Photos: Alex Jeffries
I don’t treat the words lightly when I say someone is a great photographer. In the new age of digital, there are many photographers but not many great ones. Alex Jeffries is certainly one of the great ones who is technically brilliant at his work and is also a genius in post-production too. Very rarely do you find a photographer who is good at both. A man of incredible detail and focus, and his work speaks for itself. Alex, from Harrogate in Yorkshire has lived in Dubai for 15-years. He lives with his beautiful wife, Kelly, and their 4- year old daughter Aya, and most importantly with Molly, the cat. Alex first came to Dubai because of his love for the region when his father worked with the Oman Police with Sultan Qaboos many years ago. Together Kelly and Alex run three businesses: two Photography and one Public Relations. To see Alex’s work click here.
How did you get into photography and when did you turn professional?
I studied Graphic Design at University but from the darkroom days at school I’d always had an interest and a passion for photography. Having a designer’s eye gives you an advantage: you understand typography, composition and know design and layout. I also studied Art History which gives a great understanding of the golden rectangle and how the masters constructed their paintings.
I started shooting stock with istock it was great to be part of the Getty Images family. I stuck with it and my skills grew. They keep you abreast of the global creative image needs and standards, a great grounding.
I also teach. There’s a great reward that comes from it, that you can miss whilst doing other paid work. I’ve taught Adobe Photoshop for many years, firstly in the UK and then here in Dubai at GPP, the local photography education provider and elsewhere in Dubai.
With teaching Adobe software for so many years, I was also invited to become an Adobe partner. This partnership gives access to the latest design and imaging technologies before anyone else and direct contact with Adobe. The relationship and experience gives me and the team great retouching and colouring skill. Additionally I was also invited to be a Coloratti – a collection of the world’s top professional photographers recognised by X-rite who understand the importance and implementation of good colour management. It’s great to be involved with them.
I inherited a great work ethic from my father – I worked incredibly hard and my skills grew in all areas. I began to build the business and jobs started to flow in.
Back to 2017 and I have recently been awarded qualifications by the British Institute of Professional Photography – one of only two Photographers in the region that holds these. BIPP are internationally recognised and respected and its qualifications are a benchmark of excellence. Members must be qualified professionals and agree to be bound by their code of conduct. BIPP qualifications are among the most rigorous in the world, requiring hard work, determination, commitment and lots of creativity.
These days, being a professional photographer you need to wear many hats, it is no longer good enough to pick up a camera and take some good photos. You need to teach, you need to be skilled with colour management and retouching and have design and composition training and you have to be good with Social Media, Strategy and Marketing – it’s great fun.
Now, over ten years later, I run two successful photography businesses www.alexjeffriesphotographygroup.com – that specialises in Hotels, Hospitality and Interiors Photography and www.barefootdubai.com – family photography.
Can you tell us about Barefoot Dubai Photography?
Four years ago, when Kelly was pregnant with Aya, I was thrust into a wonderful world of families, babies, children, mums and dads. It was exciting, and because so many people knew I was a photographer they asked if I would do a maternity shoot, or a family shoot, or a newborn shoot. At that point I told people that we were a commercial photography company not a family one. But the requests kept coming, and so did the stories about family photographers in the city.
It seemed many people were unhappy with what they had seen or experienced, whether it was the quality, the pricing, what was delivered or the shoot packages. There didn’t seem to be much that they were pleased about and I heard so many negative stories.
Our pregnancy with Aya was not an easy one and many times we were told to prepare to lose her. With strength and prayers and an amazing doctor, our little angel Aya arrived at 8 months – her name fitted perfectly as it means “Sign from God’ or ‘Miracle’. Many late nights gave me time to think about this family photography problem that I kept hearing about, so around that time, ‘Barefoot Dubai – photography for family’ was born too.
I put a whole lot of work and investment into the launch and the web site. And all of this strategy and thinking was solely based on customer research and feedback. Consumers expect and demand high standards and they want transparency in pricing, packages and deliverables. So I looked at the whole project with a commercial eye. I wasn’t going to just set up a Facebook page and do a few shoots at the beach. It had to be done professionally and in the right way.
