PHLEARN MagazineInterview with Maja Topcagic

Interview with Maja Topcagic

Maja Topcagic was born in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina and now lives in Sarajevo. She began taking photos when she was 19 years old. When she is not working as a computer science teacher in Bihac, she freelances for Trevillion Images, 500px.com, Art+Commerce/Vogue Italia, and WIN New York.

Between getting your degree in mathematics and computer sciences, when and how did your interest in photography come to fruition?

I began taking photos when I was given my first digital camera when I was 19 years old. I have never met the person who gave away his camera and sent it to me, but he changed my life. Since then, photography has become my greatest love. I always wanted to study at the Academy Of fine arts.


Would you mind sharing the story of how this happened? 

Yes, that was one of the most beautiful moments in my life, I finally could pursue my love for photography. Back then, I was taking photos with my mobile phone, Sony Ericsson k8ooi, and I would retouch them in Photoshop. Then my dream came true. From that day, I’ve always said: If you dream about it long enough, it will come true!


With being in school and earning a degree in computer science and mathematics, how did you learn about photography? Are you entirely self-taught or did you take classes for this as well? 

I am an entirely self-taught photographer and retoucher. I never took classes, but I have learned some things online, yaay tutorials! 

Now finally, I can learn some interesting Retouching processes in Photoshop, without researching how to do that all by myself like I used to do. It’s so much easier to have a professional to tell you where are you wrong and right, and it takes less time to learn and do it!

If you are self-taught in photography, what were some of the most important things you found along the way in relation to the development of your photography? 

The most important thing I found is keeping my images safe on an external hard drive, or a few of them. If you lose your work you built for a few years, you’re stuck. The second thing is that you don’t have to have the best camera in the world and the whole lot of lenses either, it’s the emotion that counts. If you can touch people’s hearts, you made it.


What inspires you and your work?

I find inspiration everywhere I go, or just by passing down the street. I imagine moments frozen and captured by camera. Also, I write down my dreams. Sometimes an idea bumps me in the head, but mostly I find inspiration looking at the world through my eyes. It’s often something interesting, weird and extraordinary. My work is inspired by movies, books,music, videos, ordinary people and conversations too.

As someone with such an artistic eye, does your career of working in computer sciences and mathematics ever benefit your artistic career? Can you explain to us the relationship you feel lies between mathematics and art?

Thank you so much! The fact is that I do not look at the world like others, I’m a mix of mathematics and art – as others assume.

For me, mathematics is an art too. Everything that we see in nature, we can mathematically describe and write using photography. Math and art are soul mates, and using these very natural things for a human being we can describe our world and our mind.


What’s on your gear list? (camera, lens, editing software, etc.)

I use a Canon 5D Mark II digital camera and 50mm f/1.4 Canon lens. Sometimes I use Canon 24-105mm f/4 for landscapes and interior photography. I use a tripod, natural lighting with a portable silver aluminium reflector and a remote control.

How important is Photoshop and post-processing to your works? Approximately how much time would you say you spend working on an image in Photoshop?

I edit photographs in excellent Adobe Photoshop cc. Programs for processing photos release a person’s creativity and allow you to be different from others. I love to compose several photos into one, or play with multiple layers. I do a lot of retouching, and I’m used to spending 10 hours or more in front of my computer editing photos. I would really want to work as a Photoshop Retoucher someday.


What is your proudest moment as a photographer/artist?

Definitely when I sold my artwork for first book cover, and when I signed a contract with Trevillion Images UK and a few more agencies later!


When coming up with ideas, what are your methods? Do you ever sketch out photos before creating them? Perhaps write out notes, daydreaming?

Yes, I sketch my images sometimes, when I want to create a composite image, combining many layers. I often write down my dreams. When I shoot fashion, I don’t

What is the ‘craziest’ thing you’ve done to “get the shot?” 

I climbed on a few boxes, from which I fell on the ground, and earned some bruises on my knee and arms. (image below)


Who are some of your biggest inspirations? Favourite artists, photographers, etc?

Katerina Plotnikova, Kirsty Mitchell, Oleg Oprisco, Diane Arbus, Phillippe Halsman, Henri Cartier Bresson…


Your series “Freckles” is constantly growing, and is always amazing. Would you mind sharing a tip with us as to how you’ve made the freckles stand out so beautifully in the photographs?

Lately, I have found inspiration in unique beauty that redheads with freckles have. Freckles used to be considered undesirable and unsightly, but today they have reached full splendor in the world of photography. I also think that every person is beautiful in their own way, so I find every person inspirational.

I use a freckle brush that I found on PHLEARN.com, and it made my life much easier. Thanks, Phlearn! In Photoshop, I make the details pop out with the detail extractor, so freckles are much more beautiful.

What is your favourite photo that you’ve ever taken?

My favourite photo is “See Through.” The model is Asima Sefic, my favourite redhead with blue eyes. Her eyes are so beautiful, like two oceans, make you want to drown in them. (photo attached)!


Your self-portraits are as beautifully executed and as astonishing as your portraits. Do you feel it’s important for an artist to experiment with self-portraiture?

I don’t think it’s so important, but it’s a whole other aspect of photography. Facing yourself on camera and in photoshop, it’s the weirdest thing ever!

Like drawing yourself with a piece of charcoal, you can’t ever get it right because you don’t have the right perspective of yourself. But it can be really interesting, when you want to shoot something, and don’t have a model


What are you currently working on?

I’m working with a lot of agencies abroad, I do photography and retouching for them. I recently applied for a job here in Sarajevo as a Photoshop Retoucher, it’s my dream job

What do you aspire to do with your photography and art in the future? 

I would like to travel some more. I would like to have the opportunity to be a professional photographer and retoucher. Even though it’s pretty hard to achieve in my country, I will put my effort in it, and really try to change it


Do you have any advice to offer us fellow photographers and artists about photography, art, and/or life?

Follow your heart. And remember the most important thing isn’t having the best cameras, lenses, and gear.. it’s the emotions that count. If you make an artwork which will touch other people’s hearts, then you have succeeded.


Keep up with Maja’s photography on her Instagram and Facebook.

Angela Butler

Freelance photographer and freelance model. Located in Calgary, AB. Happy to travel. M A K E A R T and (try to) love life.

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