Photographer Hanina, though only 25-years-old, has already landed herself commissions for some of today’s biggest brands and e-commerce labels. Through lighting and her radiant personality, the London-based creative’s style is often influenced by the subjects she photographs as well as her own signature approach.
“I always try to bring more out of a model than just being a still image, whether through expressions or movement. I hope when someone looks at my photos, they can feel the energy and laughter we had on set,” she tells us. “I try to achieve this on every shoot, whether it being sportswear, fashion, or beauty.”
Among some of the standout shoots in her portfolio, Hanina has notably photographed Nike for HYPEBAE, Adidas’ Women In Power campaign, Chivas Regal, and a number of works for Gen-Z favorites such as Jaded LDN, Gymshark, Naked Wolfe, and more. Moreover, she continues to build a formidable portfolio of captivating imagery and amplify the voices she captures, recently working with the likes of Levi’s, Doc Martens, The Isle Of Paradise, and recently Puma Global to name a few.
In our latest interview, Hanina gives us a look at her career as a photographer, as well as expanding on the benefits of signing to a creative agency, shooting NME‘s Olivia Rodrigo cover, advice to young visual artists, and more. Below, read on for our in-depth conversation.
What initially sparked your interest in photography?
From the age of twelve, I always knew I wanted to be a photographer. One weekend, My mum asked my dad to go out and buy strawberries and he came back with a Canon camera. From then on, I started to take it everywhere, shooting palm trees on holiday to ducks in the local ponds. By fifteen to sixteen, my interest moved on to people and fashion, my initial instinct was to go to Topshop, buy a couple of outfits and try and recreate the current fashion stories at the time with my friends.
I always leaned more toward the art subjects in school, the academic side was never my strong point. From day one, I based any project possible around photography, allowing myself from a young age to become comfortable with a camera. I went on to study at Ravensbourne University in London. This was a perfect fit for me, it had a very commercial-led curriculum. It was focused on trying to get us geared for the advertising world.
I tried my hardest to build up my portfolio and gain industry experience whilst I was at Ravensbourne, this started with shooting my friends, which led to smaller modeling agencies and so on. In my final year, I started shooting for small London brands which I would find and contact through ASOS Marketplace and larger modeling agencies, this allowed me to build up my confidence in working in a professional environment and understanding how the industry works. Three months after graduating, I landed a small Nike Campaign which led to me finding my feet in this industry. I hope this potentially gives young photographers the initiative to never be afraid to put themselves out there.
I’m maybe a few years younger than you although I’m curious, do you still get nervous or feel pressure given how long you’ve been doing this?
Yeah, definitely! I feel like that’s a good thing. Nerves keep you at your best. Every shoot presents new experiences and challenges, but it is how you process and handle the pressure which is important. Over the past year, I’ve had many new experiences, from my first cover shoot, global campaigns, and being flown abroad for work. All of these bring new challenges, however, result in amazing stepping stones in my career which I feel very grateful for.
Tell us a bit more about your upbringing, has that played a role in your decision to become a photographer or how you approach the practice?
My upbringing was filled with a lot of happiness, love, and support, and I can definitely say without the continuous support and push from my parents, I would not be where I am now. From twelve years old, my parents would drive me all over London to take photos, they would help me execute my photography projects at school and even at university. Even to this day, they are a huge support system. Would I have followed my dreams from a young age, if my family didn’t support me? Probably not, so I know they have played a huge role in me becoming a photographer.
In regards to navigating the industry and working with some of the established labels that you’ve worked with—Adidas, Jaded London, UGG to name a few—what advice would you give to young photographers who haven’t experienced a breakthrough yet?
Just keep shooting. I get asked this question a lot from young keen photographers. I always say just try to build up your portfolio as much as you can. Every shoot that you do will enhance your skills or knowledge of photography, and build your confidence behind the camera. This can be from practicing lighting, learning how to direct your talent, and overall building your style. I remember the first time I tried to put up a backdrop, it fell down on me. These are all learning experiences that you have to go through.
Another tip is to try to gain as much industry experience as possible. Being able to understand the industry you are in, potentially even before joining it, can be really beneficial. To understand the lingo used, timeframes we work in, and processes which take place in pre and post-production. Gaining access to this, allows you to walk into an industry as a newbie but communicate as if you know exactly what’s going on. When I was 18, I would send out hundreds of emails a day to creatives all over the industry asking to meet for a coffee just so I could pick their brain and potentially build a relationship with someone whom further day the line would think of me for a shoot.
