British born photographer, Amir Shah, studied IT at college but his passion was always photography. He started as a freelance photographer and struggled towards his ultimate ambition – creating his own company. Miraculously, four years ago he managed to fulfil this dream by setting up his very own company in Manchester by the name of AKA Creative Ltd. Currently working with his younger brother theatre director Billy Shah, AKA Creative is quite the family affair. We talk to Amir about how he got started.
Zatasha Kiran: When and how did you become interested in photography?
Amir Shah: This goes back to a very young age when I used to see my dad with his SLR camera kit taking pictures of us all when we were growing up, he never ever let us touch or play with it or anything! So I guess I developed this burning desire from a very young age to be able to take pictures. I finally got to an age where I could afford my own camera, and I always remember that my composition was really good, that stuck with me. I kept buying different and better cameras to explore my talent with. It was more of a natural thing, I’ve never learnt or studied photography. I never once picked up the “Dummies guide to photography” it was always a case of knowing how I wanted my image to look and working out ways to achieve that through trial and error. I used to ask my former colleagues questions and drive them crazy! It got to a point where I had all of the technical knowledge I needed, and I just progressed from there. I’ve purchased every different type of lens possible, and I can now achieve any imagine I want. I feel proud to be in the position where a customer asks for something and I can say, “Yes, I can do that for you.”
ZK: What inspired you to pursue photography as a career?
AS: To be honest, at first, I started doing photography to earn extra money on the side, I didn’t consider it as a full-time job. It wasn’t until some friends of mine asked me to do a photo shoot for them that I realised I was a natural at doing studio style pictures and also really enjoyed it. I developed this desire to produce better photography in a studio, more fashion based stuff and other various styles.
ZK: What do you think makes you stand out from other artists in your niche?
AS: I think it’s too early to call me an artist just yet, but I think how I’m able to manage my images after the shot has been taken, makes me stand out. I don’t use Photoshop that much anymore. I mainly use a raw edition program which allows me to manipulate the image however I want but will still give a realistic and natural final product. I’m not into heavily photo-shopping my images at all, I don’t airbrush any pictures. I believe in good makeup, models having good skin and I’m quite picky about who I work with now.
The other advantage I have over so many other photographers to this day is being able to use Adobe Photoshop adequately when needed. I’ve been using it for 18 years now, that’s a long sustained period where I’ve learnt how to use it effectively. Even though I don’t use it much anymore, I feel that gives me an edge others don’t necessarily have. I know how to handle files, images and colours. You can probably see from some of my older images that they’re always bright and vibrant with lots of detail, and yes, part of that is from the camera, but I believe a huge part of it is how you handle the files afterwards. I streaked ahead of anyone at the time, and I don’t think anyone has come close to that. They use standard textbook ways of shooting, whereas my methods are fully evolved from years of progress. And that’s what gives me my unique, artistic touch.
ZK: What do you plan to achieve with your work?
AS: To put it bluntly, greatness. I want to be known as one of the best photographers ever. I feel like I’ve got the right skills and talent, it’s just about getting myself out there more and being put in front of people who can make that happen. One thing I know for sure is that anyone who sees my work is highly impressed with it. I try to dissect why they like it by asking “Why?” rather than just taking it at face value. I’m not only doing it for the love of it, I also want to be remembered across the world. I want to go international, I want to hit the states, Dubai and just go worldwide.
ZK: We believe photography is art and every artist has something unique about their work, how would you describe your style?
AS: The sheer amount of planning that goes into my shoots really shines through in my work, I don’t even use as much image manipulation anymore. A massive selling point for me is that I keep it as natural as possible, and that sets me apart.
ZK: What is the most challenging part of your job?
AS: Keeping every shoot original and unique is the most difficult and challenging part. Not everybody has the gift of creativity and originality but I try to do something different and new every time.
ZK: What is the best part about being your own boss?
AS: After working for so many people over the years and watching them do what they want, when they want, that has been something I’ve always strived to achieve. The freedom to do what I want and express myself how I want gives me peace of mind and harmony knowing that I don’t have to worry about the pressure of pleasing anyone else apart from my clients.
ZK: You work closely with your brother, does that enhance your work environment?
AS: I’m going to be completely honest, other people may feel it’s easier or better working with family, for me it’s not quite the same. I’m the ultimate professional, and I don’t treat them any different. If anything, I’m a bit harsher with them. If you speak to my younger brother who works with me, he will definitely tell you that I’m not an easy person to work for. I demand a lot, and I’m straight to the point. I guess it’s harder for them to put up with me and that probably makes it a little difficult!
ZK: In the art world it’s all about bringing new refreshing ideas to the scene, who or what is your biggest inspiration for this?
AS: This may sound a little pretentious – there isn’t really anyone who I follow but there are some photographers I appreciate and admire for their work. I have my own planning process and that allows my originality to come through.
ZK: What’s a typical day in the life of a photographer like?
AS: Well, I’m not your typical photographer! For me personally, every day is completely different. At the moment, I’m in Dubai on a job and I often travel within England for jobs so it can vary. No matter where we are in the world or where the work is we go there so I don’t really have a typical day. I never get bored and I’m always meeting new people. It’s a roller coaster, not everything’s perfect but I like riding it and long may it continue. Hopefully, I can continue to gain more success and grow as a person and as an artist and a company.
ZK: What has been your most memorable experience in the photography world?
AS: Last year I did a shoot in London with ex Miss England model, Hammasa, who was the first of non-English background to win the competition. That shoot was probably one of the best fashion shoots I’ve ever done. That was because I was working with an exceptional model but also because it was in London. In the fashion world, I think that’s quite a pinnacle to reach. I also find a lot of joy in taking pictures whilst travelling. Last year, I was in Dubai on a leisure trip. I took my camera and just started taking pictures randomly, but the quality was still great.
ZK: Where do you see yourself in five years?
AS: Consistency is the key to success in business so I pretty much see myself doing the same thing with a gradual increase in my company and work. Having my office and studio again, having people work with and for me on a regular basis, I want a domain. I’m not putting a time limit on when it should happen, I’m not a dreamer like I was ten years ago. I’m hoping through hard work and consistency I can grow.
ZK: You have worked with many different kinds of people in order to portray your art, what’s next in store for you?
AS: I’ve started to explore video, moving pictures. Directing is something that comes naturally to me, and I want to get into making films. Coming from a performing background and understanding everything that goes on in front of the camera as well, I think that’s something I could be very good at. I’m just waiting for that opportunity to come along.