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Interview with Aanchal Wadhwani, Photographer, Art Director, Actress, and Entrepreneur

Aanchal Wadhwani is a photographer who has managed to develop her talents and actively involve each of them in her life. I talked to Aanchal Wadhwani about her career.

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Aanchal Wadhwani

Aanchal Wadhwani


by Melisa Kaya

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Art means freedom, and it's not enough for most artists to walk on one road. Aanchal Wadhwani is one of those artists. Aanchal follows her passion for fashion and continues her career in many areas at the same time. Fashion design, modeling, photography, and even acting that make her a well-known person in Hong Kong are her career roads. First, she studied fashion design, then she created her own jewelry brand, and took herself behind to the camera to show her designs the way she wanted to, and the magic of photography surrounded her and placed itself at the center of her life. Aanchal Wadhwani, who founded Matryoshka Studio, is also one of the founders of STAGE, formed by the gathering of talented industry professionals. She loves to perform in front of the camera as much as she likes being behind the camera. Even in the DBS Bank's mini-series 'Sparks,' she portrays her own personality in front of the camera. I had the opportunity to meet Aanchal Wadhwani and listen to her story. I talked to photographer and actress Aanchal Wadhwani about her career, especially photography.

Aanchal, before talking about photography, I would like to learn more about you. When did you get your first camera? Do you remember the first photo that you shoot with it?

It's an interesting story actually! I got my first camera when I was 16 years old. I was studying fashion design at the time and had started my own jewelry brand called 'Matryoshka'. I bought a DSLR camera after learning photoshop myself, as I couldn't afford to hire a professional photographer for my marketing materials. My first photoshoot was a campaign for my jewelry brand.

Could you tell us about yourself? Who is Aanchal Wadhwani?

I'm a creative. I enjoy doing all sorts of creative work, and I love having different projects to work on every day. My major was in fashion design, but while studying, I was exploring all sorts of fashion careers - I was modelling, styling on photo shoots, designing clothes and joining fashion competitions, started my own handmade jewelry brand, working freelance as a retoucher and eventually photography.

After deciding to pursue photography professionally, I converted my jewelry label, Matryoshka, into a photography studio. The name I still use today, and it has even become my nickname, there are a lot of people who call me Matryoshka.

The acting was serendipity. I never planned to be an actress. My first on-screen project was a local TV show called 'Y2K'. The program is pretty famous and was responsible for the careers of several Hong Kong celebrities, however, I had no idea and was invited not as an actress, but as a fashion design student since the series was targeting designers that year. For the most part, it was a documentary of my life as a design student, but I was asked to act in Cantonese for quite a few parts. A few years later, I was casted for a mini-series for DBS Bank, and the rest is history!

Chinatown - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani
Chinatown - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani

How did you decide to pursue a career in photography and establish your own studio? What inspired you?

I've always been curious to explore different creative outlets, so when I started photography and retouching, I fell in love with the endless possibilities of creation it allowed me. With fashion design, I had restrictions on working around the human body, but photography gave me a blank canvas.

Initially, I was just having fun with photography, but eventually, I was approached by a modelling agency to photograph their new talent and help their models build a portfolio, and as my photographs reached more people, I started working on personal projects for young artists who are seeking to enter the industry. Eventually, my work reached a few startups, and my career as a photographer developed from there.

I'm naturally very entrepreneurial, so it didn't take me long to decide to pursue photography professionally and start my own studio.

Circle Weddings - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani
Circle Weddings - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani

How did your interest in fashion photography has begun? What is the most special aspect of fashion for you?

Since my background is in fashion design, it was the easiest transition for me to enter fashion photography. I already had an interest in the fashion world and had been reading magazines and following the major fashion brands. I already had an eye for composition and what trends were in season.

What I truly love about fashion and fashion photography is building a character. With makeup, hair, the right clothing, location, and lighting, I can work with the same model, and in one photo, she can be beautiful, feminine, and elegant while in another photo, she could be tough, androgynous and powerful.

Could you tell us about Matryoshka Studios and your team?

