Growing up in northeast Portland, Naim Hasan always had a camera. But when it came to photography as a career, there didn’t seem to be many opportunities.
So, he did the practical thing. He went to school, got a business degree, and started on a 14-year career in the telecommunications industry.
“Never did I think of doing photography as a business,” Hasan says, “It just wasn’t even a concept then. But I always had a camera. I was always taking pictures.”
In 2002, he left his career in corporate sales and management to start Naim Hasan Photography.
With the company now entering its 17th year, 90 percent of Hasan’s work is corporate-related and his list of clients covers local, regional and national organizations, including Nike, Portland Community College, Portland Business Alliance, Susan G. Komen and the US Department of Commerce.
Hasan has also worked extensively with the City of Portland, recently signing two separate five-year contracts for on-call work with Portland Parks & Recreation and the Bureau of Environmental Services.
While he’s always had a love for photography, it took more than just a camera to figure out how to turn his passion into a successful business.
The right timing.
In the early 2000s, with the telecommunications industry undergoing significant changes, Hasan decided it was time to shift directions.
Not one to sit still, he already had a few revenue streams going on the side in the fields of personal training and network marketing. Photography was just another thing he needed to figure out how to get off the ground. Sitting in a Starbucks one day, Hasan filled out a checklist he had come across that was supposed to help identify his passion.
“As I compared all these activities against this little checklist, most of them came up ‘no’ except photography,” he says. “And it was like that moment I knew.”
Within a half hour of making the conscious decision, he received an email asking if he was available for a shoot.
“It was like the universe just saying, ‘Ok, you made the right choice.’” From that point on, he only needed to figure out to how to make it happen.
Timing turned out to be key for Hasan. In earlier years, the cost of equipment and film had been a barrier to entry into professional photography.
“I started with a film camera,” he says. “So imagine doing a shoot. You have to buy rolls of film, and then you have to process the film and there’s costs there. It was kind of limiting in terms of how many projects you could do when you’re putting forth your own money. Then digital came out and changed the game for me.” Unsure what equipment to buy, Hasan bought what
he could afford — an entry level Nikon D70 — and over time slowly upgraded his equipment, figuring out how to make each new camera pay for itself.
To grow his photography into more than a side business, Hasan knew he needed to find clients apart from weddings and senior portraits. Then, he heard about Travel Portland and the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs.
Coming from a business background, he felt very comfortable networking but didn’t know how the process would work with photography.
“I think the biggest part of it was just understanding where can I network? Who would be interested in photography services? Being around OAME and Travel Portland, exposing me to the diversity of companies, answered that question for me.”
He quickly discovered a market for corporate photography. “Then it was just time, getting out there and networking everywhere and handing out my card.”
As part of his membership, he received a list of all the major conferences coming up. He would pick a group of about 25 conferences and send an email blast to all the meeting planners introducing himself. He started receiving requests for quotes and, within just three or four years of starting his business, began booking national conferences.
Around the same time Hasan was starting his business, the state had begun offering a minority certification, and an acquaintance at OAME encouraged him to apply.
“I remember spending about 14 hours one day working through that paper process, because it was still new and not a lot of people had a lot of experience with it,” he says.
After the first year, nothing seemed to be happening as a direct result of his MBE certification, and he wondered whether he should bother with the lengthy process again.
“Friday of the same week, I get a call from a person at the City of Portland saying, ‘Hey, I got your name from the list and wanted to know if you’d be interested in working with the city.’”
Since getting that first call, Hasan has found himself photographing projects he never would have imagined, including roadways, water treatment and green streets.
“On a rainy day, I’m out photographing the flow of water and how it’s captured in those facilities,” he says. He also obtained a certification in aerial photography to take drone shots of Portland parks and other projects.
“Every year we would renew the contract,” he says of his work with the city. “This last one, because we’ve had a great relationship, instead of doing a one-year or a three-year (contract), they found it more cost- effective to just do a five-year agreement.”
Hasan continues to brainstorm about ways to grow the business. “I’ve been thinking about if I was to expand beyond just myself, what that looks like.” He is also working on a book which will incorporate the experience he’s gained through his business and athletic endeavors.
“I’ve just developed this pattern of just going when I get the insight to go. There’s always something there, there’s always an opportunity.”
Naim Hasan, owner of Naim Hasan Photography. Photo by Jaime Valdez
SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT
Naim Hasan likes to talk about managing the “I don’t feel like it” story.
While training to be an Olympic athlete in Taekwondo, he sometimes came home from work tired, not wanting to work out. Once, he remembers having his future wife drive her car ahead of him and stop. For the first few miles, he complained as he ran to catch up.
“About three miles in, the conversation started to shift,” he says. “I started to pay attention to the cars, the lights, the reflection of the lights on the pavement, and my whole being shifted.”
In the end, he ran 15 miles that day.
“I go back and think about that experience as it relates to all the other things that I end up having to do in my work. Like going to networking meetings at 7 o’clock in the morning. It’s early, and it’s really uncomfortable. There are times I don’t feel like it. It’s those moments that I remember you’ve got to move when it’s time to move.”