Wedding photographs are a very sensitive subject, they are the images that capture the essence of the big day for many years to come. Though it may be an incredibly difficult decision to choose a wedding photographer, it’ll be a breeze once you meet Saudi wedding photographer Tasneem AlSultan. With a background based in America as well as the UK, AlSultan has gone through many obstacles to be where she is right now. Citing the enormous support from family and friends as her main motivation into pursuing photography, she is definitely making international headlines as the rising wedding photographer in the Arab region.
Read the interview to find out more about her journey, struggles and ambitions as a wedding photographer in the Arab Gulf region.
How did your journey in photography start?
I’ve always loved photography and being raised in a family that loves it too helps. My grandfather loved taking portraits of his children and they were very natural. He captured moments full of emotion. He always made sure that every child of his was captured when he/she was born, with the date and time in the background and with his siblings around. Seeing these portraits hanging around the house made me appreciate photography.
Photography wasn’t something I took very seriously. During my stay in the United States, I majored in English and also did my Masters. I did take some photography courses, which didn’t add much value to my knowledge because photography comes with experience not only studying.
When I came back to Saudi Arabia, I wanted to take portraits of my children but I couldn’t find any studios that didn’t photoshop, or over edit the pictures. The studio would add elements that don’t add any value or art to the pictures. It instead, takes it away.
I had the equipment, the camera, lenses and it was my mom and my husband that said, “You have the equipment, you studied photography, so the least you could do is start from home.” So I did a photo shoot for my children, posted them on Facebook and everyone was impressed with the work and thought that it was studio work. I still have the first pictures I took. They were simple and natural with my daughter laughing, playing and being silly.
When did you realize that this is what you want to do?
When I saw the response of everyone towards my photos and when friends started asking me to do photo shoots for them. I started working from home for about four to five months just between friends and family and people I knew.
When I moved to Bahrain, I officially launched my business in January 2010 and by March, Seef Mall showcased my photography for families and their children, for their campaign. I realized that I liked what I was doing and it was the right thing to do. It was very humbling to find experts use your work.
How did you get into wedding photography?
One of my clients came to me and asked me to do weddings and I rejected the idea entirely. I thought I wouldn’t do something I’m not good at and the persistence of my clients got me thinking that this was the time where I should go and actually study photography. I studied wedding photography in Canada and started networking with great photographers abroad, adding them on Facebook, asking them questions and it helped me a lot. They were all very nice and that’s when I started taking it seriously and offering it as an official service. I realized that I really get excited when I’m asked to go shoot a wedding. I suddenly become a consultant and therapist, because on your wedding day you get overwhelmed and you get to know the bride, her family and spend the most amazing time with them. I love capturing those moments while they are getting dressed, giggling and the moment when the father first sees his daughter.
What were the difficulties that you faced during your journey to professional photography?
There were two things that I had to challenge myself with. First was the work environment and how much time and effort it took from me, but I loved what I did and continued doing it. A photographer’s job is pretty hard, especially what I do. Weddings differ from one region to another. Saudi weddings for example, take all day and standing for 9-10 hours trying to capture a moment that is once in a lifetime, in addition to doing all this solo, and editing everything myself.
Second, the stereotype we live in the Arab world. As Khaleeji families, we are very reserved and conservative and we don’t want people to think lower of us. It’s known that art is great but it’s not something you make a living out of. I wanted to earn respect by saying, “I’m from Saudi and I can do it”, and I don’t want to say, “I’m as good as a Western person”. I’ve gained knowledge in the West and I respect them and respect myself. We can do the same, sometimes better.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I’m so passionate about photography. I want to be compared with international photographers. I want to be in a moment when I win an award that’s competitive internationally. I learned from one of the top 5 photographers in the world and I want to be like them in a few years.
Knowing that you run a successful business alone, what would you tell others who are in the same position?
Believe in yourself. If you are passionate about anything, you can do it. It’s receiving that text from your client saying “thank you”. That is the best payment ever as well as to have the family of the bride become your friends. It’s hard work, but it pays off.
Do you think that the Khaleeji community will accept the fact that there is a Khaleeji woman being a photographer?
Saudi’s ask me to take their photos because they trust that their pictures wont end up anywhere else. They know I understand the culture. The joy of knowing different cultures is amazing and they all love that I have different backgrounds. I’m born and raised in the US and the UK, I’ve seen the foreign wedding, and I’m Arab.
At first I thought that naming my studio Tasneem Photography would be a negative thing where people will hear the name and stereotype me to what they believe which is that Arab work is lower quality but then I stayed with the name. I needed to be proud of myself and my work as if it’s like any other brand.
You did international weddings, how did they reach you and how was the experience?
One of the weddings was through a friend, Seychelles. In the end, we all share the same emotions but we are different in style of location. If I could choose anything in the world, it would be traveling and being among friends.
To know more about Tasneem AlSultan and view more of her albums, visit www.tasneemalsultan.com
Images courtesy of Tasneem AlSultan