Alireza Takhsa with friends at Firuz Bahram School, Tehran

Alireza Takhsa with friends at Firuz Bahram School, Tehran

It takes minimal effort to inaccurately portray Iran, a land dating back to nearly 3400 BC., with a history too rich cover in any one textbook. While its borders change with the times, the people of Iran hold their culture steadfast in the face of resentment from much of the world.

The west illustrates Iran as a hub for Islamic extremism, denier of women's rights and a land that chants the death of the West. It is imperative to show the other side of this ancient land. Exactly how much fabrication goes into painting Iran's story? Alireza would argue it's not what the real people of Iran think.

Truth is Iran is many things. You'll find your extremists living amongst the liberal youth pushing for a global culture, and this nation is experiencing some growing pains. The youth of Iran do not understand the demonization of their culture by the west just as find it difficult to relate to hardline rules implemented by leaders of their nation. I suppose one cannot survive for centuries by welcoming a single-thought society. Iran is multifaceted and thankfully for mediums like Instagram, we're able to see another side. Photographers on a mission like Alireza are determined to show you another Iran, the one they see everyday. Alireza says,  "I use my camera as a peace & love gun." The rest of us should follow suit.

When @HowtoPhotograph found Ali's Instagram account on the explore page, it was an endless gallery of imagery that I wouldn't associate with Iran. I admit, American TV does a great job brainwashing and overtime what I knew about Iran transitioned to what they wanted me to know. 

Ali Reza's photography caught my eye. Something stood out and held true consistently. Iran wasn't dark. We saw men & women interacting in one space. We saw a passion for the old and the new, the elderly and the youth. It made me stop to think. Ultimately, wouldn't all of us (artists) want our work having the same effect? 

We spoke to Alireza through email and let him describe his work and passion. "I'm a young Iranian photographer from Iran/Tehran that has a dream. I want to travel to countries as a messenger of peace. I hope to put my photos of Iran in other countries (galleries)."
We asked...

In what ways do you feel that you're representing the Iranian culture?

I think iran is so beautiful and other world people dont know ,I think its my duty that I take many photos of Iranian cities and Iranian kind people. We are a great country with great culture and it's four seasons. I want to show the real face of Iran to world.

How did you start photography? or where did you learn photography? How many years have you been photographing?

I'm 24 years old, I started photography when i was 18 years old. I knew photography is what my job would be and my only grand master (teacher) is google.

What does culture mean to you and how does it reflect your work?

I use from my camera and my instagram account as a great network for my job (to show Iran to world).  Iran is my country, my heart & my love... so i think art, fashion, architecture, and the people of Iran is so interesting for the world's people. Travel to Iranian cities make me happy and I want to show this through my photographs.

What photo style works best for you? Do you mind explaining it?

I just love photography, everything about it, any style of it. My professional style that im doing now is advertising photography but im freelancer so i did many projects with different brands & companies.

You shoot a lot of nature photographs, is nature something that inspires you and how does it inspire you?

Yeah of course anybody is in love with nature :) I want to help people feel happiness and I think photos of nature is like a medicine to heal sadness. I live in Tehran and I like show Tehran's corners to people and tourists as a new place they can visit one day.

What is your goal as an artist and/or photographer?

As I said, I want to show real the real beauty of Iran to the world by mixing Farsi font and typography through photos of Iran. My one & only dream is that I can show my photos in a great gallery in others places like (London, NYC, etc)

What’s in your photo kit?

A good photographer can show his/her art with any kit, it's the photographer that makes photo not the camera. However, I use a Nikon D810 with 50mm F1.4  and Canon 6D with 24-105 F4

When you photograph every-day-Iran, what is the message you hope viewers get from your photographs?

Kindness of Iranian people, many people of world dont know Iran...I mean real Iran. I just want to show the real good face of Iran to everyone.

"I use my camera as a peace & love gun."

Alireza Takhsa

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What is the biggest misconception Americans have about the youth in Iran?

I can't understand this sepration and distace between Iran and America, Iranian youth love all of the people of world as humans. We believe in peace and love as John Lennon said , as Gandhi said , as Buddha or many other great people said. I want to remember Woodstock.

When you started this project was the goal different than what it is today?

No, no, no...I started photography to make my wish and dreams (to show the real Iran to the world & peace) real. I use my camera as a peace & love gun.

Can you share some of the messages you’ve received from people who follow your account? Are they surprised to see images of Iran that do not match those of American/Western Television?

