For any bride, her wedding day ranks among the most treasured memories of her life. Zeina Abdalla married Ali Hashemi on "the perfect beach" of Dubai's Jumeirah Mina A'Salam hotel beside 220 guests from around the world.
“It was all about our friends and family, very intimate,” she recalls nine years on. “And to capture such a personal, important and memorable time, you want the right photos and video.”
Like many before her, however, Abdalla felt the official wedding photography and footage didn’t match her expectations. “The photos of my husband and I were great, but the rest were mediocre, and I was extremely disappointed by my wedding video. You can’t go back and recreate that time.”
This disappointment became part of the motivation for her to create her photographic business, Fishfayce. Although not a professional photographer herself, the founder and managing director “has an eye” for what she wants – and promises wedding clients the results she was denied for her own ceremony.
In fact, the most memorable photography from her big day stemmed from something her husband devised. Seeking an open digital photo booth, which would enable guests to snap themselves, but with nothing available regionally and the cost of flying one from Europe excessive, the couple improvised.
"It was a camera contraption," says Abdalla, 38. "You took your picture with a remote and it would project onto the screen. Our guests ended up taking 1,500 photos."
Friends subsequently requested she bring the apparatus to weddings in Spain, Greece and Lebanon. Abdalla recognised a business opportunity and created Fishfayce initially around the digital photo booth concept before introducing bespoke photography and videography, as well as a dedicated wedding service.
“Guests loved taking pictures; they were truly part of the wedding. Most of the time you rely on the photographer and, if you’re not an important guest, you can get forgotten, but they were engaging and participating.”
A focus on weddings
Fishfayce’s booths have since evolved – incorporating social media and on-site printing – and multiplied alongside Zeina’s team. The company’s booth workflow embraces mostly corporate events, particularly with luxury and fashion brands including Chanel, Hermes and Maserati. However, Fishfayce’s bespoke photography and videography service leans towards weddings, an observation that prompted Abdalla to build a multinational all-female photographic team.
At first she admits she struggled to find permanent quality female talent, but currently has four full-time lens ladies, adding part-timers as and when required. It’s a growing aspect of her business, not least in a society that is awash with cultural sensitivities.
“It’s a strength,” Abdalla says of her team. “A lot of events need all-female staff especially local weddings – they insist there’s an all-female team, for not only shooting, but also editing. And during Ramadan, we have female suhoors and iftars.”
Abdalla takes it upon herself to recognise and brief her photographers about etiquette and sometimes art direction. “Every wedding is unique. Local weddings are very different to mixed weddings. The protocol differs; for example, maybe you can’t take pictures of guests, only the bride and groom. A mixed wedding follows its own timeline. First we need to know: is it a religious or non-religious wedding?
“Dubai is a very cosmopolitan city, you have people from all over the world, everyone has a different tradition, so photographers have to understand each couple, and the dos and don’ts. It’s why briefing is super-important.”
Prior to any event, Abdalla researches the theme, type of event or wedding and the venue. “You need to know the client’s personality and expectations to fully understand what they’re looking for,” she says.
"For corporate brands, I have my team look at the client's website and social media accounts to learn more about brand identity and style. For weddings, location, theme, background and format are important. It's helpful to research online for inspiration and creative direction, and new ideas on photography styles," she adds.
Expanding her business
A checklist for all the elements that require coverage is essential, too, including identifying family members so no one is missed. Discretion is also key at Fishfayce, which has covered the Dubai wedding of Iranian-Swedish singer Arash as well as a “hush-hush” birthday for another celebrity.
"We've had some really cool parties, but I would never go into detail about what happened. I have to have a trustworthy team and cannot share pictures with anybody else," explains Abdalla.
Being a mum to three children, who are four years, two years and five months, has informed Fishfayce Kids, Abdalla’s other service – children’s birthday parties.
Knowing location and theme is, again, vital preparation, she says. “I’ve been to a lot of birthdays. You see what these gatherings look like and what parents want, their different requirements. Sometimes they also ask for all-female photographers and videographers. Maybe because it is only women, mums there. They want to be comfortable, and that’s where we come in.”