Creative Photography Workshop in Islamabad, Pakistan

After getting requests about it for a while, last summer I finally brought my love of photography to my beloved hometown, Islamabad. This was a unique kind of workshop I hosted at my mom’s studio (more info on that at the end) to share about the fundamental aspects of photography, but also to talk about the creative / self-expression side of it, which personally for me is my absolute favorite part about it.

It has been my dream these past few years to do something like this , a session to teach the basics of using your DSLR but also to inspire. To share why I believe photos have so much power and how they can help us find meaning in our lives.

HOW TO USE YOUR CAMERA BETTER

We started with talking about what makes a good photo & got deeper into making better use of your DSLR. I shared about the exposure triangle ( aperture, shutter speed, ISO), depth of field & getting that ‘background blur’, composition tips to make beautiful photos, fundamentals of using natural light, getting sharp focus, white balance & more. Also shared some gear recommendations and ended this section with the importance of organizing and backing up photos as well including tools I use!

Everyone got a printout of all of this to refer back to and to make notes on as needed as well!

HOW PHOTOGRAPHY CAN HELP YOU FIND MEANING IN YOUR LIFE

And moved on to sharing about creativity, how to develop your own style, about using Instagram as a journal and a sharing tool. How to use hashtags to organize your feed and more! I shared about how taking photos can be a form of expression & healing in difficult times & how it can help find meaning in life! My sister Waliya shared her own journey with that as well!

A QUICK ‘HOW I EDIT’

At the end shared a quick little behind-the-scenes of my process from using window light to taking a portrait and then sharing how I edit a photo on Lightroom to give a vibrant, cozy feel!

And then we ended the evening with chai + snacks, giving us all a chance to chat & for me to answer any more questions.

With my mom, my sister & Anya around, the vibe was cozy, relaxed and seriously so fun, unlike what you might expect a learning workshop to feel like! I loved it and think everyone else did too from the messages I received afterwards:):)



Honestly, because it was my first time, leading up to it I was VERY nervous but once it began & I was talking about one of my most favorite things ever, I forgot all of the nervous feels! Big thanks to all the AMAZING people who made it, shared their own personal journeys and stories and gave back so much love♥️⠀

Also the huge-est thank you to my mom @shireengheba for her studio space (more info at end of this post) and support – my sister @waliyanajib for all kinds of behind-the-scenes help & support incl taking these photos.

Thank you Islamabad for the loving response, inshAllah will be back another time! Special thanks to @revelations.events for helping us pretty up the space and @1o3bakershouse for the yummy treats. . 

Lots of love, Nataliya

Shireen’s Studio is my mom’s art gallery + self-enrichment center in Islamabad. You offers private viewing of her artwork for purchase and also offers art classes for all ages. If you are local to Islamabad, follow her to stay up to date on the events she hosts with inspiring, motivational speakers including herself!

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Inspiring creatives: Sobia Shuaib

So very excited for this new series I’m kicking of here! Been feeling such a strong calling to take photos of the women around me, but photos that are a little bit more!

As a photographer & as a woman, but most of all as a mom, I am very conscious of the societal standards of beauty that we are constantly fed with – the pressure to conform to a particular standard to even “feel” like we’re beautiful. So many of us women spend our whole lives feeling less than and yet all these women we’re surrounded by – they’re beautiful, kind, intelligent and so much more. And I want to capture that – not just pretty photos but ones that capture the unique beauty of each woman that comes in front of my camera. That inspired, everyday version of them that their closest people; mom, husband, kids, siblings; love every single day!

That’s a little background. This series is like a coffee (or chai if you ask my preference) morning with some of the inspiring creatives around me – in their own comfort zone, wearing clothes they would normally wear if a friend visits, doing something they love doing, sharing a piece of their heart with me coffee mug in hand:):)

Come join us?


