An architect by profession, Mohsin Khawar developed a fondness for photography during his freshman year at the College of Art and Design, Punjab University. After learning the art through intense self-study, participation in numerous photographic workshops, and taking courses in photography at school, the talented young man decided to give up his career as an architect and make photography his livelihood in the year 2011.Seven years later, he is one of Pakistan’s top celebrity and fashion photographers, whose work appears regularly in local and international publications. In an exclusive interview for the Daily Times, Mohsin talks to Ally Adnan about the art, craft and business of photography.Digital cameras and graphics editing programs have opened the door to professional photography very wide, by making photography affordable, accessible and convenient to learn. Pakistan seems to have an inordinately large number of ‘professional photographers.’ Indeed, the number of DSLR cameras in Pakistan appears to be roughly the same as the number of ‘professional photographers’ in the country. How does a photographer distinguish himself in such an environment? The photographer says bigger stars tend to be the easiest to work with because they are experienced and realise that cooperation with the photographer will help yield great resultsA competent photographer uses quality cameras and photographic equipment to realise his unique original vision in his photographs. He is not enamored of his gear and does not let it dictate how, what or when he shoots. The relationship between a photographer and his equipment is a good index of his merit and ability. A photographer who uses photographic gear skillfully to create quality photographs, but does not depend on it, is an artist and one who is dependent on equipment is a technician. Photographers who approach their vocation as an art easily distinguish themselves in an environment where the number of people in the business of photography is inordinately high.Pakistani publications seem unwilling, or, at least, reluctant to pay for photographs that they use. There are times when they don’t even give credit. How do you feel about the situation? It used to bother me a great deal but I have since come to terms with the fact that one has to pay his dues, no matter what he does. Photographers are no exception. It seems unfair that publications often do not pay photographers for their work but it is not necessarily so. The truth is that publications help photographers build portfolios, gain exposure, and develop important relationships. So, it is fair business practice. However, I do get upset when I see publications use photographs without the permission and knowledge of photographers. That is patently wrong.How does a photographer make money in Pakistan? There is quite a bit of money in fashion photography. Designers are happy to pay photographers who are skilled, dedicated and professional. Commercial, corporate and family photography is lucrative. And, of course, there is a lot of money in event photography.Do you enjoy event photography?I do not. In fact, I despise event photography. People in Pakistan take event, specially wedding, photography very seriously but go about it in the wrong way. They do not value creativity, originality or novelty and want photographs similar to ones that they have seen elsewhere. I find it hard to copy someone else’s style, however good, and not do something that is unique and original. I also do not like the amount of interference one sees while shooting weddings. It is difficult for me to function in an environment that does not allow me artistic and creative freedom. I find it suffocating. I stopped shooting wedding events a long time ago.How do you prepare for a photoshoot?I take preparation and planning very seriously, and cannot shoot at the spur of the moment, without having put proper thought, time and energy in getting ready for a shoot.Different types of photoshoots require different kinds of preparation.Fashion photography requires the greatest amount of preparation. I begin with meeting the designer, understanding his needs, and learning what he wishes to highlight in the shoot. It could be his specific style, a new line of clothing, or a specific look for his brand. I work with the designer to pick the right models. I then see the fashion items and develop a theme – complete with palette, mood and lighting – for the shoot. I work with the designer and models to make sure that fitting and grooming sessions go smoothly. I make sure that my team knows the photographic equipment that I need to have ready for the shoot. And, most importantly, I schedule the session on a day where all parties have sufficient time and can properly focus on the work at hand, without any distractions.Photographing celebrities requires a different kind of preparation. I have to observe them – sometimes for weeks – and identify key features, expressions and, if you will, quirks that I want to capture in my images. I do not worry much about clothes, make-up and backgrounds; they tend to compete with the subject. In my opinion, the best celebrity photographs have a singular focus on capturing the person and nothing else. Photographic austerity is the key to successful celebrity photoshoots.Editorial fashion photoshoots require a lot of thought, planning and preparation. I plan them – mostly in my head – for days. These are done for publications to accompany written articles and need to illustrate stories, ideas or concepts. They require the photographer to think out of the box and plan for the shoot using imagination, creativity and ingenuity. Inspiration plays an important role in the success of an editorial shoot. A good photographer approaches it like a performance of art, with energy, enthusiasm and skill.What is the difference between fashion and editorial fashion photography?There is a huge difference between fashion and editorial fashion photography. The former is centered around clothes, accoutrements and fashion accessories whereas the latter has a greater, expanded area of focus. Fashion editorials highlight the mood, circumstances and situation fashion garments are worn in. They tell stories about the clothes and the people who wear them; and, when done right, have an air of mystery, suggesting back stories that are both interesting and provocative.You seem to have a liking for editorial fashion photography.Yes, I do. It is my favorite genre of photography. I find it particularly rewarding.What is the one essential element in the success of photoshoots?It is the mood of everyone involved. The subject, the assistants, the stylist, the make-up artist, the technicians, and everyone else on the floor needs to be happy, positive and energetic. Negativity of any kind can kill a photoshoot. I work very hard to maintain a friendly, congenial and positive atmosphere during photoshoots. And, since artists tend to be moody and sensitive, not to mention temperamental, it is not always easy.What do you do when negativity pervades the scene of a photoshoot?I delay the shoot and try to talk people out of their bad mood. When that does not succeed, I cancel the shoot. Fortunately, that does not happen very often.What do you do to capture your subject exactly the way you want?I get to know my subject. I make sure he trusts me. I create a positive atmosphere. And, more than anything else, I make sure that the subject feels secure, loved and comfortable. That is about it.What makes a photo shoot successful for you?Two things – my satisfaction and that of my client.I always have an image in my mind before I start a photoshoot. I feel successful when I realise the image accurately and it looks good. The satisfaction of my client, or the subject, is very important, as well. I have failed if they are unhappy with the results of a photoshoot.In your career, have you worked with famous people who were very difficult to shoot?I have worked with a lot of big celebrities but rarely had any problems. I may have been lucky but have always found them to be cooperative, humble and down-to-earth. In fact, bigger stars tend to be the easiest to work with because they are experienced and realise that cooperation with the photographer will help yield great results.How important is Photoshop in your final images?It is not very important. I am not a big believer in post processing and try to create the right images during photoshoots and not on my computer. I use the tool very sparingly, mostly for retouching skin, removing blemishes and cleaning clutter. There is very little difference between my raw and treated images.What are your strengths and weaknesses as a photographer?I think my greatest strength is the ability to work effectively with light, in a creative and bold manner. I enjoy playing with light and use it to create interesting, textured images that are enigmatic and mysterious. As far as weaknesses go, I am moody and cannot function well when in a funk.What motivates you – money, recognition, glamor, art or something else – to continue working as a photographer?It is the art of photography. My paramount desire is to create good images. Everything else is secondary.Published in Daily Times, June 26th 2018.