Featured Interview: Omar Chatriwala

This month, we interview Omar Chatriwala, a journalist and photographer currently living in Qatar. Having written for the likes of Al Jazeera, he has a huge interest in current events happening around the Middle East, and documents this through his photography, as well as his writing.


FYP: Tell us a little about yourself

Omar: Nationality-wise, I am American. My dad is an Indian immigrant, he went from Bombay to Texas, where he met my mum, who is of Hispanic origin. He was a petroleum engineer, and that meant that I lived wherever there happened to be some oil. I was born in New Orleans, and I spent about seven years in Saudi Arabia, three years in Bahrain, three years in Kuwait, and Houston obviously. Later on, I went to university in Austin, Texas, and since then I have worked in California, and have been based in Qatar for five years now.

Photography-wise, I started in about 2003 or 2004 – I was studying Multimedia Journalism, and took a class on Intro to Photojournalism. I borrowed a friend’s film SLR and started to shoot with that.

My hobbies are fairly integrated with what I do day-to-day; I spend a lot of time in front of the computer involving myself in social media. I was a journalist for Al Jazeera English for four years so I spend a lot of time staring at international news. I also co-run a news website here in Qatar – Doha News – mostly about local happenings and interesting photos.

FYP: Have you had formal training in Photography?

Omar: As I said, I did a five or six month course in Photojournalism during my Journalism degree, and that is about all I have done formally.

FYP: What camera and equipment do you currently use?

Omar: Currently, I have two cameras, three cameras depending on what you call a camera. The main camera I use is the Canon 5D Mark II, and I also have a 550D. Before that I had a Rebel Xti. My father also gave me his old camera, which I really like – it is a rangefinder, a Yashica Electro 35. I have a bit of fun playing with that from time to time. I also use my phone as a camera, an Android-powered HTC Desire S. It is great because I always have it in my pocket, and can capture things without any prior planning; but I am routinely let down by the image quality.

The two lenses I use the most are the Canon 24-105mm, which is really comfortable for walking around with, and the 50mm 1.4, because I really love the image quality and shallow depth of field.

FYP: Where do you see yourself in five years time?

Omar: I have not really thought about it… I would like to be better and more knowledgeable with my photography, I suppose. I see other photographers who go out taking photographs and plan photographs in their heads, and then they come out exactly like they wanted to. I want to be able to do this with my photography; plan a composition in my head and have it come out exactly as I wanted. I would also love to be shooting news events and feature stories more across the Middle East.

FYP: What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your photographic career?

Omar: I have been finding myself hesitant to take up video – it is quite different to producing still images. I have done a little bit of filming, but I find the editing process quite intimidating – there are so many more elements to keep track of.

FYP: Who is your favourite artist?

Omar: I have a couple of friends that I find inspiration from as artists. One is Omar Khalifa, a journalist I worked with at Al Jazeera who creates video as well as doing photography – really fun videos that capture the essence of whatever subject he has aimed his lens at. Another is a photographer based in New York, Omar Mullick. He was involved with a group that went to Afghanistan with iPhones, intending to be embedded with the US military – this did not actually happen for him, so he just went around taking snapshots of ordinary life there and talking to individuals. There was a huge difference in reception, as he was using an iPhone rather than a large, intimidating professional camera, and the small iPhone seemed to break down barriers a lot more. I guess I take a lot of inspiration from what my friends are doing, rather than looking at artists that are beyond my reach or skill. Steve McCurry is another photographer whose work I am very much inspired by, but he is well documented.

FYP: Where do you find your inspiration?

Omar: I find a lot of my inspiration from looking at other photographers’ work online, for example on sites such as Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr, Lightbox, 500px. News wire photojournalists do really great work too.I have been drawing some inspiration from my daughter, as well, who is now two and a half. Obviously, my wife and I have some reservations about posting her image across the internet, so I have been taking a series of photographs taken from behind her, kind of giving a view of the world from her eyes.

FYP: What are your favourite techniques or methods?

Omar: I do not really have any solid techniques or methods when it comes to photographing – I tend to go with the moment and my intuition, which ends up being a sort of trial and error exercise. I tend to have more of a photojournalist approach to photographing; I go in intending to capture the moment efficiently, rather than planning to capture it artistically. I think I am still developing my eye, so to speak.

FYP: How much emphasis do you put on post-production?

Omar: I do a fair amount of post-production in Lightroom, which is definitely a much better experience that using RAW in Photoshop, for example. When I look at photographs I “edited” a couple of years ago, I’ve seen a lot of improvement in that aspect. But I have still got a lot to learn, and try to experiment with different aspects of production to expand what I know and do.

With post-production, it is easy to improve the aesthetics of a photograph by drawing out colours and improving the quality of an image, but it is also very easy to be destructive with editing, so the question you have to ask yourself is, where do you draw the line? Especially when trying to produce accurate, journalistic work?

FYP: What genre/s would you most like to experiment in?

Omar: I am quite keen on photojournalism, that is what I am interested in and passionate about. I feel some of the technique-heavy genres, like fashion and landscape are a little out of reach for me, although I have some landscape and quite like street photography. I would also really like to experiment with cinemagraphs, they have this great look and feel to them that almost merge the best parts of still photography and video.

FYP: If you could photograph anyone/anywhere in the world, who/where would you photograph?

Omar: If I could photograph anywhere in the world, I would photograph Somalia as it is one of the most under-reported areas in the world. I wish it was easier to get into because there is a lot happening there that many people outside do not and will not get to see.

FYP: Have you ever done commissioned work?

Omar: Yes, mostly I get asked to cover events, whether by a magazine or a news website. I have had a limited amount of success in pitching my ideas to magazines, but hope to do more of that in the future.

FYP: Have your photographs ever been published in exhibitions/books etc…?

Omar: My images are mainly published in magazines – they see my images on sites such as Flickr and then contact me to  license the images. I have been published in various magazines, for example in Emel in the UK, Cabinet magazine in New York, an Indonesian magazine called Aquila Asia, the UNEP magazine Tunza, some regional publications and some great websites, especially Boing Boing.

I’ve also sold a few photos for commercial use, for advertisements and things, and have other photos available for licensing through Getty Images.

FYP: Have you got any hints or tips to share with aspiring photographers?

Omar: Yes – The internet is there to be used, so exploit it as much as you can by posting your photographs online and using social media to advertise yourself. Also make use of any site that allows you to implement creative commons (such as Flickr) to ensure that everyone who views your photographs know what they can and cannot do with them. In addition, always give as much information as possible with your online images – make sure it is available to find in the easiest way possible.

FYP: What is your favourite way to relax?

Omar: I suppose one of my favourite ways to relax is by just having a cup of coffee and reading a book… I’m actually quite interested in graphic novels at the moment and am considering creating my own one in the near future.

Ways To Contact Omar








Studying photography at UWE, Bristol, Ameena is a self-taught photographer and retoucher, working to get into the fashion photography industry. Cinematography and portraiture are her two favourite genres, and she loves to create and tell stories. In her spare time, she likes to play sports, video games, and lose herself in good books
Follow her on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/zombiemeena


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