070: Walid Azami – From Teacher Credential Dropout to Celebrity Photographer

Who Kanye West, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Usher, Mariah Carey, & Madonna Turn to for Amazing Photos

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Walid Azami was born in Kabul, Afghanistan but escaped the war a few years later. He then spent the majority of his life living in Southern California. After completing college, he dropped out of the teaching credential program at California State University Fullerton. Walid started his career in the entertainment industry by assisting in Madonna’s creative endeavors.

Included in his photography portfolio are celebrities such as Kanye West, Jennifer Lopez, Usher, Ricky Martin, Maria Carey, Madonna, and more. His music video work includes Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, and his video for Tamar Braxton received a Video of the Year nomination.

Walid is the creative director for growing brands. He is a public speaker. He teaches online courses to photographers globally and gives daily business advice via an assortment of online avenues.

What We Discuss with Walid Azami:

  • Why he decided to drop out of his teaching credential program
  • How he got down the photography path
  • His internship experience with Madonna
  • The power of asking for opportunities
  • Using people vs.utilizing people and relationships
  • How to overcome the fear of getting things started
  • The importance of listening to your instincts
  • Going on tour with Usher as a photographer

[02:00] Rejecting the Teacher Credential Program and Working for Madonna

Walid finished his undergrad in 7 years. He initially wasn’t sure about what he wanted to do in his life. He rejected the offer to enter the teacher credential program and just knew he wanted to do something creative.

One day, while watching a Madonna tribute on the MTV awards, his friend randomly commented on how he could be doing something like it.

After a meditative drive, he then looked up the internet and found an internship opportunity at Madonna’s film company. He applied by sending a 3-page email and bombarding them with the same email.

It was all instinct. Walid simply followed his instincts and this got him to where he is now.

Everybody needs help. Don’t be afraid to ask people if they need help. Walid literally asked Madonna’s manager if they could hire him as an assistant and so they did.

[23:00] His Work Experience at Madonna’s Company

Everybody carved their own path to get there. They have this allergic reaction to whenever someone says something is impossible. It’s like cussing in front of a child.

He was surrounded by people who are doers. He saw workaholics not being resentful when they got up for work.

[26:15] Leverage Relationships

Know what’s in your back pocket and leverage that. Eventually, he left the job. He realized management wasn’t his thing because he wanted to create. But he also knew how people acknowledged him for working with Madonna. He saw this as an opportunity he could leverage.

Ask for opportunities. Walid “stalked” Jonas Åkerlund, an award-winning music video director who was making a documentary at that time. He asked for an opportunity to work with him. He basically leveraged his connection with Madonna to be able to do this.

There’s a difference between using people and utilizing people. You’re not taking advantage of anyone. Ask for what you want and they’re going to say yes or no.

Just start. If any obstacle happens along the way, you’re going to figure out how to solve it. Only worry as far as your headlights can see. Just keep going. And you’ll get there in no time.

Ask questions. Walid worked as an assistant again. He was so eager to learn and was brave enough to ask for an opportunity to direct. A few months after, he became an assistant to another music video director. After talking to him badly, he finally quit.

[40:40] His Road to Photography

A low moment – Working as an intern for a small indie movie, he went in and said hi to the group. Without saying any hi or hello back, the man just ordered him to get sandwiches at Subway. He felt so embarrassed and defeated.

Listen to your sixth sense. One day, Walid was at this dinner with a creative director whom he worked with Madonna previously. The greatest thing he learned from him was to listen to his intuition and just do it. He did listen to his instinct and bought a camera even though he was broke.

Another low moment – He landed an opportunity to do the behind-the-scenes video for Usher. Listening to his instinct again, he was also shooting photos although he literally did not know what he was doing. It was one of the lowest moments of his life because he felt the photos were horrible.

From low to high – Listening to his instinct again – and again, he turned all photos in black and white. Usher loved them and hired Walid as his personal photographer on his tour.

[01:04:00] Final Words of Wisdom

Just serve. If you have a story that can help somebody but you don’t write that book and you’re not helping people, that’s bad karma.

Episode Resources:

Follow Walid on Instagram @howtophotograph or visit his website WalidAzami.com.

You Are a Bad Ass by Jen Sincero

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