The entertainment industry consists of talented and creative people in front of the camera, behind the camera, on stage and behind the stage. Today we go BTS (behind the scenes) to shine the spotlight on Photographer Youssef Abdelmalek.
Youssef is the main photographer at Ymaphoto. He has passion for working with actors and corporate clients … making sure actors get in the audition room and corporate clients are represented professionally!
1 – WHAT WAS YOUR JOURNEY TO BECOMING A PHOTOGRAPHER?
I’ve always had something for electronic gadgets as a kid. If it had some lights in it and a screen or seems to be tech related I am already interested .. That included cameras. In 2005 my father bought me a camera that was 3.2 mega pixels .. I was the coolest kid on the block!! In Egypt and at that time this camera was super advanced and was incredibly expensive. Since then I loved the ability to capture images and video. In fact about a year ago I was revisiting the boxes I had prepared when immigrating to canada and found that camera and found a flash storage that had pictures and videos that date to 10+ years back. I could not stop my tears!!!! It was a major throwback. Since then i learned how important what we do really is. Then when I came to Canada and saw the advanced tech I was hooked! I bought an entry level DSLR and told myself “OK that is it, I am not buying more gear just this camer” which i obviously threw out the window a week later when I bought my 1st prime lens. I really was fascinated by the ability to separate subjects using super shallow depth of field. This began my journey to acquiring more lenses that have wider apertures to achieve shallower depth of field .. then later that was combined with longer focal lengths .. I have to say telephoto lenses that have wider constant appretures had really intimidating price tags at that stage .. specially that I was not making any money in photography as a hobbyist then. Since then I was obsessed with light shaping tools and lenses. That was the beginning of the journey.
2 – WHAT DOES PHOTOGRAPHY MEAN TO YOU?
We, as photographers, affect people’s lives well beyond our realization. If you had asked me that question few years back I would have probably came up with a lame answer. What I have come to realize doing photography for the past few years is that we have a very significant effect on people’s self worth and how they see themselves after we shoot them. It hit me hard when I had a real estate agent client who didn’t seem so keen on her photo taken, We aced it!!! She did really well and was seriously excited in the session. Mid session she got a call and was super enthusiastic and closed a big deal. Her assistant was stunned and told me she had not seen her that excited in a very long time. She really did not think someone could take her photo and make her feel great about how she looks. The sad matter of fact is, A lot of photographers forget they’re photographing people .. we pay too much attention to technicals and forget that the image created will have an impact on this individual. We all have a perception on how we look .. but then people have a different view of us .. these 2 come real close when someone gets their headshot/portrait taken. Because we’re both looking at the same screen that has someone’s picture but the way we both (the photographer and the subject) feel is very different. The idea of bringing the best in someone and relieving the pressure of being on camera on its own is incredible. In some cases its a piece of cake, and in some others it takes more time and more work which for me is always a challenge I welcome with open arms. There is nothing more fulfilling that seeing someone looking at the screen so thrilled by how they look in images!
3 – DID YOU HAVE FORMAL TRAINING OR ON-THE-JOB TRAINING (WITH A MENTOR)?
Most of my education was on YouTube. We now live in a world where all information is at our fingertips milliseconds away. That ability of finding educational content on the internet is a serious advantage we have over the previous generations. When I meet a photographer who is older and who started when internet was not like we know it today I feel we are taking that for granted. Finding information about anything today has become really easy, There is no excuse whatsoever for not creating. That all said content creators I really loved on YouTube include but not limited to: Mark Wallace, Gavin Hoey, Brian Peterson, Phlearn (aaron nace). I really learned the basics from these guys!
4 – WHAT EQUIPMENT DO YOU PREFER TO USE?
I am a Canon shooter, I am probably biased but I think Canon have qualities that are unmatched! I don’t think equipment defines you but it’s rather crucial. I have met photographers who will look down on others who don’t shoot with “pro enough” equipment, I think that is a very bad attitude to have. Light is light, you can create with what is at your disposal. Equipment becomes important for business efficiency. As an artist who runs a business you really want to be accountable. People have expectations and relying on low end gear or introducing uncontrolled factors can take away from how reliable you are, and that is never a good thing.
5 – WHAT IS THE INFLUENCE OF DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY ON YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY?