Matryoshka Studio is primarily focused on photography. My team includes makeup artists, hairstylists, model agencies and talent management, prop & set designers, fashion stylists, and basically a team that works behind the scenes to perfect an image. We have our own studio space that we rent out to other photographers as well.

Jace - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani
Jace - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani

How would you define your photographic approach?

I think my style is ever-evolving and I think that's important because working in fashion and advertising requires that. Society and people's mindset changes, so what they like and dislike changes as well. Visually I try and explore different elements with my work, but what I keep consistent is my involvement in the art direction process. I believe that is what truly makes my images unique.

What kind of services do you offer to your clients?

At Matryoshka Studio, we offer our clients a full service for advertising, fashion, product, portrait, and beauty photography covering the following:

Initial concept development, art direction, photography, retouching, lighting team, location scouting/studio, model scouting, talent management, makeup, hair, fashion styling, props and set design.

'Pandora' - Ophelia Exhibition - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani
'Pandora' - Ophelia Exhibition - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani

How would you describe the effect of the quality of the photo on the customers' decisions?

The customer knows their business and target audience the best, so it's natural for them to want to be involved in the production. We usually involve the client in every aspect of the production to ensure they understand the procedure as well as know what to expect as the final outcome. A lot of my customers like my style or vision before approaching my team and me to take on a project, so even though they may have ideas for the production, they are more than willing to listen to our advice and take in our experience.

You have worked on numerous campaigns for many globally recognized brands as a photographer. In addition to fashion photography, you love being in front of the camera, and you have successful works. Could you tell us about your role in DBS Bank's mini-series 'Sparks'?

DBS Bank launched a mini-series called 'Sparks' in which I play one of the main characters - Riya Rai, a research officer. The series has entered its second season, and each episode is based on a true DBS client and story.

Riya is a lot like myself. We are both creative people and love fashion. Riya comes up with brilliant ideas and thinks out of the box, which I love about her! We've been shooting the series on and off for the last 4 years, and playing her character has definitely grown on me!

Shooting for so many years has made our entire crew like a family. We have so much fun on set and truly enjoy working on the series.

Chinatown - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani
Chinatown - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani

Could you briefly talk about 'From Vegas to Macau 3' and the other projects you took part in? This may be a difficult choice, but what was your favorite project?

'From Vegas to Macau 3' is a famous Hong Kong movie trilogy featuring local celebrities like Andy Lau and Chow Yuen Faat. It was one of the first movies I've been in. Another local movie I took part in is called 'The Leakers' which is an action drama in which I played a news anchor. Aside from movies, I've worked on commercials for brands like Colgate, JW Marriott Hotels, Oppo Cellphone, Manulife, and more.

I have to say my favorite project is DBS 'Sparks'. As I mentioned earlier, we've been shooting for so many years that our crew is like a family!

What are the contributions of being in front of the camera to your photographer's perspective and the way you work?

This is a great question I have never been asked before! I definitely think being in front of the camera has helped me as a photographer and an art director - I have learnt how to direct my subjects better, to plan a production and keep everything smooth, to prepare a detailed storyline, and to help build a character through visuals. It has also inspired me to try filming my own fashion films, although I still have a lot to practice.

Jace - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani
Jace - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani

You were one of the co-founders of STAGE during the establishment process. Could you tell us about the STAGE initiative where visual storytellers come together?

STAGE is a creative production with a group of talent - photographers, videographers, filmmakers, animators, and illustrators - that we have gathered over our years of working in the industry. Each of these talents represents the highest standards and quality, and we're very proud to provide our clients a service and team that we know will produce amazing content.

We cover a broader range of services, including f&b, corporate events, branding, social media, advertising, fashion, product, portrait, and beauty. Our services include:

Pre-production (storyboards, concept development, art direction, location scouting/studio, props, set design, model/talent scouting, transportation, and production team).

Production (photography, videography, lighting team, sound technicians, makeup, hair, fashion styling and production management).

Post-production (retouching, video editing and music licensing).

Elysium - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani
Elysium - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani

Why should companies work with professional photographers? What do pro photo works contribute to their products and campaigns?

