We had a fun chat with Waleed Shah about how he got into photography as well as his passion for music. He is a chemical engineer by education who started his career working in the oil industry and slowly discovered his love for photography. Along with his friends, Waleed started a movement called White Cube to promote the local music scene in the UAE. He has also been recognised by Fujifilm Middle East as an official Fuji-X-Photographer.
Waleed’s photographs have been featured in local press publications from Timeout, Tempo, Abu Dhabi Week and The National Newspaper and can be found across the internet. Waleed’s lens has captured and immortalized many visiting international acts (including Kings of Leon, Benny Benassi, Fat Boy Slim, Rick Ross, Europe, and more), countless local musicians.
So tell us Waleed, how did you get into photography?
My journey with photography started off coincidentally actually! After graduating from university, my buddy and I took a trip to Australia and his roommate lent him a DSLR. It was a Canon something and he gave him a bunch of lenses with it. The camera gear became the main focus of that trip and I took the liberty to snap away. When we got back, I printed the photos and instantly fell in love. By now, I wanted my own camera - I picked up a second hand Canon Rebel T3 for 400 dhs online and started shooting. Funnily, I actually began doing paid commercial work while still using that camera and it wasn’t until a year later that I switched to a more professional camera.
What phone/camera do you shoot with? What do you love about them?
I’m currently on the Fujifilm system. I’ve got the X-T1 and the X-T2. There’s been a lot of advances in technology and most cameras have similar features; fast autofocus and lowlight performance, but Fujifilm do it while being lighter and more affordable than any other manufacturer. However, what made me fall in love with the system is the Electronic View Finder (EVF) that allows you to see the actual photo before you click the shutter (as opposed to the optical view finder of other DSLR’s where you don’t see the photo until you click and look at your screen).
What inspires you to shoot?
I'm not sure if this is a problem or blessing, but almost everything inspires me! It could be a place I went to, a conversation I had with someone, or even a line from a song. We’re constantly bombarded with information online and I can’t help but think, “oh that’s cool, how can I use it?”. Then there’s an overload of cool ideas and sometimes I don’t even end up executing any of them. However, when I’m on a job, I’ll remember one of these ideas in the moment and give it a shot.
How do you choose your subject?
They usually choose me to be honest since I’m more of a commercial photographer. So whatever the clients needs I shoot. But pictures tell a story, and I make sure the photos do it well by choosing the right lighting and angles to accentuate whatever story needs to be told.
What genre of photography excites you?
Music. Anything to do with music. I’m a musician myself (in a past life) and I love discovering new artists. Be it concerts or press shots for bands, rappers and DJs, I just love hanging out with musicians and performers; listen to them talk about their art and sometimes practice a little before a show. On some occasions I would find a free guitar laying around and pick it up for a quick jam. By living the full experience, my photos then become a natural part of the day and not so forced.
What sort of project drives your creativity? What is your dream project?
There are certain clients that I’ve built quite a relationship with where they say, “Hey Waleed, come do your thing.” I love those clients. There’s no brief or required number of photos and they trust me to put my heart and soul into it to deliver stunning images. These are actually the most challenging yet fulfilling projects because you end up with pretty unique images that everyone’s proud of.
My dream project would be to tour with one of UAE’s local musicians abroad. I think we’re a long way from that happening as a music industry in the UAE but I’m quite well positioned to do it once the opportunity presents itself.
What is the hardest thing about photography?
For me its patience and I think that goes for most artists. I can’t wait to showcase my work to the world and that backfires sometimes. So I’m slowly learning to think long term and learn how to maximise the impact of my work.
What advice would you give to a photographer just starting out?
Read read read. Photography is both an art and a science. Without the science you're just a lucky snapper. Learn the science of how a camera works. Once you’re comfortable with the science, you can be thrown into any situation and still produce great results.
You can learn more about Waleed's photography and projects here: