Licensing Contributor Hagar Wirba on finding inspiration, diversity, and nostalgia

Photo Stories

Hagar Wirba is an Exclusive Licensing Contributor who shoots with a strong visual aesthetic, incorporating colors that evoke feelings of nostalgia.

Q: What got you started in photography?

A: I started in photography as a way to document my life and savor memories when I was a teenager. I quickly realized it was also a way to celebrate life and the people around me. I’m also a romantic at heart, and I find that in reality, romanticizing people and situations usually doesn’t have the best outcome. So, through photography, I have found a space in which I can do so to my heart’s content without the fear of what follows disillusionment.

Young Asian woman leaning on porch outdoors by Hagar Wirba on

Q: What is your go-to gear on any given day?

A: My go-to gear is definitely my Canon Rebel t7, with a 50mm Canon lens and a 50-250mm zoom lens.

Q: You have a very consistent visual style that plays on a 90s nostalgia aesthetic. Are there any photographers that inspire you to shoot in this way?

A: Actually, most of my inspiration to shoot has come from other mediums of art. I love reading, and I have a collection of Scott F. Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway books. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov has also inspired some of my work. I draw inspiration from music too, specifically Lana Del Rey. I channel what her music makes me feel into my work.

A 90s film that has had the biggest influence on my work aesthetically, is The Virgin Suicides, directed by Sofia Coppola and based on the book by Jeffrey Eugenides. I have recently come across some photographers on Instagram whose works I really admire—@_nguan_, @melchidompreh, @apricotberlin.

Life in transit. by Hagar Wirba on

Q: What are some of the concepts you capture within your content?

A: Expression of individuality and vulnerability are probably the concepts I play around with most in my shoots, especially in my portraits. I guess they have both been major themes in my life throughout the years, so there’s almost a fixation on them.

Fertility Goddess. by Hagar Wirba on

Q: How have you developed your style, and how do you ensure you remain consistent? Are there certain tools that you use during pre and post-production?

A: Anything I come across that adds to my work looking more dream-like is usually experimented with, mostly post-production though. I love a lot of grain and I really like experimenting with colors. I alternate between loving high contrast and loving low contrast. I also depend on natural lighting a lot, so I rarely shoot on overcast or rainy days.

Q: What are some of your favorite subjects to shoot, and why do you enjoy shooting them?

A: People are definitely my favorite subjects. We’re all so complex, yet simple, and I like to bring out that simplicity. Since most of my subjects over the years have been friends, I also enjoy being able to show the world the beauty and uniqueness of the individuals I choose to surround myself with.

Young African American Posed With Hands On Face by Hagar Wirba on

Q: Your photographs feature a number of diverse model types, how do you go about sourcing your models for a particular shoot?

A: Again, most of the models I source are friends. They’re usually willing to model for me and it’s also never awkward!

As a Cameroonian who came to Canada to continue my studies, I befriended a lot of international students at UBCO. A lot of them are also artists who practice different mediums.

On the occasion that I ask someone who I don’t really know to model for me, it is because I admire how they carry themselves, and how unapologetic and unafraid they are to express their individuality.

In a society that has such rigid beauty standards, and ideas of who someone should be and how someone should dress, I celebrate people who swim against the current and who don’t necessarily fit in. Living your truth takes a lot of courage, and is an art form in itself.

Young Asian woman relaxing on a chair in the woods with joint in hand by Hagar Wirba on

Q: You have recently begun your Licensing collection on 500px. What initially piqued your interest when you first learned about Licensing?

A: I had always been interested in the idea of generating some income through my photos, but for some reason, I didn’t think I would get the opportunity to do so. I thought it was a lot more complicated than it’s turned out to be. I have also received great guidance and tips from the 500px Licensing team.

Q: What are some of the biggest roadblocks you have encountered with Licensing, and how have you overcome them?

A: So far, the closest thing to a roadblock I have encountered, is the suitability of some of my photos. I have been told my photos do have a stronger aesthetic (e.g., a lot of grain, extreme contrasts, etc.), and unfortunately, I don’t have the raw versions of a lot of photos so it’s hard to go back and re-edit some shots differently. Now that I am more conscious of this though, I see the importance of keeping copies of my raw files for possible future use.

Q: What advice would you give someone who is also starting out with their Licensing collection?

A: I would say, find a site with a good reputation, and a community of other photographers who are there to provide helpful criticism in order to create licensable content.

Avoid brand logos and brand names in your photos—this will make it so much easier.

Exclusive Licensing will definitely generate more money, but I think it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons and decide for yourself.

Lastly, always get your model releases signed! You can’t license without the release (if the picture has recognizable subjects).

Young African American girl laughing outdoors with arms and rope around body by Hagar Wirba on

Click here to learn about Licensing with 500px.

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