We were the very first family photography company to be awarded membership to the National Association of Professional Child Photographers, NAPCP. Others have now followed, but it was very important to me that people trusted our work, our qualifications.
I thought about the shoot packages – what people wanted and expected from a shoot. The images had to be professional, modern and the style needed to be less posed, more real. People told us that they were tired of being lured into a photographer’s studio with the offer of a cheap shoot, only to be told that their images are going to cost thousands of dirhams. Their images are effectively held to ransom until they pay outdated and ridiculously high prices for them.
We give all the images to clients, in high resolution for print and low resolution for social media, in different colours and styles, additionally all our costs are listed on our website, both of these aspects – we were the very first company in Dubai and the UAE to do this.
We haven’t paid to partner with any hospital, we haven’t rented a space in a mall. We have grown organically and successfully and now are a great photography provider in Dubai, giving families really what they want.
We’ve photographed multiple generations of families coming together, we’ve been invited to palaces in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, photographed members of the royal family and now have numerous pages of testimonials on the website from happy customers.
Enquiries come in daily from the UAE and all over the world. We worked so hard to build a good reputation and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved.
You also have Alex Jeffries Photography Group – can you tell us a little bit more about that? (so people don’t get the two confused)
Alex Jeffries Photography Group is our commercial company, we have made great progress in winning clients and building an impressive portfolio. We photograph hotels, resorts, interiors, corporate and food and beverage.
Our client list now includes Apple, Jumeirah and Meraas, owned by Dubai’s ruler – Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, most of the global law firms in DIFC including Herbert Smith Freehills, Clifford Chance and Linklaters, hotel groups including Radisson, Rotana, Jumeirah Group and Marriott.
Can you describe Barefoot Dubai Photography’s artistic style and what is your vision and emphasis to capture the essence of each family?
People want real, natural images, not heavily posed and photoshopped. It is often the shot between the shots that is the best one – if a photographer says ‘smile’, people tend to go rigid and stiff, but when they think the camera is off they relax and smile. These are the images that we like to capture.
Are your family shoots on average indoor or outdoors?
We offer both – no surprise that during Dubai’s fabulous Winters we spend a lot of time outdoors. We take families down to the iconic Burj Al Arab for fun beach sessions, or to one of the beautiful parks for the lush green background. When Summer comes we either head to the studio or to our clients’s homes for relaxed, laid-back sessions.
Do you also do photoshoots for newborns?
Absolutely, and I’m really proud of our amazing newborn shoots and the beautiful images that we capture. This was one of the shoots I had heard so many negative stories about: photographers that had never held a tiny baby before, conducting sessions in a garage, squishing babies into plant pots, even insisting that the parents could not be in the room. All wrong!
Taking a precious newborn baby that is just a few days old from the hands of a new mother is a very special privilege, not something to be taken lightly. It’s an amazing time and we were passionate to get this shoot package exactly right. We’ve photographed the tiniest premature babies, we’ve worked with many sets of twins, we’ve been to tiny studio apartments and the biggest palaces. It’s a magical and lovely shoot. I think we have designed it perfectly.
With our newborn session we go to our client’s home so that they can relax completely – no stress wrestling a new baby into a car and across the city with all the things that you need for changing and feeding. We take very natural, beautiful images, we don’t squish and push a new baby into poses that are uncomfortable.
We encourage parents to be present and to take part – babies need to cuddle mum and dad every few minutes. We take photos with parents too, and other relatives if they are there.
We also advise new parents how to soothe a new baby, how to hold them. You can practice swaddling, you can read all the books available, but until you have that newborn baby in your arms, only then can you really understand what they want and need.
Can you describe to us the process for a typical family organising a photoshoot with Barefoot Dubai Photography?
We’ve tried to make the process as simple and as streamlined as possible. A client’s first point of contact is usually our website which details all of our shoot packages and ways of working. They can send an enquiry through the ‘Contact Us’ page. which we respond to within a maximum of 48hrs.
