Shutterstock Custom’s Ali Rahimi on Building a Photography Brand

Building a photography brand is something that is invaluable to a photographer. By establishing a dedicated photography brand, you set yourself apart from the rest. What does building a photography brand mean? It means that when people stumble across your work, they know that it’s yours.

That’s why we went to the pros to learn how they do it. And one of those pros? Is Shutterstock Custom pro contributor, Ali Rahimi.

When Montreal-based photographer Ali Rahimi isn’t shooting food and product content for Shutterstock Custom, he runs his own Montreal-based photography studio. The professional photographer has more than fifteen years of experience, and consistently impresses the clients he works with.

In this article, we chat with Ali about his unique perspective on shooting custom content for clients at Shutterstock Custom, his tips on building a photography brand, and how he manages it all in addition to his studio.

Ali Rahimi
Location: Montreal, Canada
Portfolio + Instagram + Vimeo

Ali, how did you get started in photography?

I’ve always been passionate about art and technology. When the first digital cameras came out, it was the perfect combination of two lifelong interests. I was drawn like a magnet! In my work as a web and multimedia specialist, I soon found that photography became an asset in everything that I did professionally.

It sounds like you didn’t always know photography would be your job. When did that change?

Photography started as a hobby for me. Needless to say, it quickly became an expensive hobby, with new technology hitting the market every day! The more I learned and experimented, the more committed to it I became. I eventually had my first exhibition in 2007.

How did you then turn your passion into a career?

About five years ago, I was living in Dubai and made the decision to move to Vancouver, and then to Montreal. It was a tough decision, but one that led to a fresh start. It gave me the freedom to focus on one skill, take it to the next level, and try to master it. That was when I started Foodivine, my commercial photography and image creation studio. Today, we’re a team of creatives including video and creative directors, food stylists, photo editors and video editors.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome to reach this point in your career?

Launching a startup in a new country comes with many concerns, but fear of failure was the biggest obstacle for me. As an entrepreneur, you will face all kinds of roadblocks, especially when you’re fighting a war on two fronts as a business owner and photographer. It became essential for me to stay connected to friends and find mentors so that they can help. The people you are connected with can help clear the way.

Foodivine Studios by Ali Rahimi

You’re now based in Montreal, where there’s such an exciting food scene. How does the city inspire your work?

One of the reasons I moved to Montreal is the lifestyle and its liveliness. The culture, art, restaurants, and food consistently inspire me. The city influences my projects and enchants every area of my work.

You specialize in food and product photography. What made you choose to focus your work on those?

Once I decided to pursue photography as a full-time job, I wanted to gain experience in every corner of the industry. Food and product photography appealed to me most because I always loved commercial photography and advertising. Plus, I saw food photography as a way to merge culinary and visual arts. For a period of time when I was a child, my mom was a food styling, pastry, and baking tutor. That background could be the reason I am in the position I am today!

Does your approach to a project change based on which of the two you’re shooting?

Yes and no! The techniques and lighting effects used in each will always be different, but I approach each project with the same enthusiasm.

What do you think is the key to ensuring that food looks appetizing in imagery?

To me, the key factors in making a food photo look appetizing are the lighting setup and camera angle. There are so many great resources online to help develop those skills and learn what really brings a photo to life.

How do you find ways to showcase your creativity when shooting product?

I’m always learning from photos, art and videos that I see. I follow photographers I like, and am inspired by their amazing work. Simply put, I observe, and then reflect on things I’ve observed when it comes to my own projects.

What gear do you use?

We have a very equipped studio now and tons of gear. But if I were to name what I use most, I’d say, Einstein Flash Units from Paul C. Buff with a different set of light modifiers, my Canon 5DS R, and a Canon Mark II as a backup. In low light and lifestyle scenarios I like to use my A Sony A7 iii. My favorite lenses are the Canon 50mm and 135 mm tilt-shift lenses, along with Canon Macro 100mm, 50mm L series, and 85mm for portrait shoots.

Editing Studio at Foodivine

What’s an unexpected item you always make sure to have on set?

My canned air gun and touch-up brushes, cause you never know when you might need to blow away a pesky speck of dust. I also keep my color passport checker and light meter on hand when I’m using different light and modifiers.

What brought you to Shutterstock Custom?

At first, I signed up out of curiosity. Through my work with Shutterstock Custom I’ve been able to challenge myself to take on creative projects. I’m happy I made that decision.

What’s the most fulfilling part about working with Shutterstock Custom?

When you’re running your own business, there are many things you have to take care of. From planning and creating shot lists, to meeting with clients and more.

What advice would you give photographers who want to start shooting branded work for clients? How can photographers start building a photography brand?

First of all, make sure you have high-quality work in your portfolio. Chances to work with big brands are already rare, but you’ll be more likely to get opportunities if you have images in your portfolio that are similar to their style of work.

Would you encourage other photographers to become Shutterstock Custom contributors?

If you don’t have experience working directly with clients and don’t like spending your time managing that side of the business, then working with Shutterstock Custom is very appealing. Assignments can force you out of your comfort zone, which is essential to growing as a photographer.

What advice would you give to other contributors?

Make sure you have a good understanding of the project scope and access to the resources necessary for execution. A key way to build credibility with the creative team is to deliver on time.

When you read a brief, what’s the first thing you’re looking for?

The budget and time that I have to make the project happen as expected. If those make sense, then I’m in.

What’s next for you? We’d love to hear about any exciting projects you’re working on.

I’m focused on photography at my studio. We’re also developing our capability for high-end promotional, stop-motion and social media videos. It’s an exciting area to work in.

Huge thanks to Ali for sharing his words on his experience as a contributor at Shutterstock Custom, as well as his tips for photographers on building a photography brand and shooting branded client work. We can’t wait to see what the incredible photographer has in store for us next.

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