So happy to be starting this series with this talented friend of mine. Sobia is an artist, mom of two boys, based near Seattle, WA. It was such a pleasure hanging out in her beautiful studio space back in January, chatting about creativity and more as I took photos of her doing her thing in between our chatter.

I also asked her a few questions and here she is sharing about her artistic journey, what inspires her, how she makes time for creating and more. I absolutely loved what she wrote and know you will too!!

Sobia! Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a stay-at-home mom to two young boys; a wife, a daughter and a friend. But at the same time, I’m trying to carve out a little space where I’m just me, an individual with her own interests and dreams. I feel I really need to protect that little flame inside me that wants its own identity.

What does art/creativity mean to you?
We all go through our life doing what we have to, what we need to – brushing our teeth, studying, getting married, raising kids, eating, sleeping, shopping (lol). All those things just fall into place and demand our time. But art – its like the stopping of time. You take some time out, put everything aside, and for the sheer beauty of it, start creating.

What is one challenge you have overcome as an artist?
I remember as a teenager, I used to sketch all the time, but I could never draw a single line if someone was watching. I had a crippling lack of confidence in myself and was very shy. I know a lot of artists go through it. But it hinders creativity, and I worked on it for several years before I was able to stop worrying about what others think, and just focus on my work. I’m very proud of overcoming that.

What keeps you inspired and motivated to create while still being a mom?
There’s this part of me that I’m not able to express in words. I need to create something in order to get it out. And I’ve been lucky that my husband and kids have been a huge support. They really motivate me to follow my inspirations and creative needs.

Being mom of two kids, how do you still fit in time to be creative?
It’s a tricky business. You can so easily lose track of time when you’re doing something you love, right? So, I consciously make an effort not to work when they might need me. Once I’m satisfied that I’ve done all mommy duties, and spent some quality time with them; I give them space to play on their own, while I do my work. Alternatively, of course, I always get more work done when they’re asleep!

How do you incorporate creativity into everyday life with your kids?
Being an artist, I always end up doing arts and craft activities with them. We save paper-towel/ toilet-paper tubes, plastic bottles, boxes, and anything else that we feel can be used as crafts. They have a little craft room in the store where all manners of craft supplies are on the ready. So, whenever we feel like making something (which is quite often) we just raid out little ‘loot’ and come up with fun stuff. At this point they don’t really need me anymore. They totally create the most fun crafts all out of their own imagination!

Any advice for other moms who feel like they’re struggling to fit in creativity into their busy lives?
Creativity doesn’t have to be hard. Even small steps are significant. When my babies were little, my creative outlet was really just going through Pinterest and pinning all the things that inspired me. So my advice would be to just keep that spark alive. It will help you when you’re ready to grow it into something more.

What is something that has influenced your art the most?
My dad used to come home from work, put on his old music on the radio and paint. It was his hobby, his outlet, his passion. He never complained about anything, just painted. It really influenced how I perceived painting. To this day, I listen to the same music he used to, using painting to say what I don’t say in words.

Another influence is God. I think, God could easily have made the world without all the beauty we see in it. So, if He created beauty in an otherwise functioning world, then to create even a spec of it, is to say, I admire you for it and thank you for validating this “whimsical” desire in me.

Where can people find you if they’d love to see more of your work?
To check out my everyday on-going projects you can follow my Instagram or Facebook. For a look at my portfolio, you can also check out my website. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter from the website if you want to get insider news.


Sobia!! Thank you so much my friend for inviting me to your beautiful space and sharing a piece of your story with me!

Also a special shout-out to another talented friend Ayesha Usman who helped design this space for Sobia. Check out her work on her Instagram here.

Lots of love

Nataliya

PS: If you’re local to the Seattle area and are interested in being a part of this series, send me a message here 🙂

A SIMPLE IDEA to preserve memorable items without saving everything

If you’re like me and have a hard time parting with special clothes and items, especially your kids’, long after their time is done, here’s a simple idea to make that easier.

That sweet sweater your mom knitted for your kids, or that special toy that was your baby’s favorite most, or their latest artwork.. I get so attached to things like these and I started doing this thing where I just take a photo of it. Once I do that, it gets so much easier to donate/recycle it or to pass it on.

For example that first photo above is Anya holding an artwork from her preschool and I’m sharing a few more photos+ideas for inspiration!

The first one is the outfit Anya came home from the hospital in. Sigh. And the other two were from Walu khala (left) and her bari nani (right).

 I used the back of a rolled out wrapping paper and took photos of some of my favorite baby outfits of hers before I gave them away including these ones!

Her Eid outfits + accessories from family with love! This EId a few years ago, it suddenly hit me how fun eid was when you have a little girl and I really wanted to document it!

I just rolled out brown craft paper in the middle of our family room floor to take this photo.

The many pieces of art + the love notes which I’m sure I will miss getting when she’s a teenager! Art has been challenging for me to keep up with being mom to a very creative and artsy girl BUT taking pictures of them and uploading them to yearly folders on One Drive is the way I am mostly managing it right now.

Took this photo on a foam board I keep for things like this. You can find them at dollar stores.

Very special toys from her baray nana & nani (That bear! My nana himself went and bought it for Anya’s 1st birthday when we were in Pakistan) + more from her nani and khalas. There have been so so many over the years and we’ve had to donate some with time. Taking photos really helped keep the memory and made it easy to part with them!

Again took these photos on a foam board from the Dollar store.


WHAT TO DO WITH THE PHOTOS

Here are a few ideas for what to do with these photos: 

1: Print it out and add to your baby book (eg: for those special outfits).

2: Make a ‘Memory Box’/’Artwork’ folder on your computer or Google drive and save these photos there.

3: If you make an annual photo book for your family (more about that here) you can add these to that.

4: Create an email address for your kid and email these photo memorabilia to this address (you can also use this email address to send letters to your child etc. More inspiration here) so they can find them when they grow up and you give them the password.

5: Share them on your Instagram with a specific hashtag so you can keep them together. (eg: I use #anyasartworkproject whenever I share her art on Instagram. )


Here’s what I’m doing with them for now

I have a folder named ‘Memory Box’ on our One Drive which I’ve shared with Bilal too and add photos/files there. Also have an ‘Artwork’ folder further divided into folders by year and add photos of artwork there directly from my phone.

Also select some to add to our annual photo book. ALSO when I share some on Instagram, I use a few hashtags so it’s easier for find them later on:):)

What do you think? Do you think you’ll try this out or maybe you do some version of this already? I would love to hear about it!

xo, Nataliya

Gift ideas + what I learned from my mom about giving gifts

(Disclaimer: This post includes some affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If you decide to use these links, thank you so much for your support. I only recommend products I actually use and have good experience with.  If you have any questions about any of the products I listed, I would love to answer them)

I LOVE gift shopping. And maybe that isn’t so surprising being my mama’s daughter hah! When we were growing up, we did not have a lot of extra money & so my mom had to be creative for gift options. And she was (still is) amazing at it!

I have such vivid memories of mama making paintings for our friends’ birthdays. If she didn’t have time to frame it, she would just take a frame off from a wall, clean it up – add her painting to that & wrap it up for us to gift. Those are my earliest memories of her gifting her artwork. One time after she had taken a class on silk painting, she made beautifully painted silk dupattas (the Pakistani version of a scarf) for all of her friends! Every time she read a book she really really loved, she would get copies (or photo copies made when it was hard to find these books) for all of her friends.

Watching her do these things has always stayed with me in my grownup life. I think there is something so special about a gift made with love, or one with your ‘heart’ behind it. I love how it makes you feel when you give something you put thought & effort into. Our family is actually very lucky to be surrounded by artists and makers and some of our favorite gifts we have received have been handmade.