There are definitely a lot of companies that can't tell the difference between a professional production and an individual newcomer. On the other hand, the cost of running a business is high, so a lot of companies rely on low budget content creators. However, there is a big difference when having a professional team on board for production.

Firstly, a professional team would be able to account for all the little details that make up a production - for example, putting together a mood board, lighting reference, props list and to make sure everything goes smoothly on the day. Nothing is forgotten, and nothing goes wrong.

Secondly, the quality of work produced is much higher with the team being far more experienced, which in the end saves time and money. A professional team will know how to create a concept and visual that attracts the right target audience. The visuals must add value to a company's brand and create a trustworthy identity for their customers to purchase.

Thirdly, the post-production is guaranteed to be of a standard, which means there will be no issues with printing, coloring, retouching, and no surprises in the end!

You will not believe how many clients I have had that have tried to save money by hiring an amateur or newcomer to photograph their products or campaigns, and in the end they were so unhappy they hired our team to edit the photos (which costs way more to salvage after the quality is so bad), and sometimes they have to re-shoot the entire project which is double the expense.

Dreaming of - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani
Dreaming of - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani

Smartphones and affordably priced DSLR cams made everyone is more enthusiastic about photography. How did this affect the professional photography industry?

It does affect the industry in a big way because a lot of people are now claiming to be 'photographers' and 'videographers' just because they own the gear. Aside from that, there are plenty of online platforms that teach techniques for free. But what makes a professional photographer valuable isn't just the gear and technical abilities, it's understanding the business, producing unique content with value for clients, and to be able to manage the entire production from start to finish.

You are also one of the co-founders of the Academy of Design in Hong Kong, which is working on training new fashion designers. Could you tell us about the Academy of Design and its projects?

Academy of Design is an institute my partner and I created to offer short courses and workshops in fashion. Our most popular course is a Pattern Making & Sewing short course, where we offer a certificate upon completion. It's a space for enthusiasts, hobbyists, and anyone looking to brush up their skills, can join after work, make new friends, and be creative.

Fetish - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani
Fetish - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani

What advice would you give to photographers who want to pursue a career in photography? How could they choose the right specialty?

In a generation of cheap gear and online platforms with so much free information, it's a tough industry to work in and definitely requires a strong mind that can take rejection and criticism well. On the other hand, it's not enough just to be creative, and it requires a business approach to make it successfully. To choose the right specialty, it has to be something you're interested in, something you can see yourself working on in the long run and something you continuously will have the passion for developing and improving on.

If you're a creative individual, working in the business of photography will tire you out eventually as you're not going to be able to be as creative as you'd like sometimes, but make sure to keep giving yourself opportunities to work on projects you're passionate about, to refuel the fire that brought you in the industry in the first place!

What is your favorite photograph that you have ever taken?

It's very hard for me to choose a favorite photo! I'm my biggest critic, so there's always something I look back on and think I can improve, however, one of my favorite shots that I took a few years back is from a series 'La vie en bleu'. I had a great team to support my vision!

La Vie En Bleu - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani
La Vie En Bleu - Photo by Aanchal Wadhwani

What do you think about social media? How can our readers follow Matryoshka Studios?

Social media is a huge method of reaching new clients! It's a useful tool that can be used as a mini-portfolio for clients to browse through and contact you for work.

Instagram: @matryoshka_photo (Matryoshka Studio), @wearestage.hk (STAGE), @therealaanchal (Acting), @aod_hk (AOD)

Websites: www.matryoshka.ws (Matryoshka Studio), www.wearestage.com (STAGE), www.aod.education (AOD)

Facebook: www.facebook.com/MatryoshkaHK (Matryoshka Studio), www.facebook.com/wearestage (STAGE), www.facebook.com/matryoshkaw (Acting), www.facebook.com/aodhk (AOD)

What is next for you?

My goal is to expand from Hong Kong to the rest of Asia! I hope that I will be able to find opportunities throughout the continent!

Thank you Aanchal for your time.

For more information, please click here to visit the website of Aanchal Wadhwani