A cinematographer shapes the visual style and the overall look of movies, TV shows, music videos, and advertisements. Through technical wizardry and expertise in visual storytelling, these unsung heroes bring a director’s vision to life on screen.

One such talented cinematographer is Nashiu Naeem, whose passion for the craft spans over a decade.

From The Interns to Discovering Passions

His journey into the world of visual arts began in 2012 with a reality TV show called The Interns presented by Allied Insurance Company of the Maldives, where he represented the Centre for Higher Secondary Education (CHSE) alongside four outstanding peers, emerged triumphant. While his teammates pursued careers in the marketing department of Allied Insurance, Nashiu was presented with an opportunity to work at Think Associates, an esteemed local advertising agency renowned for its excellence in the field.

Nashiu had always been captivated by the nuts and bolts of marketing and advertising, recognising their inherent interconnection and far-reaching impact. Think Associates provided him with an array of diverse clients and bountiful opportunities for personal and professional growth.

“Thriving in the demanding landscape of marketing requires a multifaceted skill set. My time at Think began with copywriting and planning, but I found myself increasingly captivated by the agency’s visual team. Whenever a chance arose, I eagerly sought to spend time with them, closely observing their work and taking notes. Given the limited access to mobile data back then, I would wait until I reached home at the end of the day to go on the web and do my own research.”

What caught Nashiu’s immediate attention was a Cannon 5D Mark ll – a popular camera at the time – in the agency’s equipment inventory. Whenever the camera became available, he seized the opportunity to capture videos and photos of his colleagues, models, and even friends who visited him at the office.

Such was his affinity for the camera that it became synonymous with his own personal equipment. Nashiu’s dedication to supporting the visual team often prompted him to step in and shoot additional footage when they required last-minute shots, going above and beyond his initial responsibilities. This marked a significant turning point that propelled this cinematographer into the captivating world of moving images.

A Brief Departure From the Creative Path

Despite his burgeoning passion, concerns from his mother compelled Nashiu to make a tough decision and temporarily step away from Think Associates. He embraced a desk job in the public sector but soon discovered that the monotonous office environment had stifled his creative spirit. Before long, work presented the budding cinematographer with a fortuitous turn to secure a loan and make a strategic investment in his first camera.

In 2016, Nashiu’s life took an unexpected turn when he received a life-changing invitation. A close friend and mentor named Ramon approached him with an incredible opportunity to document “Gabbe’s Catamaran Trip Around the Maldives.” Filled with exhilaration, he made a bold choice and took a leave of absence from his job to embark on a thrilling 36-day adventure. Throughout the journey, Nashiu’s responsibilities included capturing mesmerising videos and photos, as well as coordinating with the press, MNDF, Police, and Coast Guard. The experience proved to be both hectic and physically demanding, pushing Nashiu to his limits. However, the gratification he felt upon witnessing his work featured in the media not only made his parents proud but also reignited his fervent passion for the art of visual storytelling.

Back to the Field, No Longer Confined

After his incredible journey, Nashiu decided to fully immerse himself in the world of cinematography. As fate would have it, Think Associates recognised his growth and offered him a senior motion designer role. This position granted him the opportunity to be involved in every aspect of production, from laying the groundwork in pre-production to coordinating shooting arrangements, managing post-production tasks, and even lending his voiceover skills. While he didn’t write scripts himself, Nashiu played a vital role in finalising them and presenting them to senior management of esteemed clients like Dhiraagu. Think Associates became his haven, providing a rock-solid foundation in client relations and visual arts.

Broadening Vistas

Simultaneously, during his tenure at Think, Nashiu ventured into freelance work during his spare time. He collaborated with local artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs, crafting visually striking content that flawlessly showcased their talents and products. These freelance projects allowed him to explore uncharted creative avenues, experiment with various techniques, and cultivate a robust network within the industry.

Nashiu operating his rig with the help of a chest mount during an event coverage (Photo: Nashiu)

Breathing Life into Creative Concepts

Recognising the importance of a well-defined workflow, Nashiu follows a strict process before embarking on a project.

“The first step is to gain comprehensive knowledge of the project. You have to identify the scope and delve into the client’s desires, needs, and motivations. That understanding forms the bedrock for conceptualising and fulfilling their requirements. But before diving headfirst into the creative process, we can’t forget about the formalities. It’s crucial to reach a mutual agreement with the client and document it all. Once that’s squared away, it’s time to roll into the pre-production stage, where the project truly starts to take shape.

This phase is all about crafting a killer video strategy with clear-cut objectives, setting a budget, cherry-picking an engaging story, crafting a realistic project timeline, penning a captivating script, handpicking the perfect cast, assembling a top-notch production team, and scouting out those picture-perfect shooting locations. However, it’s essential to remain adaptable and flexible, as unforeseen challenges may require you to dance back and forth between different stages throughout the production process.”

