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Photography in Russia(n) Posted by on Feb 10, 2014 in Arts and crafts

Whether you shoot selfies by the bathroom mirror, take snapshots of your family at picnics, or do professional photoshoots, chances are you deal with photography in your life. When learning languages, we often chase the practical, “everyday” vocabulary, so arts and crafts tend to fall by the wayside. Let us go over some phrases that will let you talk about your photography!

Old cameras

Photo from Olga Filonenko on flickr.com

Starting with the basics, you may already know these ways of saying “to take pictures” (I will be listing the imperfective form first for verbs that have two aspects):

снимать, снять – to shoot someone/something
In an interview published in Afisha (Афиша) Russian photographer Sergey Maksimishin (Сергей Максимишин) says, “Очень легко снимать в Афганистане, а вот снимать на банковском конгрессе — это ужас” (It’s very easy to shoot in Afghanistan, but shooting at a banking convention is a nightmare).

фотографировать, сфотографировать – to photograph, also known colloquially as фоткать/сфоткать
Photographer Valery Nistratov, interviewed by the same publication, says, “Когда я фотографировал конфликты, мной двигал только природный авантюризм” (When I was shooting conflicts, I was moved only by my natural recklessness”).

Щёлкать, щёлкнуть is a colloquial way of saying “to take a snapshot of something.”

According to Denis Sinyakov, “…блогеров, которые сделали еще что-то кроме того, что просто щелкнули фотоаппаратом, гораздо больше, чем гениальных фотожурналистов” (… there are many more bloggers who did something beyond taking a snapshot with their camera than there are genius photojournalists).

You probably learned very early in your Russian-learning endeavor that picture you take is called фотография (please note that картинка won’t work in the case of photographs). The colloquial synonym for this is фотка.

Some typical adjectives to describe your фотография are:

Цветная – color

Чёрно-белая – black and white

Very often in Russia you need to have you picture taken for a specific document according to very precise requirements. This is somewhat different from the US, where you can have your passport picture taken in a drugstore. These are called фотография/фото на документы. Some types include:

фотография на паспорт – passport photo

фотография на права/водительское удостоверение – driver’s license photo

фотография на визу – visa photo (these can vary depending on what country the visa is to)

As far as equipment is concerned, most likely you will need a фотоаппарат (camera). Cheap point and shoot cameras are colloquially called мыльница, which literally means a soap container, probably because of their shape and overall flimsiness. Nowadays many amateur photographers in Russia are starting to use the higher end SLR cameras. These are officially called зеркальный фотоаппарат, which gets shortened to зеркалка colloquially.

The person taking the pictures is of course a фотограф (not to be confused with the English word photograph!). Back in the days, you would need some плёнка (film), but now you can make so with a карта памяти (memory card).

What kind of pictures do you want to shoot? The жанры (genres) are numerous and include the following:

Портрет – portrait

Пейзаж – landscape

Репортаж – photojournalism

You can also talk about genres using the noun съёмка (literally, a photoshoot). So, you can say, “Я занимаюсь портретной съёмкой” (I shoot portraits).

А вам нравится фотографировать? В каком жанре вы снимаете? Вам больше нравятся чёрно-белые или цветные фотографии? (Do you like taking pictures? What  genre do you shoot in? Do you like black and white or color pictures more?)

Naturally, there is much more to be said about photography in Russian. We have barely scratched the surface in this post, but hopefully this was helpful to get you talking about it. Let me know if you would like to have any other aspects of the art covered!

Finally, here is a short clip from the Russian cartoon Простоквашино about a “photohunt” (фотоохота). Шарик the dog is switching from one kind of shooting to another.


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About the Author:Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available on her translation site and on Twitter at @intorussian.


  1. Kristina:

    Thanks for posting this! Photography vocabulary is really useful, especially when you’re traveling in a Russian-speaking country. Could you also add some vocabulary about shooting with and without a flash? That seems to be a pretty common request in museums, theatres, etc. and would be useful for those traveling to Russia.

    • Maria:

      @Kristina Thanks, Kristina. Yes, that’s an important one! Со вспышкой – with flash; без вспышки – without flash. The ы is stressed in both words. Освещение is lighting, and can be естественное (natural) or искуственное (artificial).

  2. lila:

    wonderful! such a big help!

    • Maria:

      @lila Thanks, Lila. I hope you stop by this blog again soon.