Technology has made life radically different. As I mentioned in a previous question, really all information one needs about pretty much anything is just milliseconds away and at your fingertip. That affects us as artists in a way I would think is largely healthy. I cannot understand how back in the day an actor would hire a headshots photographer. Were they able to see their work before hand? Maybe visit in studio and check out prints of headshots? And did that mean actors had to go to multiple studios to see photographers work? I know these sound really basic questions but my point is, in 2018 when someone is looking for a headshot they put a facebook post and there is absolutely no shortage of people offering – which is a double sided sword – I would think back in the day photography was significantly harder back then, I can’t imagine pressing the shutter and not seeing the image. A 2 second lag annoys me and I don’t want to think what if i were born 20 years earlier. Back then in my view and from chats with older industry folks I believe one had to be a lot more reliable than today, which really shouldn’t be the case. But the thought that memory is almost free and we can take unlimited number of shots has created the “spray and pray” club of photographers. There are great benefits to social media though. If used carefully social media can be very useful. It may have made it harder to be a photographer in the sense that “everyone is a photographer” but if one can find elements to separate themselves from the big chunk of the crowd it can be a resolved problem. If I were given the choice to be a photographer now or 30 years ago I would with no doubt choose now! I can very easily use technology for very efficient process management. I love how facebook created that network of people who are passionate about the same goal. Other aspects of technology advancements would be how fast we can arrange a session and how fast we can get the proofs – images from the session to the client – In fact I export proofs and they are ready for viewing 2 hours after the last frame taken! That was not possible back then. We have become a NOW generation, we can everything NOW!! The convenience of fast turnaround can be a determining factor when one is buying something. To summarize, I think today we are all very informed, which should contribute to higher value in general.
6 – IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT IS IMPORTANT WHILE SHOOTING HEADSHOTS VS PORTRAIT AND CORPORATE PICTURES?
I think when working with people in general the most important aspect of a portrait/headshot is the facial expression. What is different between acting headshots vs corporate work is the fact that actors should display a much wider range of emotion. When photographing a corporate client all I am trying to capture is their true authentic expression that has an inviting, approachable and a trustworthy feel to it. When shooting an actor a much broader range of emotion is needed! That’s what actors do and casting wants to be able to see raw emotion that is suitable to each casting. I still think it has to be authentic and genuine emotion though. In my view an actor’s headshot is more work but is also greatly rewarding after the session! Another aspect of looking at corporate vs actor headshots is how the interaction happens. Actors are around camera people a lot more than the average corporate folk! Which gives actors a bigger base of knowledge about the camera and how to work with it, I feel corporate folks are at a disadvantage here but when they hire the right photographer who can coach and educate them on the spot that disadvantage can be neutralized.
7 – IN YOUR FREE TIME, WHAT KIND OF PICTURES DO YOU LIKE TO SHOOT AND WHICH ONES DO YOU AVOID?
I don’t take as much pictures in my free time .. I don’t like to admit it but its the truth! The thing about being obsessed by light and pixels is, it makes one very meticulous about every little thing in a photo. To the point that if one can’t control as much as they’d like they won’t bother taking the photo in the 1st place. That is something I am putting effort to change about myself. Because remember the 3.2 Megapixel cameras and the photos that made my tears roll down my face? By my current standards they would have been scrapped! I am taking more pictures of day to day life now and photographing my family. I think documenting every stage in life is very important and it may be something non photographers do more than photographers, which should not be the case!
8 – WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE CHANGE IN THE PHOTOGRAPHY WORLD?
The main thing I’d like to see change is, I would like to see more photographers take their craft more seriously and not let the vibe “Photography is a luxury” dominate. I meet a lot of photographers who are great at taking photos but it breaks my heart how big of a portion of them don’t think what they do is important! Sometimes we are the biggest blocks in our own paths .. It really is sad. I get really excited when I meet a photographer who is obsessed with what they’re doing. Once you realize you have something great to offer to the world the world will realize that too!!! But if you don’t, no one else will!
9 – WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
People are just great! You listen to every person talk and find lots of lessons and wisdoms in every conversation. Everyone is so different and unique and I believe every conversation we have we can learn from and grow! The best thing about us as humans is what fills our hearts and minds and when we share that with each other magic happens.
10 – WE ALL HAVE MENTORS … THE PEOPLE WHO GIVE US THE HOPE, INSPIRATION, AND THE DRIVE TO KEEP GOING … IN THIS INDUSTRY, WHO ARE THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN YOUR MENTORS AND WHY?
When I think of mentors the 1st person that comes to mind is my mother. She is a true example of what a strong woman should be. In fact seeing my mother I’d change the common phrase to “woman up!!!!” I think we’re all suffering in our own ways and if each one of us makes it their duty to relieve the suffering of people surrounding this world would be an amazing place! Seeing how my mother is selfless and is living a life of giving have grown that sense in me since I was a child and to this day and every coming day.
From an industry perspective when i think of mentors I think of Michael Gordin Shore. He is a Toronto based actor and acting coach that I am blessed to call a friend and an older brother. I love how real, humble and loving michael is. He constantly reminds me of why we do what we do. It just amazing to be friends with someone who’s putting all of his heart into his craft going all in full throttle and see how that keeps life interesting, challenging yet enjoyable! We get tired all the time and having the privilege of calling him and just expressing all fears, self doubts and vulnerabilities is something I do not think one can survive without! Michael always constantly sets an example of how one can be very successful yet very humble and approachable.