastair Jolly: that's enough. I will obviously put in the show notes, all the details of where you can find both of you, but, Bella just remainders what your website is.

Bella Kotak: Yes. It's just BellaKotak.Com and you can find me anywhere I'm on various platforms with, just Bella Kotak. 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah. And Pratik where can we find you? 

Pratik Naik: You can just Google my name. 

Bella Kotak: Oh, you didn't? Stop

Pratik Naik: Just, Patrick Nike. 

And you'll find SpongeBob. No go to solsticeretouch, and that's going to be my website. and they're on the contact section. You will find all the appropriate links and details for everything that we've spoken about today. 

Alastair Jolly: That's wonderful. Again, thank you both so much for being an incredible couple, incredible artists for both being SmugMug Ambassadors, and more importantly for being dear friends of mine.

Thank you so much for your time. Stay safe and wherever you end up in the world travel well, thank you. 

Pratik Naik: Thank you so much. 

Bella Kotak: Thank you for having us. Thank you for being our friend too.

Alastair Jolly: Not just a friend a Shadow Walker 

Bella Kotak: that's it he's taken the way that it's happening. We're going to. Somebody start a Shadow Walker group.