SINCE GIFT-GIVING CAN BE STRESSFUL FOR MANY, I THOUGHT I WOULD SHARE SOME TIPS THAT I LEARNED ROM MY MOM AND THE ALSO WHAT I HAVE PICKED UP OVER THE YEARS. THESE ARE PERFECT AS HOSTESS GIFTS OR EVEN A BIRTHDAY GIFT TOO!

Hope this helps take the stress away and enjoy the process a little more.


CREATIVE & SIMPLE GIFT IDEAS

– Two items that make perfect hostess gifts (I love to stock up on them), are candles & photo frames. They’re also perfect additions to a gift basket if you have a couple of items. I always select candles for their packaging ( I love DW candles . You can find them at Home Goods & TJMaxx). For photo frames also, I usually buy any that catch the eye for future gifting. I love Target for these. Recently have also started adding planters/vases to these hostess gifts and randomly purchase any that I like.

– I LOVE books & think they make the best gifts. A few of my current favorites to gift right now : Yesterday I was the moon by Noor Unahar  / In the company of Women by Grace Bonney / Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner / Under the Tamarind Tree by Summaya Usmani / The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd. I love that I can find a book for almost every single person in my life, even if they’re not an avid reader.

– I also like journals as well as journals with prompts in them. Since it’s nearing the end of the year also, planners make wonderful gifts too, reminds me of back home where my parents loved when someone gifted them ‘diaries’. Two I have gifted and loved are the 52 lists project / my quoteable kid.

Magazine subscriptions & magazines make great gifts as well. ( If you’re in US / Canada Magnolia journal is my favorite to gift / A few more amazing options are Afar / Origin / Thoughtfully / Farmhouse movement). I love that a magazine subscription is something that can feel a little like a luxury and yet it is something that can be easily recycled or given away guilt-free once they’ve been enjoyed.

Handmade items make perfect gifts if you’re any kind of an artist, a knitter or have any other creative talent. I absolutely love the ones we’ve received like artwork, handmade greeting cards, wall art, handmade knits etc.

Edible items are perfect for hostess gifts. Years ago Anya & I would make cookies together to take for our potluck dinners with friends (link to that post) and sometimes we’ll still do that now too. You can also purchase cookies and wrap them in pretty packaging to gift. I love Trader Joes & Ikea for cookies. I love how my friends will sometimes let me know they’re planning to bring me something they’re baking. It always feels so personal!

-I also love to keep an eye out for free shipping deals at a few favorite stores eg: West Elm, Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel etc, because buying gifts is the perfect use for these deals, from the comfort of your home. A few awesome & budget-friendly options are dessert plates (Crate & Barrel and West Elm have a beautiful variety), throw pillow covers, candles, trays, serving dishes and so many more. Sky is the limit depending on your budget.

Artwork can make the perfect gift too, when it has a story behind it. For example: You picked it up on your travels, or you saw it and thought of them, you got it made for them etc. I love Minted for affordable, modern art prints.

-Keep inspiration boards for gift ideas. I have a private Pinterest board + an Amazon list to do this. Every time I see something I think would make a good gift, I save it in there whether it’s generic or for someone specific. That way when I have a birthday coming it makes the searching part much easier.


.. ALSO ..

– I love the idea of having a gift-wrap stash in your house. Gift wrap, pretty notecards, twine, gift tags etc. My favorite places to stock up on these : TJMaxx for the gift wrap + notecards / Michaels for twine + jute rope + brown paper / Amazon + Target are also good options. And I also love Trader Joes for their beautiful but SO VERY affordable flowers & cards.

– A friend saw someone doing this and shared this wonderful idea of including personal notes with the gifts, eg: including the thought behind why you chose that gift, why you love that item etc. It just makes it feel so much more personal and I try to do this now whenever I can.


A FEW THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

– I try to avoid bulky items as a general rule especially if my friend’s taste is different than mine. Only exceptions would be if the person is very close to me and we have similar design/fashion tastes. Living in the west where space is short and it is hard to get rid of things, I feel like it’s important not to gift bulky items without a gift receipt.