Nurturing Client Relationships

In a creative profession such as advertising and marketing, it’s not uncommon to encounter clients who see things differently. It can be tempting to let frustration take hold or even consider walking away, but that doesn’t solve the underlying issue. The key is to maintain a calm demeanour and find a way to move forward together. Creative agencies have had a significant presence in the Maldives since 2006, and as someone who has been involved in multiple creative projects, Nashiu noted the importance of incorporating the client’s opinion into a project to make it a success.

“Building trust between local clients and creatives is paramount. When you hire a freelancer or agency, you begin by carefully reviewing portfolios and selecting individuals or teams that align with your specific needs and budget. Once you’ve made that choice, it’s crucial to not only rely on them for content but also trust their knowledge and expertise. They have worked on countless creative projects, encountering and overcoming challenges similar to yours. It is essential to value their opinions, as they are there to offer guidance and support. Remember, your project holds equal importance to them.”

Navigating the Competitive Landscape

The Maldivian creative industry is highly competitive. It encompasses a wide range of sub-sectors, including performing arts, film-making, graphic design, and advertising. While healthy competition can spur innovation, research indicates that there’s an optimal level beyond which it can actually hinder innovation.

“Despite over half a million in population, only a few businesses can afford reasonable fees for creative services. In my opinion, undercutting is a concerning trend that needs attention. Fair compensation should be ensured for all, distinguishing rates for experienced professionals from those of amateurs”, Nashiu said sharing his perspective on how competition within his field impacts his career. “Registering agencies in the Maldives is easy, but issues arise when they offer services at below-market rates, resulting in subpar outcomes. Young creatives should join larger teams to gain experience and transition into freelance careers. Unreasonably low rates harm the industry, creating a false sense of abundance and hindering groundbreaking productions. This questions the claim of abundant talent in our region.”

Nashiu’s active collaboration with emerging talent exemplifies his dedication to nurturing a flourishing creative community in the Maldives. Being a seasoned cinematographer, he recognises the significance of embracing fresh perspectives and ideas introduced by each successive generation of creatives. Through shared knowledge, experiences, and techniques, Nashiu envisions the collective output of the Maldivian creative community attaining unprecedented levels of excellence.

Lifestyle and Professional Demands

The work environment of a cinematographer can be physically demanding. Their work often takes place during holidays when most people are enjoying time with their loved ones. They frequently miss out on events or action-packed moments as they’re occupied with filming. Additionally, they’re known to spend over 15 hours a day on their feet, bearing heavy equipment. Their workday does not end when the final shot is captured. They often arrive several hours before and stay several hours after the shoot.

Nashiu mounting his rig on the front windshield of a bus to film a driving shot (Photo: Nashiu)

“My camera rig weighs about 10kg, which may not sound like much at first. But, when you carry that load for hours on end, especially outdoors in the blistering heat, it becomes quite challenging,” Nashiu explained. “I try to follow a specific diet on shoot days and go as far as to avoid coffee because caffeine tends to make me shaky, resulting in unstable footage. Apart from that, I try to stay active and exercise regularly. My wife is quite health-conscious, and she has encouraged me to consider these things as well,” Nashiu said of his efforts to maintain his lifestyle to keep up with the challenges of his laborious profession.”In my earlier days, I actually suffered a herniated disc in my lower back, which was difficult to overcome. For a while, I feared that I might never return to the field, which I don’t want to experience ever again.”

Indelible Projects

Throughout his ten-year journey in the industry as a cinematographer, Nashiu has had the privilege of participating in numerous national advertising and promotional efforts alongside some of the industry’s most prominent figures. However, he finds it difficult to pick a favourite.

“It is really tough to pick just one. Each and every project, from the smallest to the most intensive, has taught me invaluable lessons. However, the Voucher Seytu campaign carried out by Allied Insurance during Season 3 of Maldivian Idol holds a special place for me. I believe it was one of the first brand films to be released in the Maldives, and it made a lasting impression on the audience. I loved every aspect of it, from the storytelling and cinematography to the cast and audio. Everything just came together seamlessly.”

Work-Life Harmony

In today’s demanding world, people struggle to achieve a work-life balance. Although effective measures exist to improve this balance, its success differs across various fields. Imbalanced work-life situations strain personal relationships as constant work or high stress hinders individuals from dedicating adequate time and attention to their spouses or friends. Moreover, a poor work-life balance adversely affects mental and physical health, resulting in exhaustion and fatigue.

Giving an insight into his personal approach to finding the work-life equilibrium, Nashiu said: “Achieving that balance is much harder than it sounds. Work often demands unreasonable hours and involvement before you can reduce it and have more time for your personal life. The key is to build relationships with people who understand your profession. My wife and I have different schedules, managing office work, freelancing, and personal life. So, we have to be intentional about managing our time. Sometimes, she joins me on shoots, which motivates me and helps her understand my career better. I do the same for her. When choosing a partner, make sure they understand these things.”