Oh you know? it's amazing for me, every day I receive messeges from different countries & people about the positive influences of my photos of Iran and many people say to me they cannot believe these pics. They say Iran is so beautiful, I'm so happy!

When you showcase your photographs, is there an overall theme that you want to always keep in focus?

I photograph moments by good mood theme, and I think all of my photos are in this style and theme.

How much of Iran have you covered with photography and what are parts of Iran that you wish to cover in the future?

I've covered 10% beauty of Iran I think. Any cities of Iran has culture and beautiful nature or texture for travellers, backpackers or tourists. I'll travel and take photos of other cities very soon.

Story by Walid Azami 

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Photo by Walid Azami

When I received the call to photograph superstar Mya for Contrast Magazine, I was excited because I had the opportunity to photograph a huge star in a different way. Already a master on stage and in front of the camera, the challenge was to create a new Mya for Contrast Magazine and continue her evolution as an artist. As with any shoot, last minute challenges come into play and we had to adapt. In this case, Mya emailed and let us know that she now has blonde locks for her headlining show at LA's Microsoft Novo Center. 

Solution: Instead of hiding her hair so it can fit the creative, lets make her hair the center of the shoot. Lets give it life and movement! Lets let all her fans know this is her new style and flaunt it.

Lighting Challenge: There is an ongoing trend amongst music photographers who shoot R&B artists. They use a blowout light, decrease the odds of any shadows, and mute colors. Naturally, I wanted the opposite. We used two heads, 2 gels, and a V Flat Bounce. You can see that in the video below. The key light had a purple gel to illuminate Mya's face and the back wall. The second light was placed behind her and off to the right. It gave her a nice backlight and a reddish flare for the camera. Check out the video to see what we mean. 

Camera: Canon 5D Mark II 

Check us out on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube.

VIDEO/BEHIND THE SCENES BY @Devreezy (based in Southern California, available for hire directly via IG)

How we did it: The Bouquet Bar Campaign

We'll break down the process of creating an ad campaign for your clients. In this case we are working with brand new gifting company called "The Bouquet Bar" who want to re-invent the art of gifting and put attention back into the selection process, the packaging and the quality of the actual gift. 

In this case we had some information on the company but as you can imagine we really didn't have much, as the company is brand new and not even a website or social media handle to research had been launched. In addition to being brand new, this was their reshoot campaign. A creative team before did a great job but just didn't hit the mark. Add to pressure of everything, now you have budgets that are thin because this is technically their second shoot.

You can look at this as an obstacle or a clear path for your creative. Lets look at the good and the bad.

BAD: You don't have anything to follow. You could completely miss the mark and turn the client off from the inception of the project. You don't have any way to measure successes and failures in the past with this brand. Did the audience want mostly females or male models? Are they professionals or guys buying gifts for their ladies? You better do a great job, because this is their second shoot and with most startups the budgets are delicate and every dollar is important.

GOOD: I don't have a track record and I technically don't have to follow anyone's work! This a great thing and if anyone else shoots the next campaign, they'll have to follow MY lead. This is good! They also had a previous shoot, which means they're ready for something different and I should give them that. This is an opportunity to take the lead and be more involved creatively. So I'll give them something different than what they had...but what the heck is "different"!? 

Well I start with the first step on every project whether it's a recording artist or brand. You need something called the 5 W's.

STEP 1: The 5 W's

This is THE step to cover when approaching a client. In college I studied history and it's how I passed my exams. Every topic has its own 5 W's and that's where I learned this trick. When you know the 5 W's, you're covered! You have the entire history to base your decisions on. By asking the client to cover each topic, you will have all the tools you need. Review below and see how it is done. Examples of each are below... In this case, the client was more than happy to share the information and give me all the tools I needed to succeed.


  • Who started the project?
  • Who is the product intended for?
  • Who will purchase the product?


  • What are they selling?
  • hat is the purpose of the ad?
  • What are you trying to convey to the audience?


  • When is the product launch?
  • When is the shoot date (ideally)
  • hen are the final images due?
  • When are vision boards due?


  • Where are you selling the product (web/store)?
  • Where will the advertising live?
  • Where (Domestic/Int'l) is the product available?


  • Why did you create the product?
  • Why are you shooting/reshooting?
  • Why do you feel men/women would appreciate the project?
  • Why are you different than the competition?

