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Tell us about yourself. When did you first start in photography and what other things do you enjoy doing apart from photography?
I am a portrait, wedding and travel photographer based in Las Vegas. My portrait and wedding work specializes in photographing the South Asian community which honors my culture and Pakistani heritage. I have recently expanded my business by combining my passion of travel with photography and am focused on using my skill set towards humanitarian and cause-related issues affecting women, children and animals in developing countries.
I’ve had my studio for 6 years, and prior to that photography was my hobby for many years. My first real understanding of how photography can be impactful and a tool to educate and make the world a smaller place was when I first saw Steve McCurry’s Afghani Girl on the cover of National Geographic. Not only is it such an iconic image, but it was taken very close to where my father grew up in Pakistan. Steve’s ability to capture that part of the world, and other dynamic ethnicities and bring it to the rest of the world in images has always fascinated me, and that is something I strive to do with my travel imagery as well.
What is your camera and brand of choice? Why do you use it and what do you most like about the product and brand?
I shoot with a Canon 5d Mark III. My first DSLR was a Canon Rebel XTI which I saved up for, because all my other girlfriends had one. I used money from a tax refund and walked into my local Best Buy and walked out knowing I had just changed my life. Little did I know the extent to how photography would change my life, but I knew that purchase was putting me on the right path. Canon just feels right for me, and I’ve never felt the need to question or jump ship to another brand.
What’s your favourite lens?
All my lenses are used for a specific reason, so there isn’t one lens that is my favorite because they all are used well for their purpose. The 3 lenses I use the most are my 85 1.2, 70-200 2.8, and my 24-105 4.0.
My favorite image I’ve taken is a beauty shot of a model in my living room. I had met the model at a local charity event and asked if she would like to collaborate on a shoot. We have done several shoots since then, but this particular image of her is a profile shot with her hair in a bun, and she’s wearing a beautiful jewelry set from India that she borrowed from her aunt. It encompasses all the elements that make my heart sing, a beautiful ethnic girl, wearing a significant item borrowed from a relative, representing her heritage and culture. It was taken with the 85 1.2 in my living room with 1 light.
Is there a camera bag your could recommend? What’s so good about it? Does it have any advantages or disadvantages?
I travel a lot, and have over the years gathered quite the collection of bags. But the 1 that I can not live without is my Jill-e rolling carryon bag. I purchased it so long ago, and I believe it is not in distribution anymore, but it fits all my gear in a rolling bag that fits perfectly into the overhead bins on airplanes. It saves my back from carrying it all on my body, and although it is a “pretty” bag, it looks like any other roller bag thus not indicating the large amount of expensive equipment it carries.
It has a slot in the back that fits my laptop, and everything fits perfectly inside with it’s padded compartments and personalized configurations. I’ve taken it to Africa, Europe, Central America and all over the US. It is something that I do not take out with me on day trips, so I typically end up taking a smaller day pack as well when traveling, but otherwise it’s with me at portrait sessions, weddings, and traveling around the globe.
We’re all on social media these days, but which one do you use?
I use all of them, but Facebook is probably the front runner only because that is where I connect with my clients the most of any network. I don’t have a business page there, so we have to be connected personally, which I think adds a little more to them getting to know me better, and vice versa.
I make a huge effort to get to know my clients on a personal level so FB is a natural extension to maintaining that relationship. When they have birthdays and important events, I comment and stay in contact with them, and likewise, they can see projects I’m working on, issues that are important to me and how I’m using my photography towards something other than just trying to run a successful business, they see me working on charitable and humanitarian issues as well.
Whose work or personality really inspires you to go out and take photos? How did you first come across their work?
This goes without saying that Steve McCurry is by far the biggest influence of my career and photographic style. I still remember seeing the cover of National Geographic with the Afghani Girl on my parent’s kitchen table and being completely mesmerized by the image. It is not only an impactful image, but at a time where beauty standards were blond and blue eyes, ie. Christie Brinkley, Cheryl Tiegs, etc and being surrounded with primarily Scandinavian descendants in Minnesota, that image showed me someone from my part of the world as beautiful and captivating. It was also taken very close to where my father grew up in Pakistan and where I had visited as a young child. I recently purchased a print of the Afghani Girl and have it framed in my office.
Steve’s work is hauntingly beautiful in how he captures the colors, culture and people in ethnic areas, often times bringing beauty to an area the West has confined to a particular stereotype. Through his imagery you can see he deeply respects and honors his subjects and does not use his images in a gratuitous or slanted way.
When was your favourite moment? What happened? Did you manage to take a photo or experience something? Tell us about it.
I’ve had so many favorite moments, but one that sticks out in my mind from the recent past is from a trip to Kenya in the fall of 2013. About a year before that trip I remember sitting down with my Mom and telling her that I needed to do something different, bigger, and more impactful than what I was doing by photographing portraits and weddings in Las Vegas.
I had an inner desire and need to photograph different ethnicities, pulling from my own Pakistani heritage, very much along the lines of Steve McCurry. And when I went on my trip to Kenya and visited and photographed a village from the Samburu tribe, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. There was a specific moment when I was photographing women in the tribe, and I knew this was the start of where I wanted and needed to go with my photography. I came home from that trip knowing everything had changed for me.
We’ve all been there, but when was the last time you had a bad day? What happened?
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever had a really bad day. There have been days that were challenging working with inexperienced models, or a demanding client, but they were all handled and I was able to move on from them. There hasn’t been a day that I sat down thinking about throwing away my camera. Every not-so-great experience has taught me something that ultimately moved in a better direction towards my goals as a photographer and business owner.
If you could go anywhere in the world to take photographs where would you go? Does this place have any significant meaning to you?
My dream location would be to go back to Bannu in Pakistan, the village where my dad grew up which is close to the Afghanistan border. There is so much undocumented family history there for me, the village my ancestors lived in, the missionary hospital my great grandfather and grandfather ran as physicians, and the lifestyle of my Christian ancestors who lived in a Muslim country.
Unfortunately this is an area highly volatile at this moment as it is primarily overrun by the Taliban, which makes it too dangerous to visit. But it is high on my list of places to one day visit again and photograph. I have fond memories from 6 years old riding a camel on my grandparent’s compound and chewing on stalks of raw sugercane.
Last book read? Well it could be a magazine, ebook or any other written form, but what was the book about? Would you recommend it?
The last book I read was “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. My best friend gave it to me last year for my birthday and I just got around to reading it because the movie came out. Yes, I would definitely recommend it, I think it has a great message but think more women would identify with it as readers than men. It is definitely striking a cord with me at this point in my life, as I feel as if I’m currently living in the “Wild” and “Eat, Pray, Love” phase of my life, ha ha!
Coffee or tea of choice? Spill the beans we want to know!
Definitely tea! My family is Pakistani, and as many of you know, Pakistan was at one point a British colony so there is a heavy tea influence in that area that was brought upon by British rule. My favorite…early gray with a splash of skim milk and sugar.
Food of choice?
Favorite food has got to be my mother’s Pakistani cooking. I grew up eating her cooking every day of the week, and with all those aromatic spices and flavors, nothing compares. A close second would be anything mediterranean. I’m not vegetarian, but I don’t eat a lot of meat, other than the occasional chicken.
Finally any advice to others? Everyone has a little bit of advice to give, so what is it?
My two cents is that everyone in this world wants the same things, food on their table, a roof over their heads, good health, to love and be loved. It is the basis for all human needs. Keep these in the forefront of your minds, and use this to help live a better life for you and your loved ones.
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