At this point, I’m aware that issues high on peoples minds are:
#1 Is the photographer professional?
We explain that we are licensed, qualified and insured.
#2 Does the Photographer make great images?
We direct them towards our great portfolio to see examples of beautiful images, these are updated weekly.
#3 What are the costs?
We discuss the shoot package that they are interested in and direct them to the page on the website, they can clearly see one cost and all details, no need for confusion or a hundred emails back and forth.
#4 Is there any feedback from other clients / families?
We show them testimonials from our happy clients – we have many pages of great feedback on our website.
At this point people reserve an agreed date with a deposit or full payment, which is easily done through the website with Paypal or a credit card. We stay in touch as the shoot date approaches and are as flexible as we can be – we know that babies do not always arrive to a schedule!
What’s really lovely is that we see many clients as their lives change and their families grow: we might start with a maternity session, then meet their newborn, then have a 100 day session, then a first birthday cake smash.
For a family with a AED1,500 budget, can you tell us what they would get for that?
Our costs are ‘all-in’ costs. We have a number of packages on the website for 1,499 AED, one of our most popular is the Classic Barefoot session. This is an hour at the beach, park or desert, with 30-40 digital images included in a variety of styles: lovely vintage, vibrant colour and classic black and white.
Your wife Kelly works too, how do you both balance between work and time with your little girl?
As for any working parents, we co-ordinate and plan carefully. I’m present for many nursery pickups and drop-offs and the great benefit of running our own businesses is that we can be flexible and work the diary around commitments.
Aya and I often have sunset swims together and weekends are always planned well in advance. We live near the beach in Jumeirah and we spend a lot of time there and at the city’s gorgeous parks. Family time at the weekend is such a great time to relax and re-charge together.
We have our own little rituals that ground us in busy times: no one is allowed to leave the house without a hug and a kiss (this includes Nanny Grace and Molly the Cat!) and we have a special ‘kiss-cuddle-hug’ moment at bedtime. There’s not an evening that she sleeps without one of these from Dada.
Your favourite place to getaway from Dubai?
When I came back to work in the Middle East and Dubai, I visited Al Ain and grew a great fondness for the Emirate, as did Kelly. In those early days exploring, I shot many photographs of the old doors there and this became a coffee table photography book, published by Motivate.
Al Ain remains largely untouched and we usually visit every month. I enjoy nothing more than exploring a peaceful oasis with Aya in the winter months.
Your favourite piece of art?
I grew a great passion in my early days of Art history study for both the Impressionists and the Pop artists. I love Salvador Dali and visited his museum in Catalonia, I love the Gaudi architecture in Barcelona too. I’m also a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, his way of working can be seen everywhere today.
Your favourite art gallery in the world?
I’d have to say the Dali museum in Spain, although I’ve yet to visit Andy Warhol’s. It’s not an art gallery but the new Etihad Museum in Dubai is walking distance from our house and has some fascinating exhibits – we have been a few times and I urge everyone with a passion for the history of the UAE to head there.
Your favourite restaurant in Dubai?
I’m constantly shooting in the greatest 5 star hotels and restaurants in Dubai and Abu Dhabi so for my favourite restaurant I’d have to opt for a simple more down to earth restaurant. Ravi’s in Satwa makes great Pakistani street food, we’ve been going for so many years. All the staff know us, we know exactly what to order and it never changes.
What do you do on a weekly basis just to get some downtime?
I ride a motorbike and have a great group of friends who head out to ride very early every Friday morning, usually to Kalba through the mountains to the East coast. It’s a 5 hour trip, great to get some flow and blow away the cobwebs and see the guys.
Additionally I also get up at 5.30 every morning and swim for half an hour in our pool. It really clears my mind and sets me up for the day ahead.
Mums tend to struggle with buying gifts for their husbands, can you tell us your current top 3 presents on your wish list?
#Some Oppo headphones, the best you’ll ever hear
#The book – ‘How will you measure your life’ – Clay Christensen
#El Chapo – DVD Box set
Find out more about Barefoot Dubai Photography