STEP 2: The Vision Board

The vision board is your roadmap to a successful shoot! This is also your team huddle, it's the one thing that will put EVERYONE on the same page. I can say blue, but you won't know exactly which tone of blue until I put it on the board. I can say "morning light" but you won't know where the light is coming from, where the light will illuminate until you see it on the board. I can say "happy vibe" and you'll get close but you won't know if it's Coachella girl doing flips or woman on the couch reading a good book with a smile. This is the guideline and backbone to the entire shoot. I posted pages from my vision board to Bouquet Bar. Normally my vision boards are 5-6 pages long. This is probably double and I was happy to take the time because it's my first relationship with the company. It's their second shoot and we needed to reassure the client and aim for perfection. Finally, we had newer team members like the publicity team and the entire glam squad. For that reason it was well worth all the extra pages and they all performed perfectly. 

hat makes a successful vision board? To remind you of step 1, it must include the 5 W's. Who are the models, where are we shooting, what is the mood & lighting, when are we doing each setup , why certain colors or locations, etc... it must also answer other questions like color tones, locations, props, etc... For the makeup artist she needs to this prepare her pack. The stylist needs this to shop for the wardrobe. Based on how his office looks, you can judge the type of attire he'll be wearing. Based on the way the kitchen is and the colors, you can see how she'll fit with her outfits. When you see the final images, you'll realize there were NO ACCIDENTS. Every item in that frame was placed on purpose. The vision board is our starting ground and it's what brought this entire project together. 

Sure we had many questions after the vision board, but they all stemmed from one document and kept us within the perimeters. 

STEP 3: The Location and the Models

For the Bouquet Bar campaign, we wanted to tell the story of the brand through the models and location booked. In this particular scenario we decided (after the 5 W's process) that the viewer should see the campaign in the following order.

1. Oh, that's a beautiful photograph. Everything looks so clean and fresh (like the product), everything looks high end but still affordable (like the brand), and it's so simple. I love the simplicity! (Like the brand)

2. Look at that pop of orange, which is the eye-catching color of the entire Bouquet Bar collection. The orange box isn't always front and center, it's in the background because the people who give/accept the Bouquet Bar live a certain lifestyle. They appreciate the finer things in life, and know the art of gifting.

3. They blend in perfectly with the surroundings. The only pop of color is the box or the product, and it's never in your face. It's never 100% the star of the photograph. The lifestyle is the star, and model/location come in secondary. The  models are the 3rd thing we wanted you to notice, so we opted for beautiful people but not unattainable beauty. They are not runway models, but everyday beautiful people. They can be me and you.

Having said that, we wanted a home with beautiful natural light. Everything about it should lend itself to a nice spring day, natural beauty. The products inside the Bouquet Bar box are natural and of high quality. The setting should reflect that. The models should reflect someone parallel the lifestyle. We were looking for models who take walks with their dog vs. drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. 

Home: We picked a home that had neutral tones, earthy colors and served as a canvas for the setting and orange box. We wanted a home that had light coming from multiple directions to get the most natural light in there and create vibrant spring-like images. We wanted the morning sun and the evening sun, because this was 100% natural light type of shoot, no flash whatsoever. We wanted a home that had minimal decor.

Model: The female had to look both the part of a young creative executive, and also a young mom. She was friendly, took care of herself but not over-the-top on any facets of her life. She was your girl-next-door who is in control of her life. The male model needed to look like an executive that worked in a relaxed setting but also in the same age bracket of the female, because they might be a romantic couple in some of the images. For that reason we went to Adeline and  Gabriel. Both had that look, the professional resemblance & casual features we needed. 

When picking the models, I sat with the company owners Sal, David, and Alex as we went over all the possibilities from the agency. We had asked a couple agencies to send girls/guys based on our requirements. We asked one LA agency and one Orange County agency. Based on the package sent over, it was the OC agency that we went with (Brand Model and Talent) because we found that the OC agency catered more to the lifestyle models, and the LA ones catered to fashion and look books. 

Selecting the final models is an intimate process. We sat in Sal's office and had a tab open to every single model's page. We looked at everything from "do they look trustworthy" to "how many emotions can he/she give". We felt confident with our final choices because they had many factors we hoped to cover. 

  • Can they look professional?
  • Can they look good lounging at home?
  • Can they look like a couple together and also stand out by themselves?
  • Do they look trustworthy?
  • Do they offer more than one look in their portfolio (sexy, happy, conservative, playful, etc.)
  • Do they more than a handful of shoots in their portfolio? (New models cost a lot of time, as they require more direction from the photographer. Because this was a winter shoot, we were limited on daylight and had to go with the most versed talent). 

Based on those factors, we opted for Adeline and Gabriel who both turned out to be fantastic and professional choices for the entire production! Here are some of their looks from their book.