– I also feel that as Pakistanis our tradition of taking a ‘big gift’ first time we visit someone (because we think we have to) is something we can let go of. My thought on this is that when we are visiting someone for the first time we don’t know what their home is like or what their style is. IF you REALLY want to, do include a gift receipt. I personally think a thoughtfully put together gift-basket (with a collection of items like a small candle, a good read, your favorite coffee, a good hand cream etc), or a gift certificate to their favorite store (or yours which you think they would enjoy – eg: West Elm, Anthropologie or maybe a little boring but practical, Amazon works too. Since I love photos & wall art, I think Frame Bridge / Minted would be so sweet as well! ), a pretty plant, or just your favorite flowers + a home prepared meal would be perfect too.

What do you think, is there any that stands out for you from these? Do you have any favorite ideas to share? Would love to hear!

xo, Nataliya

On having an only child

I’ve recently started receiving a lot of questions about having an only child, whether I worry about my kid not having siblings of her own, how I handle people’s questions etc and I felt like I can finally talk about this here maybe. So if you have an only child for whatever reason, this one’s for you. And for everyone else this is for you too because maybe we need to have a talk, lol.

Let me begin by being honest with you guys. I think most people might not realize but for us this isn’t a choice we made ourselves. Honestly, I have struggled, still do sometimes with this. I just love being one of three sisters (and my husband one of five mashallah) and never imagined that my kid might not experience the same. BUT not all things in life go according to our plans. After many conversations with my husband and my best friend, I have learned to accept, make some peace with it; mostly for the sake of my kid. Alhamdullilah, I am so so thankful to be mom to such a bright, smart, sensitive little girl. We are blessed! Over-obsessing on the fact that she doesn’t have siblings isn’t helpful, not to her or to myself. I want her to grow up as the confident, happy kid that she is and for that I need to get past this in my head first! Thankfully my mom, my nani are the biggest examples around me of being just one, and doing it well.


Do I worry about her not having siblings when she grows up? Of course I do, it makes me so so sad sometimes if I think too much about it but I tell myself that having siblings is not always a guarantee that you will have someone by your side. Sadly, I have personally seen siblings making life hell for each other, or not even being in touch for years.  I do pray endlessly that Allah always surrounds her with wonderful people around her. I also remind myself that just like there are disadvantages to any situation there are advantages too. The kind of focus and attention (emotional, financial and physical) that you can give your kid, it’s not possible with multiple kids. Even the bond that my grandparents & my mom share is one that would not have been possible if my mom had siblings. It’s so beautiful mashallah!

I also love to follow along others (here is my favorite most) who do this raising-one-kid thing so well. It helps me to look at it with excitement instead of coming at it from a place of “why us” or “poor her”. I just don’t like living with that kind of a mindset!

About people’s comments? I’m going to use this post as just another reminder that we don’t know how our supposedly harmless comments can hurt others. Whether people have kids or not, how many kids they have, it has nothing to do with the rest of us. Suffering from infertility is a lonely place, a place full of shame despite how common it actually is, and if you can’t be there for the other person, don’t make it worse. I know people don’t mean harm, but there are so many better things to talk about than possibly reminding them one more time of something they are struggling with.

If you’re having a hard time handling people’s comments, change up your responses maybe. Over the years I’ve found myself responding a million different ways, from dodging the question, having a comeback ready, and recently just being honest whenever I feel comfortable enough (don’t do this if you aren’t prepared to handle even more questions though). I also think it is totally okay to tell the other person that you’re not comfortable with their questions. ALSO if you’re going through a particularly vulnerable time and if it’s possible, just maintain a distance from such people. We can’t change people but maybe we can just change our interactions with them!

You do get stronger over time and learn to handle it better. It doesn’t really hurt me as much as it used to and maybe part of the reason is that I have worked on my inner self over this.

Sending prayers and good vibes your way!

Lots of love.