Posted 03 March 2022
Interview by N'Tanya Clarke
Mention Salam Zaied

The digital and the natural: Salam Zaied balances UX design with a photography practice full of flowers

From flowers to running water, self-taught photographer Salam Zaied’s practice is “massively” inspired by nature: “You never know what will happen, it’s a true reflection of life.” So when the equally unprecedented 2020 lockdown hit – and faced with a lack of photography jobs – Salam, too decided to be fluid. Venturing into the world of UX and UI design, she fast joined online bootcamp, Love Circular and picked up some new skills. Now a full-time designer at homeware app, Narchie, Salam is also back behind the lens, balancing design work with her photography practice. With a belief that too much social media can leave you feeling “deflated,” here Salam tells us about remaining adaptable and using your own journey for inspiration.

Salam Zaied

Salam Zaied

Job Title

Freelance Photographer and UX and UI Designer, Narchie



Place of Study

BA Sociology and Social Policy, Aston University (2014-2017)

Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I’m a portrait and fashion photographer. I work across a variety of industries, but I’m usually working with agencies for collaborations and editorial work. Depending on the brief, sometimes I’ll be shooting in a studio or at various locations, from markets to art galleries.

Can you tell us more about the UX and UI side of your practice?
Lockdown 2020 meant that I wasn’t able to carry out any photography jobs, so I had to reassess what I was doing for work. I found an online bootcamp with Love Circular that taught UX and UI design. I thought it was a suitable transition as it allowed me to be creative and use the skills that I acquired from my degree. Since graduating from the course, I have gone on to undertake contract design work and now have a permanent role at [homeware app] Narchie while still freelancing as a photographer.

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
I am massively inspired by nature and the elements. I love using natural materials as they are unpredictable. There is an element of excitement and mystery when using them; you never know what will happen or how the final product will turn out. It’s a true reflection of life and reminds me to always roll with the punches and take the good with the bad, because you never know where you’ll find yourself.

I am also inspired by Cho Gi-Seok, a Korean photographer. Gi-Seok’s work is so delicate, thoughtful and impactful. The use of natural materials – especially flowers – captivates me and inspires me to use what the world has given us when creating art.

“I love using natural materials as they are unpredictable – you never know what will happen or how the final product will turn out.”

Floral Dreams, 2020

What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
In November 2020, I shot a project called Floral Dreams, which was the first shoot I produced and directed myself. It was an opportunity to bring to life a vision I’d been thinking about for so long. I worked with some amazing people that day and it showed me the quality of work I could produce. I got to work with some florists I’d admired for so long and it exposed me to a different level of artistry. The day was truly inspiring for me.

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
As a self-taught photographer, I don’t believe that any training is required. The beauty of learning independently means that there isn’t anybody telling you what’s right or wrong. You are allowed to create freely and I believe that’s important.

The only thing I’d say that’s required is some learning around the equipment you’re using. It’s important to master the tools you’re working with. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting on an iPhone, a medium format camera or a fancy digital one – nothing is worse than missing what would have been a beautiful shot because you didn’t know how to use the settings properly.

Floral Dreams, 2020
Floral Dreams, 2020

If you could sum up your job in a meme, what would it be and why?
The meme [below] of Ross from Friends after he finds out Joey is interested in Rachel and he says “It’s fine, I’m fine.” I just think it’s an accurate representation of what it’s like to be a creative. Sometimes you’re hit with unexpected bumps in the road that can make the journey challenging, and even though it is a struggle, you just have to keep telling yourself it’s fine.

How I got here

What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
I have always enjoyed taking photos and spent a lot of my teenage and young adult life taking photos, but I never realised I could make money from it until I left university. Having had no reference point for what makes a good photograph or know-how in regards to navigating the industry, I found myself making a lot of mistakes. But you quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
Lack of budget. I spent a lot of the first year of my career perfecting my craft and my ability to compose a beautiful image. As my skill set grew, so did my desire to shoot different things. But as a freelancer, you are almost always paying for projects out of your pocket, so hiring studio spaces, equipment and props can quickly add up.