It helped to book both models from one agency, as it makes negotiations easier. Hiring two from one agency helps with booking rates vs. just hiring one model. It's always a balancing game and the agency was fantastic enough to work with us. 

As a review, the home needed to serve as a blank canvas. It shouldn't have a distinct decor, but more of a canvas that can easily mold to what we needed. 

Below you can see some of the portfolio images from Adeline and Gabriel that theIR agency PRESENTED







Wedding planners suggest spending 10-12% of your budget on photography. What means for wedding photographers is a budget that is probably around the $3500 for your average wedding in America. Many of us live in larger metropolitan areas where the average wedding is unlike the rest. Orange County, CA. has an average of $37K, Santa Barbara averages $43K, and New York state averages $48.8K per wedding. That’s the AVERAGE. Do the math on this, as it’s a lucrative industry. 

10% of a $35,000 or even $48,000 budget is excellent for one weekend! Imagine the possibilities after a couple years of networking with local hotels, vendors, and getting word of mouth out there. In major markets, it’s not unheard of to work 3-4 weddings each month during the busy season.

The big paychecks come with even greater responsibility though, and photographers need to remember that it’s a one-time event and probably the most important day of their lives with no do-overs. Suddenly the big checks seem less appetizing as photographers hopefully realize the enormous responsibility on their shoulders. 

We asked one of our favorite photographers how she started in wedding photography, and particularly destination weddings. Margot Landen of Margot Landen Weddings sat with us to answer all the questions you hoped we would ask. Listen to the podcast by clicking the link.

If youve considered photographing weddings but did not understand the list of responsibilites, the personality requirements, equipment needed this is a podcast you dont want to miss. If you have the skills but had no idea how to start marketing yourself, this is the podcast for you. Have a listen by clicking the link to the iTunes Podcast. Free education!


There is one thing just about everyone needs: a headshot. Once used only by actors, headshots are now something everyone needs, whether it's for their company's website, a dating app, Facebook, or a LinkedIn profile. 

Peter Hurley is the country's best-known headshot photographer and believes that, because everybody needs a good one, headshots are the biggest growing genre of portraiture. Hurley thinks that all photographers should add headshots into what they are already doing, but knows that not all photographers know how to take them.


Taking a good headshot doesn't need to be complicated. Hurley, who teaches courses on getting great headshots for CreativeLive and elsewhere, shares his top five tips for getting great headshots. 

1) Start With The Jawline: Facial features look much better if the jawline is out to the camera. Getting the jawline out towards the camera will make an enormous difference with subjects who are carrying some extra weight, but even for subjects who are in-shape getting their jawline out towards the camera will help tone their features.  Ask your subject to move their forehead towards the camera to get their jawlines where they should be.

2) Find Their Good Side: It's critical to know your subject's good side before you start shooting. Everyone has a "sweet spot" which is their best angle and as a headshot photographer you need to be able to find it. About 90% of the time people part their hair on their good side so this is a good place to start when looking for the best side to put camera-forward for a headshot. When people put their best side forward, it will give them confidence and this will come through in their photographs. Sometimes you will have to convince people what their good side is since what people see in the mirror is the opposite of what comes through in a photograph. 

3) Work the Eyes: Confidence and fear both come from the eyes. It is essential that a headshot convey confidence. To achieve a confident look, Hurley recommends the squnich. You read that right - your subject will need to squinch, not squint. In a squinch, the lower lid comes up, but the top lid does not come down. As Hurley demonstrates in this video, the squinch goes a long way towards creating confidence. The squinch is a sure-fire way to avoid the "deer in the headlights" look that wide open eyes create in headshots. 

4) Mind the Mouth: It's important that a headshot make the subject look approachable. While confidence comes from the eyes, approachability comes from the mouth. If your subject doesn't have at least a hit of a smile they will look mean. The trick is finding just the right amount of smile. According to Hurley, "A tiny smile is great. A big smile will look fake unless it's a genuine reaction." As a headshot photographer you need to work on getting a genuine reaction and smile by interacting with your clients until you get the right expression. 

5) Forget About The Camera: Everyone look better when they are not paying attention to the camera. Just as you would never ask a portrait client to say "cheese" don't prepare your headshot clients for their photo by counting down or giving them any other indication that you are about to click the shutter. Instead, focus on getting to know your client, figuring out how they feel about themselves and getting their personalities to show.

With a little practice, you should be able to start incorporating headshots into the business you are already doing and even join Hurley's Headshot Crew. Besides, if you don't start taking headshots how else will you get to say "sqinch" on a regular basis?