Q&A with Omar Khaleel

We talk to the British-Yemeni photographer about his exciting journey so far

Photo: Omar Khaleel/Red, 1970

Born and raised in Birmingham and ethnically Yemeni, Omar Khaleel's eclectic body of work is the sort of magic that can only really arise from a multi-cultural worldview. His cinematic approach to fashion photography has caught the eye of some of world's biggest brands and publications. His client list boasts everyone from Adidas and Puma, to HYPEBEAST and the Financial Times. Omar was kind enough to sit down with us an answer some questions for budding photographers who'd like to follow in his impressive footsteps.

Photo: Omar Khaleel/Kickers for JD Sport

How did you get into photography?

In my second year of university I joined a course entitled Visual Communication – Photography. I met some great people who convinced me to the join the course.

We personally love the mix of cultures evident in your portfolio. Where are you from and how do these influences shape your approach to concept development?

I grew up in the inner city of Birmingham, but ethnically my background is Yemeni. My work is influenced from cultural references, music, colours, shapes and architecture. When I fit that all together I end up creating what I create. If I’m working on a commercial project I make it eye catching because of how I would see the subject with my influences.

Photo: Omar Khaleel/K-Swiss

Over the past decade there has been a lot of discussion about the need for more image makers from diverse backgrounds. As a British-Yemeni is it important to you to be a representative within the industry for people from your background?

It is important that we should be represented, however there is a serious lack of representation from a lot of backgrounds. I think for now we'll have to move as a unit and eventually showcase what everyone individually can do.

A lot of young creatives who are building their portfolios are unsure of the pros and cons of working for free to build their name. What's your opinion on the matter?

This is a very sensitive matter. The pros are you’re getting experience which is very key because without experience if something goes wrong or what you envisaged the job or the image would look like in your head doesn’t translate, that's a problem. That’s where experience comes in. With the bigger brands it also helps as well, it's a bit crazy, but some brands might want you but would need to see that you’ve worked with another brand before they would work with you.  Which ultimately isn’t fair and I think it should be down to your talent however, that’s how the industry is. However we do have rent to pay and you know you brands and publications are still financially gaining off you. So if you can find a balance where maybe you’re doing a few shoots that are paid and then some you’re doing some shoots that are more artistically driven that's a good balance.

Photo: Omar Khaleel/Ginger 1983

Your portfolio is like a who's who of big names. Ranging from brands including Adidas, Nike, New Balance, Puma and G-Shock to publications ranging from Wonderland to the Financial Times. Has the experience of working with such big names been what you expected when you started out on your photographic journey?

Personally as I feel I achieved a lot of targets very early on in my career, my journey has now have had to change. As a lot of the things I did want to achieve that I thought would take me a lot longer.  I’m very grateful I managed to achieve earlier. Saying that I’m always grateful for the right opportunities and working on great projects in the future.

Are you particularly into fashion yourself, independent of your work?

I would say I am and I’m not. However I am very into music of all genres and I think that’s my link to fashion as they all are essentially linked. They're all part of subculture, youth culture and culture in general

Photo: Omar Khaleel/Brandon Williams for PUMA

We've noticed some of your recent editorial work has a distinctly more cinematic feel to it. What's set you down this creative path?

In all honesty this is the direction I’ve always wanted to go especially from the films and the ranges of music I like. So because I wasn’t able to shoot a lot of commercial work this year, I wanted to expand my own creativity and be free. So I’ve started a mini series of doing scenes and crew creating these shoots that are more editorial vibes.

Do you have a dream person you'd like to photograph and if so who?

Of course I would love to shoot all the greats like Mike Tyson, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino. Also people like the Queen, Lana Del Rey and other stars.

Photo: Omar Khaleel/Rasharn Powell

Has 2020 and Covid changed your outlook on your career at all?

Most definitely feel it has taught me that you have to also be open to shooting other stuff outside what you feel comfortable in if you want to stay as a photographer. I always say that my style is a luxury, I am a luxury for a brand. In the sense of a brand needs a e-commerce photographer for their website or products but can’t always afford a commercial or creative photographer they won’t get one. 

What plans, whether to do with photography or otherwise, are you looking forward to at the moment?

I have a few upcoming projects that I’m working on that hopefully will be out within the next few months. Some are my personal projects and some are with clients.

See more of Omar's work via his portfolio

Follow Omar on Instagram


You may also like...

Sirens FC x Out of Office link up with Martyn Ewoma to make custom Arsenal shirt featuring the names and faces of iconic black figures in education to raise money for The Black Curriculum



Using Format