Do you believe that you need to go to school or have an expensive camera to make it far?
Funnily enough, I went the whole way through uni without actually owning a camera. We had a resource library at Ravensbourne, and I would go there 3 times a week to hire out a Canon 5D. I was a student, and I didn’t have the funds to go out and buy the best equipment, but I wanted to produce the highest quality work so the answer is no, you don’t have to own the best gear. When you have this equipment it can help, but if you’ve got the drive to do something then you’ll make it happen. I loved going to university, and I think I made the most out of it, however, industry experience is by far more important than what you learn in a classroom so it’s not crucial at all.
As far as working on smaller, close-knit projects and bigger shoots that require more people to be involved, how much does your creative control actually change?
A lot. I like to put together my own personal shoots with a team that I know want to do the same thing; I just want to create cool content basically. Instagram is so important and it is so important for what we did, and I could spend a whole month on set doing amazing work, but chances are none of that is going to come out for three months or whatever. If I shoot my own content, then I can just post it whenever I want.
Compared to brand work, I’m following a brief and you’ve got to follow that depending on the brand. There are some brands that I’ve worked with since I graduated and I can sort of say to them, “we need to switch this up.” Some of them will trust you and there are other brands that as much as it’s a collaboration, you’ve got to produce it how they like. I’m lucky that ninety percent of the shoots that I go on, I love what I’m creating.
How do you aim to bring out the best of your talent?
I think the answer to creating an upbeat and playful image is about building a strong rapport with your talent. The way to do this is simply by getting to know them on a personal level. It is about making your subject feel at ease and comfortable with you. This can be challenging at times, sets can be stressful environments, there is a lot going on, and having 40 eyes staring at you can be intimidating. This is why I always try to block out the background and really make it a personal conversation between myself and my subject. Get to know them, ask about their weekend and what their plans are for the summer. From my experience, this has always led to creating really natural, yet exciting and fun imagery. Plus creating a fun vibe on set is always a must, you can never go wrong with a reggaeton playlist!
I’d love to know more about the NME cover shoot with Olivia Rodrigo—that was your first-ever cover shoot if I’m not mistaken?
That was my first ever musician and my first ever cover. It’s a funny story as to how I got that job, back when I was 18 I did work experience at a photographers agency. The director would allow me to go on set and assist the photographers signed to her, basically, I was the coffee girl but I was so excited just to be on a photoshoot. This particular shoot was Zara Larsson for NME. I got chatting to the creative director and ended up getting his contact details. Four years later, he contacts me about shooting the cover of Olivia. I’m telling this story, just to show again that gaining experience and meeting people in the industry at whatever age will always only be a positive and beneficial move.
It was an amazing day, the shoot didn’t start until the late afternoon and I was so nervous I didn’t eat anything all day! Olivia was the perfect talent for me, purely because she was so open to having as much fun as possible with it, jumping around, and playful expressions. I only had 30 minutes with her so I had to move quick and embrace the chaotic environment. She was super down-to-earth, fun, and an absolute pleasure to work with.
Beyond that, if you were to narrow your portfolio down to three photoshoots that you’ve done in the past year, which ones would you keep?
I recently shot an Adidas campaign, whereby the team worked closely with Abby & Jappari, this shoot was filled with so much energy and playfulness. The concepts were wacky and futuristic, so it was really exciting to see the final outcome come alive. Secondly, the Olivia Rodrigo shoot which was a big one for me. Having the chance to shoot such an incredible talent, but also be able to bring my usual style to it was a great experience. Lastly, the Jaded London Rework campaign I shot right after the first lockdown in the UK. Everyone’s fire and excitement to be back on set after four months, allowed me to create magic. Still to this day, when I’m fortunate enough to get briefs through from brands like Puma and Nike, these images are always referenced.
To close things out, what does your dream photoshoot look like—who, what, and where are choosing?
I love an urban environment, so I’d love to shoot on the streets of New York or Tokyo. Potentially with talents like Storm Reid, Camilla Cabello, Billie Eilish or a KPOP band. To be honest, anyone whose willing to play around and bring fun energy to the shoot. One day I’d love to have a global campaign displayed around the world on billboards, maybe for a brand like Apple or Beats by Dr Dre.
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