Zia Uddin shares the story of his transformative experience from art direction to becoming the foremost name in advertisement photography.

You have an influential impact in both art direction and advertisement photography. Tell us about this journey.

In 2003, when I was still studying  painting, two of my friends asked me if I  was looking for some work, and whether  I would be interested in assisting in an art  direction project. I knew little about art  direction, but they gave me a brief idea  about the job, and I was able to complete  it successfully. I liked the work and kept  at it, so I guess that’s how it all started.

In the beginning there were a few things  I had to learn. For example, for indoor  shoots, knowing about interior design is  important. As a student of Fine Arts, I  understood framing and composition  and could decorate a zone for a shot, but  that wouldn’t be enough to fulfil the  overall vision.

Courtesy: Zia Photography

So, I took a short course on interior  design which helped me gain a bit more  confidence and took me a long way.  Soon, I was leading the art direction in  several projects, and continued to strive  to improve myself so that I could sustain  in the market.

I started studying lenses because I was  noticing that shots framed in a particular  lens, say 15 mm, seemed to fall short  when looked at through an 85 mm or 24  mm lens. I spoke with a DOP about this  and he suggested I buy a camera and a  few lenses and experiment with frames  myself. I did, and realised that changing  the lens changed everything. I  experimented with lenses a lot, trying to  figure out the adjustments that were  needed in the set, and through that  process I discovered that photography  was a lot of fun. You could say that was  the beginning of my journey into  advertisement photography. 

How did you improve your  photography skills from being a  novice to being the go-to name in  the industry?

Courtesy: Zia Photography

It took some time. At first, my shots  came out overexposed or underexposed.  I started thinking of doing a course on photography, but there weren’t many  institutions back then. I consulted with a  friend who introduced me to  Mohammad Rakibul Hasan – a great  photographer, and a very friendly person.  You’ll understand how knowledgeable he  is just by talking to him. He taught me  bits and pieces for about a year and  would even give me short assignments  sometimes.


I bought a digital camera and began  taking loads of photos behind the scenes  for every TVC or commercial I was  working on. I never realised it back then,  but that was the beginning of my  transition from art direction to  advertisement photography. 

I wasn’t getting paid for taking these  shots; photography gave me inner peace. But soon a few agencies asked me to  share some of my photos with them and  after a while, one offered me payment for  my work. At first, I didn’t think much of  it, but when they said the payment would  be around 10 to 15 thousand taka, I  realised the value of my work. 

I remember, back in 2008, I was the only  one doing wedding photography with a  softbox. My clients would call it the  ‘magic box’ and that made me realise that  good lighting gives better results.

Courtesy: Zia Photography

One day, a veteran in the industry asked  me if I would be interested in doing advertisement photography. I hesitated at  first but then I gave it a shot. The client  was very happy with the work, but I  realised that this was not for me as this  was a specialty I had no knowledge in. So,  I went to Mohammad Rakibul Hasan  again who recommended a few online courses and a lighting course directly  taught by him. For almost 2 years, I  focused solely on studying photography,  refraining from taking any photos unless  it was for learning purposes. 

In 2012, I was approached to do a  behind-the-scenes photoshoot for a  campaign by the Bangladesh Army, and I  felt comfortable saying yes. After that  project, I was confident that I could do  advertisement work. 

A pivotal moment for me was working  with a team from Malaysia that I assisted  for 7 days. During those 7 days, I learned  how to properly treat a project –  pre-planning, workflow, priorities; the  lot. That elevated my skills further. 

Ever since then, I have been doing  advertisement photography. I also started  my own business, Zia Photography,  which I now run with my wife. Zia  Photography has been very successful  and we have done ad shoots for almost  every major brand in the country.

Tell us about the dynamic between you and your wife that makes your business partnership  work so well. 

t is a fantastic experience that I cannot  describe in words. I do the creative work,  and she manages the business. This helps  me a lot because if I had to worry about  payments, bargaining and negotiations, it  would hamper my creativity significantly.  I used to have to do this before and I  know it dampens the spirit and causes delays. 

The way we have set up operations, I take  the creative lead and the rest of the  business is handled by my wife. From  then on till the day the photos are  delivered, my work is only to take photos,  and she handles payments. For her, since  she studied business, this is her practice.  If she worked 9 to 5 elsewhere, we would  be spending a lot less time together.


My wife has worked at several agencies  before; that is the field that she built her  career in. When I realised that we could  be doing this together, and as agencies  were already familiar with us both, I  knew that this partnership would work  seamlessly. Having her on board is a big  relief and a beautiful blessing.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

If there is one person in Bangladesh who  has inspired me to pursue photography, it  is Rakibul Hasan. He is my idol, not only  for his photography, but for his  personality, his gentle mannerisms, and  work ethic. Generally speaking though, if  you ask what particular kind of work have  inspired me, I would say, I’m inspired by  all kinds of work. 

However, I try my best to only be  influenced by good work. Since we work  in so many different genres, we see a  variety of executions. As long as there is  something to be learned from a photo,  regardless of whether it was shot by a  veteran or a novice, it gives me the drive  to develop myself further. One of my  teachers at Charukola gave me this advice  once; observe everything that is good,  because studying the bad will inevitably  affect your work.

Drawing from your own experience and approach when  you started, what are some good  practices to adopt for newcomer  photographers?

If you want to be a good photographer, it  is essential to groom yourself. You  should start with the basics; take a  foundational course on photography and  get proper guidelines. If you were to do it  all by yourself, it would take you forever  and frustration will creep in. 

My advice would be to attend as many  workshops as possible and practise  beforehand. Never experiment on the  day of the shoot. Also, always take care  of your health and remain physically fit.  While you may be able to shoot for long  hours now, this is not sustainable and it  will hurt you in the future. The way we  organise our shoots, we start work at 10  am, and wrap up by 7 pm. This means we  always have to be well-prepared, but  ensures we never burn out.

Many newcomers today have budget issues. Beginners, in general, should not  be adamant about charging high. The  right approach should be to develop the  work and increment according to the  scale of production. If you maintain  good work quality, your reputation will  improve and so will your standard. At the  same time, know your worth. Your  creativity is valuable, so is your gear.  Factor everything in when you quote  your prices. 

At the end of the day, what we do is  teamwork. Everyone; clients, agencies,  producers, costume designers, makeup  artists will have their input. When the team  is built well, the photos will turn out well. 

Photographs: Courtesy of Zia Photography