MODA Chic Magazine Cover

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Photography is a big fat lie. With the big lighting setups and expensive cameras and today’s post processing technique we get images that are with pastel colored skies and perfect skin on beautiful women with small waistlines.

Alright, lets back up a little bit. You’re probably thinking, “Who the hell is this guy?” Allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Waleed Shah. I’m a photographer based in the United Arab Emirates. Well, at least that’s one of the hats I wear these days. The first question that everyone asks is, “Where are you from?” Well, I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of putting a label on me. Maybe I’ll tell you over a cup of coffee some time.

My journey started as a scientist. I’m an engineer by degree, an oil & gas man by profession, and (was) a musician by passion. In 2013 my friends and I started a movement geared towards giving the underground music scene in my city a voice. That movement turned into a full-fledged business, a production company with recording studios, live sound and photo/video capabilities. The photo/video part came about simply because I had a camera and took a few photos of musicians that would come pass through our studio. I got asked to shoot press kits and live performances and soon became one the of the most prominent music photographers in town. We shut down that company a year ago and that when I went off on my own to pursue photography full time. And man, has it been a rollercoaster.

Since then I’ve moved into the fashion and portrait side of things, got sponsored by Fujifilm and Magmod, worked for major brands like Red Bull and Sony Music, got a few billboards on the streets and taught a workshop at Dubai’s flagship Apple Store.

Now that I’ve established a bit of credibility, what was I saying? Oh yes, photography, big fat lie. It’s not a bad thing, its just the reality of the situation. Photography is distorted version of reality that serves a purpose. From makeup brands selling perfect skin to making new parents happy with a quirky photo of their newborn baby. Your perfect wedding photo is no closer to the truth than Kim Kardashian’s magazine cover. AND THAT’S OKAY! People have been trying to feel better about themselves or sell products since the beginning of time. Photography is a tool to do just that, and we photographers are in the feel good business.

I bet you were expecting an article about art and passion, and how I left my comfy corporate day job to pursue my dream and all that. Well, yes, that did happen, but how many times have you read that story? Instead, lets not waste the precious time you took to read this article and give you some real world advice.

Hiring a photographer is like ordering a meal, so:

  • Don’t expect a to get a Michelin star chef to make you big mac. You get what you pay for.
  • When you finish the meal you are expected to pay for it whether you enjoyed it or not. If you enjoyed it please come back, if you didn’t them please give the chef some feedback to improve. And feel free not to come back, but pay for the damn meal.
  • When you pay for a meal you only get ONE meal. Same with photos. You get the number of photos you agreed upon. Don’t think that you’re entitled to more photos just because they’re digital and they’re already there.
  • Don’t ask for the raw unedited photos because your have photoshop at home and your little brother can edit them. You don’t ask the chef to give you the raw ingredients because you have an oven at home do you?
  • In conclusion, understand the process and find a photographer that fits your style and budget. Just like you would when you’re buying anything else.

As photographers we struggle to make ends meet sometimes. Some months are great and others are more akin to hibernation. That’s just the nature of the business. To all the photographers out there reading this, here’s some food for thought keep food on the table:

  • Be a more informed person. Its not just about creating beautiful images. Invest your time in learning things like accounting, business development strategies and effective time management. You’re a one man/woman show so you need to wear all these hats
  • Diversify your income streams. Keep up your game in portraits, events, weddings and product photography. Teach workshops during low season and find ways to license old images again.
  • Finally, keep up with technology. Don’t fall behind

Well, I hope this was a good ready. My name is Waleed Shah and this has been my public service announcement