Ismail Sirdah

I think that excitement and passion help me bring ideas to life. If I’m excited about something, I know it has potential. I just have to follow the thread of excitement until something manifests.

Ismail Sirdah is an photographer who specializes in event photos and headshots. His company, Ismail Sirdah Photography, is well known in Savannah and the surrounding areas for turning each photo he takes into a work of art. He also owns and operates the Ismail Sirdah School of Photography, a popular choice for diners in Georgia looking for timeless photographs with a trendy edge.

In 1980, Ismail Sirdah was born in Cape Town, South Africa, as the only child to a successful restaurant owner. Sirdah worked in his family’s business through his teenage years, then eventually moved to Savannah, Georgia.

After working in various industries, he moved closer to the arts district, where he now lives. He began working as a photographer’s assistant as a side job. In addition to assisting with various portraits, Sirdah began branching out by practicing with his lower-end camera, and taught himself a creative approach to lighting, backdrops, and angles. The photographer he worked with then allowed him to use cutting edge equipment to experiment and create his own signature photography style. Sirdah, then set out to establish a photography business would help entrepeneurs display quality head shots and photos on their websites.

In 2012, Ismail Sirdah again widened the scope of his business life. He followed a life-long passion for photography, and started his own photography business. Through out his years in music promotion, Sirdah had been taking photographs for his clients, including popular artists such as Alexis y Fido, Hector “El Torito” Acosta,Jowell & Randy, Prince Royce, 24 Horas, Zion & Lenox, and Omega. As a professional photographer, Sirdah continues to use his photography skills within both his music promotions business and for promoting his restaurant.

Where did the idea for Ismail Sirdah Photography come from?

I have always been passionate about photography. In 2009, when I started Ismail Sirdah Photography, I decided that it would be more cost effective — and more fun — to invest in a good camera than to hire a photographer every time I needed photos to promote a band. I bought a very expensive camera and took some classes at the Savannah College of Art and Design. After that, photography became my passion. I thought, ‘Hey, why not do more of this?’

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Since I have a lot going on all of the time, one of the most important things I have to do is minimize the number of items I focus on. So each day I wake up and decide what is most important for that day. I write down three things, and then resolve to ignore anything else that comes up. That’s how I stay productive.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I think that excitement and passion help me bring ideas to life. If I’m excited about something, I know it has potential. I just have to follow the thread of excitement until something manifests.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’m loving digital photography. For years I shot with film, and I still do most of the time. But I’m working digital into the mix and having a lot of fun with it.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I think that my habit of writing out my three ‘focus items’ for the day has really contributed to my success.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would say, ‘Your quirks make you unique’. I used to spend a lot of time trying to be like everyone else. I was embarrassed about my accent and my strange background, and about the fact that I immigrated to the US instead of being born in Georgia. I would want my younger self to not be ashamed of his unique background.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

Mistakes are fun to make. I’ve made so many mistakes that now I can laugh when they happen. I see a lot of people, however, try to cover mistakes up as if they are something dirty that needs to be hidden.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

As an entrepreneur I am constantly re-evaluating what needs to be my priority. Every day is new. That has allowed me to follow new paths instead of sticking to the one that is working.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

A strategy that I use constantly is to develop genuine relationships with my clients. Relationships are worth more than money. I never talk about money or contracts, instead I say “Do you want to get a drink?” and then we sit and talk. Strong relationships have helped my businesses thrive.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

When I first moved to Savannah, I worked for a catering business. It was hectic, and that really brought me down. But I picked decided to try new things until I found something I love. If something’s not working, I think there’s a reason for it. When failure’s happen, it’s important to ask yourself about what new direction you are being led in. There’s usually a message in the failure.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I think that someone should figure out better ways to transfer photos between devices, so that people can share a maximum number of photos without using so much of a device’s memory. We used to be able to borrow each other’s CDs, but now everything is digital. I think there is a business opportunity there.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently spent 100 dollars on piece of artwork. I bought it from a woman that I know who is very talented. I like filling my house up with art because it inspires me when I look at it. I also felt good about supporting the artist.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

I recently started using focus@will, a web service that delivers scientifically designed music that is supposed to increase productivity by as much as four times. I don’t know if I am four times as productive, but I do know that I can edit photos faster when I have the music playing through my headphones.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, because you will never look at the act of creativity in the same way again.

What is your favorite quote?

My favorite quote is “The person with all the dreams is more powerful than the person with all of the facts,” which was said by Jackson Brown.

Key Learnings:

  • Every day, re-evaluate your priorities. Write down three things that you want to focus on, and ignore the rest.
  • Mistakes can be fun. Instead of trying to hide your mistakes, learn to laugh at them.
  • When failures happen, it’s important to ask yourself about what new direction you are being led in. There’s usually a message in the failure.