Q: What kind of camera should I buy?
A: I feel strongly about this question because I’m worried that people can get distracted by worrying about if they have the right gear. My highest selling photograph was shot on an iPhone 5S! It’s a photograph of these chairlifts in the middle of a snow storm, and we print that photo at six feet.
If you are after something other than your phone my advice to everyone is that if you don’t like holding the camera, like physically holding it, and the way it feels in your hand, then it doesn’t matter what the specs are. You’re not going to use it.
Sure, there are some cases where specifications can make a difference, like for instance the Hasselblad X1D medium format camera is so beautiful and nice to hold, but if you’re trying to capture a fast-moving toddler or something similar, your odds of success are quite slim because the camera doesn’t focus quickly enough.
Otherwise I don’t think equipment should be the primary focus. On that chairlift, that phone was all I needed and a something else may not have made the photograph any more successful or even possible.
So my advice is to find a place that has a lenient return policy and just try different cameras out. Hold it, go though the menus, because if you don’t like the experience and “how it communicates with you” then the sensors and stuff will have no relevance.
Q: What’s your favorite kind of project?
A: I normally get asked to shoot very specific kinds of things, like motoring, portraits of regular people, or earth-from-above drone stuff, all of which I love. But I especially like these unexpected experiences where I get to be many things for the client. For example, I had a shoot where I was asked to fly a drone over the Lower East Side, dangle out of a helicopter over Nayak, and then photograph a puppy in a Brooklyn studio—all for one project! Everyone enjoyed the many hats we got to wear.
Sometimes projects can take on a creative life of their own, where opportunities open up for more content and there’s a sense of improvisation and creative collaboration. Everyone on set feels ownership and knows they have a hand in creating great work. I like facilitating that and being a part of those situations. And the best thing is the energy on-set really comes across in the work. Everyone remarks on how they like these “hive mind” experiences and how it results in a better product for the client.
Q: In your bio you mention how you grew up loving to create things that delighted the people around you. What did you learn in that time that you carry into your professional work now?
A: It’s kind of a secret that I didn’t set out to become a photographer. It came largely because when I left Iran as a child, my memory got fuzzy from the shock of so much change. So I started taking pictures as a way to remember things. It was like my memories were my photos. These images and films I would make, they would become a part of my physical history—kind of inseparable from the experiences themselves. And the ones that were repeated developed more meaning. Later I realized how powerful that is: that even when I’m shooting professionally for a client, I realize that we’re creating part of that brand’s memory.
I also realized that because I had to adapt to a new culture that I had to become acutely aware of human cues and that has helped me make people feel comfortable who would usually be camera shy.
So I guess I see my shoots as like a responsibility to not just get an image, but to actually create an experience for people where they feel engagement. It’s like, life is passing, this may as well be more than just a shoot. It may as well be something memorable, because it’s part of our lives together.