Avel Shah is a photographer and aspiring creative director with a passion for visual storytelling and capturing authentic moments. Based in London, Avel’s work has been licensed and exhibited internationally, and he’s shot commercially for clients ranging from Volkswagen and Expedia to International Women’s Day. We caught up with Avel to learn more about his creative process, aesthetic, and approach to capturing people and places.
Hi Avel! Tell us a little about yourself — when did you first become interested in photography and how did you get to where you are today?
I’m a self-taught photographer from London, England. I’ve been interested in photography as far back as I can remember, capturing landscapes, friends, and family.
In 2017, I experienced a big personal loss and it made me realize that life is too short. That motivated me to finally focus on photography as more than just a hobby. I started networking and collaborating with models, makeup artists, and stylists to build a diverse portfolio and website.
After a year of posting on various social media channels, I started to receive some interest from brands and individuals that wanted to work with me commercially. That’s how I got to the point I’m at today. I’m still very much learning and developing my style and skills.
You’ve photographed everything from commercial jewelry to political protests — what are your favorite subjects to capture and why?
I love shooting fashion, portraits, and dancers. I always plan in advance but leave room to experiment with new ideas and techniques on every shoot. These are the shots that I am usually happiest with.
I also really like the dynamic nature of events and protests. They are often unpredictable, which isn’t always a good thing but it makes documenting these moments in time really engaging.
How would you describe your aesthetic and what’s one of the most memorable project you’ve worked on?
I think I am still developing my signature style. Currently, I would say it’s moody and emotive with bursts of action.
The ‘Pieces of You’ project is one of the most memorable projects I’ve worked on to date. The project, which we planned for months in advance, was a collaboration with one of my good friends and we had a shared vision that we wanted to accomplish.
During the shoot, nothing went to plan — from camera equipment failing to experiencing four seasons in one day. It seemed like the universe was conspiring against us. Through a combination of perseverance and luck it still somehow all came together to tell the story we originally intended. We ended up shooting the final sequence in the sea during the freezing winter in England. That turned out to be my favorite shot and also the hardest one to capture!
Walk us through your creative process — where do you find inspiration and how do you ideate, create, and execute a photo shoot?
I find inspiration in music, film, TV, and sometimes just being outdoors. Before a shoot I will brainstorm, plan and research a variety of shots, lighting, prop, hair, and make-up ideas.
If it’s a commissioned shoot, I try to collaborate with the client at every stage of the process so that the final product is a solid interpretation of their original vision — with an injection of my style.
How does storytelling play into your work, and what do you think is the key to capturing a story within a photograph?
Environment, lighting, expression, props and clothing can dramatically change the story a picture tells and I try to remain aware of these factors when I am creating new images. I think the key to capturing a story within a photograph is partly being deliberate in what elements you include in your composition, while leaving out unnecessary components that distract the viewer.
In a commercial sense, I think storytelling plays an important role in selling a product. Rather than just pictures of the actual product, focus should also go into the feeling or lifestyle experience of owning or consuming that product.
Thinking back on iconic images that have influenced the social, political, and cultural landscape, do you think that photography has the power to change the world?
Photography absolutely has the power to change the world. I believe powerful imagery still has the ability to invoke positive change and the power to change the world by showing the viewer a perspective they have not before considered or been aware of.
If you could go back in time to when you were just starting out, what advice would you give to yourself?
I think I would give this advice to myself and to anybody starting out:
Be patient, read more, try not to follow trends, and take more risks.
How have your experiences with online and in-person photo communities supported your trajectory as a photographer?
I’ve made lots of friends and contacts through networking on social media and online photo communities such as Instagram, EyeEm, 500px, Snapwire and now Noun Project! These communities have regular competitions and ‘Missions.’ These are a great way to get some exposure for your work and meet some like-minded creatives.
If you could only choose one camera body and one lens in your kit, which would you choose?
I would choose the Nikon Z7 with the Nikon Z-Mount 50mm 1.8.
What’s a subject, person, or idea that you would love to photograph?
I have a concept for an underwater fashion shoot that I would one day really like to execute. In terms of a person I would love to photograph, the first person that comes to mind is Nas! I’ve been a fan of his music since I was 11.
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Creative Director for Photos at Noun Project and Photographer