Learning to adapt and work with what I have access to has been a huge challenge, but an exciting one nonetheless. Yes, it’s amazing to have a big budget to bring your vision to life but it’s equally as rewarding to create something you’re proud of, despite the limitations you’ve faced.

“Take time away from social media and being online. It’s important to disconnect and find inspiration in the real world.”

Salam zaied photographer ux ui designer creativelivesinprogress 03

Salam zaied photographer ux ui designer creativelivesinprogress 02

Salam zaied photographer ux ui designer creativelivesinprogress 12

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Firstly, taking time away from social media and being online. It’s so important to disconnect and find inspiration in the real world. Social media can fog your mind and often leave you feeling deflated. We live in such a digital world that we forget what lives beyond our phone screens, so it’s important to reconnect with the things that bring us joy.

Secondly, I read this book called Be Like Water, My Friend: The True Teachings of Bruce Lee written by his daughter, Shannon Lee. It was a very powerful reminder to be fluid and adaptable. Life is always changing around you, and in order to move from place to place you need to accept the flow of life. When things don’t go as planned with a shoot, or a job falls through, the book reminds me to accept that this is just life.

Finally, looking back on my journey and seeing how far I’ve come. Sometimes we can be uninspired and have creative slumps or moments when we feel like giving up. In those moments, I think it’s important to think about where you started and where you are now; the milestones you’ve hit and the achievements you’ve made. It’s a nice reminder that while there will always be bumps in the road, and despite them, you’ve come so far.

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
My biggest learning has been to value my time and my work. I used to undersell myself massively at the start of my career, and realised very quickly that I wasn’t charging enough.

Having supplementary work has been essential because it has ensured that I do not take on jobs that I don’t have an interest in simply because I need the money. There have been times when that has been necessary, but for me, my choice to pursue photography was because I fell in love with the artistry of it, not the monetary side of it. I want to work with brands and people who I am inspired by and produce meaningful work, so having a secondary source of income has allowed me to maintain that balance.

“My biggest learning is to value my work. I used to undersell myself and realised that I wasn’t charging enough.”

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work? Do you have any advice or learnings to share?
Social media has its pros and cons. When used correctly, it can help showcase your work and allow you to reach people you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. However, the evolution of social media has meant that if you aren’t following trends, you can quickly get left behind. It can remove the authenticity of your work if you’re only producing work for likes or engagement.

I think Instagram has become a redundant platform for creatives generally, but more so for photographers. I find that Twitter is still a great place to reach people, and engagement can often turn into paid work. Self-promotion also comes in the form of reaching out to brands and magazines, too. Putting together a solid portfolio and sending an email is a great way to get your work seen.

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
If someone has reached out and asked you to deliver something you’ve never done before, it’s because they believe that you’re capable of doing it – so you should believe that too! Plus, no one really knows what they’re doing anyway, so just try your best.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
If you’re looking to get into photography then my advice is to practice, practice, practice – experiment with everything and anything that interests you. Reach out to photographers that inspire you and shadow them if possible; grow your creative network and build a team of people who are also looking to develop their portfolios. Collectively, you can produce the kind of work that you want to be hired for.

In this industry, a lot of the time it’s about who you know, so make sure you’re actively attending events because you never know who you’ll meet, and where those connections can take you. Manners are free and being friendly will take you far; don’t underestimate the power of being respectful and approachable everywhere you go.

If you’re looking to get into design then I would recommend a design course with structured learning. The internet is full of amazing free resources, but structured learning and relevant feedback from a tutor makes all the difference. If your finances are tight and a course isn’t viable, then search LinkedIn and reach out to designers you’re interested in learning from. You’ll be surprised at how many people are happy to help if you’re willing to ask.

Interview by N'Tanya Clarke
Mention Salam Zaied