Interview with Ismail Sirdah – Owner & CEO of Ismail Sirdah School of Photography and Author of “10 Underrated Photography Destinations”
- Name: Ismail Sirdah
- Current title/company? I’m the owner of Ismail Sirdah Photography.
- Year you launched Ismail Sirdah Photography? 2012
- What is your number one accomplishment with Ismail Sirdah Photography? I think my greatest accomplishment is helping some of my students produce work seen in major publications like Washington Post and Newsweek.
My ComeUp Story
- Tell us about your latest project “10 Underrated Photography Destinations”…What is it? One of the areas of focus for my photography has been travel, so I wanted to help put together a book that will help the next generation of travel photographers. I realized that everyone tries to visit places like Paris or London or New York City, but that makes it much harder to stand out. I encourage my students to visit locations off the beaten path, so I put together a book covering some of my favorite locations.
- How did the journey with ” Ismail Sirdah Photography ” start? I’ve known since I was a small child that I wanted to pursue photography. As soon as I was able, I accepted an apprentice position working with someone who turned out to be a career-long mentor for me. As soon as I felt confident striking out on my own, I started my own studio and later a photography school as well.
- How did you start believing in your own work? What made you launch the “Ismail Sirdah School of Photography” and encourage your students to make a career out of it? I think for me it was all about sustainability more than fame and fortune. It’s very rare for a photographer to see conventional success during his or her lifetime, but I was able to reach a point of equilibrium where I’m never in need of work and my passion is fully funded by my clients. I like to use that as a baseline with my students so they know a realistic expectation of how their career will go.
- What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started the Ismail Sirdah School of Photography? I’ve learned that the client doesn’t always hire me for my taste or my expertise, they often hire me because they need an image of a certain subject and they happened to find me. It can be difficult sometimes to change my vision on a project when it’s above and beyond what the client really wants. At the end of the day, I have to keep my clients happy and also feel confident in the images I’m creating.
- Breaking into the event photography industry isn’t an easy feat. What advice would you give young business people looking to form their own companies? Marketing tips? I would say you need to try and create something that sets you apart. If you’re not unique, no one will specifically come to you for work. It can be tough to stand out when there are so many free photography sites available nowadays, but with the right work ethic and creative bent I believe there is still plenty of room for standing out.
- Tell us about a time you were faced with insurmountable odds, yet persevered to overcome? I think I’ve done that just by reaching this point in my career at my age. There aren’t many people who can create a successful business in their 20s, much fewer in a creative industry that relies so heavily on seasonal customers and branding. That’s part of what I try to cover with my students.
My Daily Behind the Scenes
- What is your typical weekday and weekend like? What do you do when not working? I do a lot of traveling to scout locations and get inspiration. I also like to do an exercise where I take a simple photograph and try to use editing software to make that 1 original image tell 5 different and compelling stories. I think it’s important to hone your craft even when not working.
- Where do you find your inspiration? I find inspiration in the world around me. Some of my work is less fulfilling than others, but at the end of the day everything has a unique form and flow to it that it takes a skilled photographer to capture. Everything from a brick building to a snail or the clouds can result in a beautiful image.
- What is your role in the company now? And how involved are you in the day-to-day and overall operations? I’m the owner and CEO of Ismail Sirdah Photography as well as the owner and teacher at my photography school, so I’m extremely involved in day to day operations. Thankfully there’s a good deal of overlap between the two or I don’t think I’d have the ability to manage it all. I’ve also scaled back my teaching a bit over the years, so I have more time to pursue my passion directly.
- What songs do you listen to that psyche you up and makes you feel strong? I’m really big into EDM, but I actually prefer some of the more mainstream artists like Tiesto, David Guetta, or Deadmau5.
- What is one thing you do when you’re feeling stuck creatively? It helps to get out on the town and just walk around. It’s easy to become accustomed to the look and feel of a particular area which can leave you creatively lacking. Just getting out and going to different places will expose you to new imagery and that’s often enough to get the creativity flowing.
- What is the product or book you’ve created that you are most proud of? I think I’m most proud of the book I just released on Amazon, Ismail Sirdah: 10 Underrated Photography Destinations. I don’t see myself as much of a writer, but Amazon has been great about providing me with the tools I need to get my book out to the public.
- Why are you so passionate about event photography & headshots? Why do you think it’s important? With event photography I have a unique opportunity to capture some of the biggest moments in a clients life in a way that reflects all the emotion and expression of the moment. Event photography has been a great tool for learning how to frame and time my photos to capture the natural peaks in interactions. Headshots are the other side of that coin, when it’s often a forced perspective of an individual and every effort is made to extend a single moment or expression long enough to create the “perfect” image. They present very unique challenges and at this stage in my career I appreciate the challenge in my work.
- What photography equipment do you prefer to use? You know, the way technology has been advancing it’s almost more important to focus on the software than the camera or peripherals. It used to be that a DSLR camera was all it took to call yourself a professional and take photographs that stood out. Now, there are people who take pictures with their iPhone which have the same clarity and many of the same filters that used to pass for professional. That leaves the real pros with the need to focus on composition and the little details a professional software can provide.
- Is there anyone that you haven’t photographed yet that you’d like to? I’ve debated over the years if I would ever want to step into photojournalism. I’ve focused so heavily on the happy moments in people’s lives that I think photojournalism would really break me out of my comfort zone. I’m just not sure that’s something I really want to pursue. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
- Over the years, did you ever encounter famous people who were very difficult to shoot? Honestly it’s usually the unknowns who are difficult. With most celebrities they have a history of having their picture taken or being on film, so they take direction well and know how to create a desired effect. With a lot of private individuals, I often run into things like a family with children who won’t sit still or a dog that runs through important shots.
- What would you like to achieve before the end of 2018? I try not to focus too much on the future. I’m in a very good place with my business and my personal life so for now I’m just enjoying the moment and seeing what tomorrow brings.
- What’s one dream you’ve achieved that you’re most proud of and why? Frankly just being successful in this industry and being able to support myself through my passion is the biggest achievement I can imagine. It’s been extremely rewarding to have clients confirm that my work has value.
- Name a charity you are passionate about and explain why it matters to you. How do you show your support? I do a lot of volunteering for the local homeless community. It’s not really a charity, but I like to think giving back starts locally and there are a lot of people who have fallen on some bad times who really appreciate just having someone to talk to or sitting down to a meal like they’re an equal.
- If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your teenage self? Focus and stay persistent. Nothing happens when you sit around, you have to get out there and hone your skills. I can’t imagine where I would be if I had invested more time early on.