Aanchal Wadhwani is a Hong Kong born Indian creative entrepreneur. A commercial photographer, art director, model, actress and founder of four businesses, she enjoys the multiple outlets that allow her to express her creativity. Today, she shares with us her photographic journey.

My love for photography began in an unconventional way – it was almost a way to rebel against the lack of creative expression I was experiencing at the time. Let me start at the very beginning.

I was 18, at the end of my first degree in fashion and had my fingers in every possible area of fashion I could possibly experience. I was dabbling in styling and modelling, making my own clothes, and had started a jewellery brand. I picked up a bit of photoshop for fun and bought a (very) inexpensive, almost out of production, camera and lens kit to take photos of my jewellery designs.

After my first photoshoot, I fell in love with the blank canvas photography allowed me. On a daily basis I saw the world through the same light everyone else did, but through photography, I could create a world from my imagination. I could alter colours, adjust lighting, create a mood, an alternative universe, a unique perspective – a true piece of me that others could experience.

I didn’t have teachers telling me how to do things or what was ‘right’. I made the rules and I loved it!

My first break in photography came after a photographer backed out of a project I was styling for. The model, who was a friend, encouraged me to take the photos since we had a team, clothes, location and date set already. She had seen some of the photos I had taken for my jewellery brand and believed in me. Although I was nervous, we did the shoot and her agency loved the photos so much they started sending me their models to photograph.

Over the years, photography became more prominent and grew from a hobby to my career. What I believe set me apart from other photographers initially was:

1. My background in fashion, which came in handy with identifying and applying new trends into my work as well as understanding how to bring out the product equally as much as the models.
2. My background as a model, which allowed me to better direct the talent and guide them with poses.
3. My background running my own business, which gave me insight into what other businesses need visually in order to grow and reach new audiences.

However, one thing I learnt as a fashion student is how fast trends fluctuate and the importance of constantly developing your work. I’ve seen talented photographers gain popularity for a set of images and repeating that recipe over several projects but sooner or later, they get replaced by the next photographer who is trending. 

So to add to my list of what I feel keeps me relevant after a decade of being in the field:

4. I’m always trying to reinvent myself and try new things with my work.
5. I take out time in my work schedule to do personal projects to fuel my creativity.
6. I have a set of friends who I trust to give me genuine criticism or advice on my visuals. I find it valuable to understand other perspectives considering my work as a commercial photographer will be consumed by a wider audience.

Just as I did when I was younger, over the years I tried my hand at (almost) every area of photography – fashion, beauty, portraits, products, food & beverage, jewellery, lifestyle, sports and corporate. I’ve even branched out into art direction and videography.

My pre-production workflow is much heavier now that I handle my own art direction, but I enjoy the whole process from start to finish:

  1. As an art director, my first step is understanding the business or brand I’m working for. Where the content will be used, usage terms, the target audience, what the client is expecting from the visuals, how many deliverables are needed and the clients budget.
  2. I then prepare a quotation for the client as well as brief timeline of pre-post production including a tentative shoot schedule for my proposed workflow.
  3. Once approved, I prepare a set of references – the overall mood, shot list (if necessary), lighting, makeup, hair and styling. This helps the client understand visually what I plan to deliver and for them to give me their notes.
  4. After the client is happy, I forward these references to my team of makeup, hair and stylist. I then begin casting models that suit with the concept.
  5. Pre-production begins with preparing the props and set design. Model options are sent to the client for selection and once selected, the model’s profiles are shared with the team so they can prepare what they need.
  6. On the shoot day, I encourage my clients to be present as I like them to see the visuals as I am taking them and to hear their feedback. I also find it useful for the client to see the process so they understand what goes into the production process.
  7. During the shoot itself, I will make notes of the images the client responds well to. After the shoot, I make a selection of low resolution images and share a watermarked version with the client for their final selection. This is to ensure that no additional images are being used apart from the final edited images I will be delivering.
  8. After the final images are selected, post-production begins and the high resolution images are delivered to the client along with the flexibility for changes if needed.

The most rewarding experience for me is to see my photos printed, receiving positive response from clients after a successful campaign or meeting people who recognise some of my work. I have made so many friends around the world just by connecting through our work and love for photography.

If you’re reading this post for some inspiration, here’s a reminder to keep reinventing yourself and to keep your spark for photography alive!