Freelancer in the Spotlight: Krzysztof Baran
Our freelancer in the spotlight this quarter is Krzysztof Baran, winner of the prestigious International Boardgame Photography Award (IBPA).
Krzysztof has won the award twice, which is no mean feat because the competition is fierce. He currently lives in Poland with his wife Karolina, and together they manage Gryffinka, a YouTube board game review channel.
I messaged Krzysztof and was eager to ask him some questions.
TGP: Were you involved in photography before you started taking pictures of board games?
KB: Photography has always been a part of my life to some extent. I think I got my first ‘bigger’ camera at the start of middle school (though it was still an amateur one).
Once I got to Vocational Technical High School, I was able to spread my wings a bit. I was in charge of the school’s camera on every school trip and event.
TGP: What prompted you to start taking pictures of board games?
KB: My wife and I run a YouTube channel with extended gameplay videos. At the start, we did reviews where we would just talk about certain games. You know: an overview of the rules, impressions, what was fun and what wasn’t.
To spice things up, I started take pictures of various elements that would occasionally pop up in the videos. Soon I started reveicing comments like: “nice pictures”, or “I can tell your pictures are getting better”.
Reading all that makes you want to try even harder! I think that’s what started this whole adventure.
TGP: Among the work you’ve done, which project is your favorite?
KB: There are a few projects I’m really proud of, so it is very hard for me to pick just one.
Although it didn’t achieve a lot of traction, I think one of my favorites is a picture of Waste Knights 2nd Edition, where the miniatures are looking away from the viewer, towards the leaning sign.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t pick Everdell or Destinies… Don’t get me wrong: I’m very proud of them as well. It’s just that in Waste Knights, I used a few techniques that worked together very well. It allowed me to get the exact result I wanted, and that doesn’t happen every day. I like to think I managed to grasp the atmosphere of the game very well.
TGP: Is this just a hobby for you, or has it led to something more?
KB: As of right now, board game photography is still just a hobby, but it’s slowly becoming something more. 2021 Was a special year for me.
A number of publishers contacted me and asked me to take pictures for them, and that’s an amazing feeling. I can tell my work is appreciated. Who knows, maybe one day it’ll be my main source of income!
TGP: What was your favorite game to photograph?
KB: You sure like difficult questions, don’t you? (laughs)
I especially like dark, gloomy games that allow you to play with light and shadows. You probably know which title I’m going to mention… Yes, Destinies.
The more you get to know the game, the more ideas for a photograph pop into your head. It was like that with this title: it suited my taste perfectly. A dark world with lots of adventures, solving tasks… That’s something I really enjoy, which made the process of taking pictures really smooth.
TGP: How long does it take to create the perfect shot?
KB: There’s no cookie cutter answer to this question. Sometimes it can be 10 minutes, sometimes 2 hours. Let me give you some examples.
The Everdell picture and those like it are usually ready within 10-15 minutes. There’s nothing difficult about it: light the background, place the foreground in total darkness, and you’re done! However, the Abaddon picture from Destinies was a different story…
The construction process and suspending the dice from wires alone took me at least an hour and a half. Then I still had to set the light, which took me another 30 minutes. Sure, you can probably speed up the process with proper equipment, but I have to work with what I’ve got.
My main source of light consists of two cheap LED lamps that I bought in a local hardware store. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed to fix them by now. I have no idea what I’ll do if I fail to resuscitate them the next time something happens.
TGP: What do you think makes for a successful picture?
KB: First and foremost, it’s of paramount importance to convey the atmosphere of the game. If you’re also able to make it a part of some type of story, that means you’re very close to success. Also, don’t forget about the technical aspects, like lighting, focus, etc.
TGP: Which techniques do you employ to create the effects we see in a lot of your art? For example, let’s talk about the background.
KB: Recently, I’ve been experimenting with smoke, and sometimes even fire!
One day, I stumbled on an Instagram profile of a photographer who takes pictures of Star Wars action figures. A few of his shots used an interesting effect with fog and smoking guns.
I don’t usually message strangers, but I finally broke out of my comfort zone and asked how he did it. His answer was surprisingly straightforward: turns out he used an e-cigarette with a nicotine-free insert. Since then, you can often see smoke in my pictures.
I use it for various techniques: to create fog, toxic gas clouds, or just chimney smoke. Sometimes I also try to find gadgets to put in the pictures, such as rocks that I found on the side of the road, moss I collected from a forest, or a fake katana that hangs above the fireplace in my house. Often, all you need to do is keep an eye out. I’m convinced you can create a pretty good scenery with regular stuff you have lying around.
TGP: What are some of the challenges that are specific to board game photography?
KB: There are a few things that make a board game photographer’s life difficult. Let me try to list them, but they’re not in any particular order.
One of the biggest challenges is when there’s low-quality components involved: minis without details or with unwanted pieces of plastic attached to them will always look bad in the foreground. The same is true for bad graphic design. If the tokens or cards are plain ugly, you’ll have to try extra hard to hide that somehow.
I also believe it helps tremendously to know the game itself. I always play the game at least once. This gives you a better idea about which components work together. It can also be a challenge when you have a low diversity of components. A game with just a deck of cards can prove to be problematic.
TGP: How did it feel to win the IBPA not once, but twice in a row?
KB: The first time was a huge surprise for me. I submitted my pictures to the IBPA without any expectations. I completely forgot about the contest until I received a message on BGG that Everdell had made it to the finals. That realization alone caused a surge of excitement. And after the results came in…
I can only describe it as shock and disbelief, because the competition was very strong. But I wasn’t dreaming, because after the news broke, the supportive messages just kept pouring in.
The second time was even more emotional. My wife Karolina and I were eagerly anticipating the nominations for the finals and… it turned out Abaddon got picked. Again I found myself on a carousel of emotions! The closer we got to the final, the more nerve-wracking it was. I was actually in the process of taking pictures when the results were announced. Thankfully, the only witnesses to my laughter and silly dancing were my wife and son. (laughs)
TGP: Final question: where can we see some more of your work?
KB: All of the pictures end up on our Instagram profile, which is run by my wife. Feel free to drop by, it would make me very happy if you stayed for a while!
Please enjoy some more of Krzysztof’s finest work!