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Shako Khiski, Redesigning the Portrait

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

Shako Khiski composes his portraits as he composes his music—with adventurous creative direction, meticulous attention to detail, and unapologetic artistic license. Khiski’s talent lies in his creative use of editing, atmospheric elements, and props to enhance his subjects while never overpowering them, resulting in a unique, borderline mixed-media approach to portraiture.

Khiski attributes much of his adventurousness and adaptability as an artist to his experience as an immigrant. Georgian (of the country, not the state) by birth, Khiski’s family immigrated to New York when he was ten. Khiski noted that learning a new art form is similar in many ways to assimilating to a new culture, requiring openness to new things, dedication to learning a new mode of self-expression, and a focus on opportunities rather than impediments.

Khiski began his photography career working in product photography for his uncle, a local jeweler, while he was still focused primarily on music. While Khiski’s first photographs were simple product photos with blank backgrounds, Khiski quickly realized that the key to effective product photography, much like all other photography, is creating a narrative…and learning how to actually use a camera.

“Everyone’s a photographer until they reach manual mode,”

Khiski laughed.

Khiski is completely self-taught, and he hopes that his artistic evolution over the past two years can serve as both evidence and inspiration to other aspiring photographers.

“It’s possible to make yourself look like a million-dollar photographer with a really small budget if you just use online resources like YouTube, seek out artistic mentors, and…don’t forget that you still need to apply the theory you’re learning by shooting in real life—a lot,” advised Khiski.

Woman looking at camera in a flannel shirt
Shako works to redesign portraits post-production

After Khiski began incorporating lighting, props, and photo editing into his work to create a story and sense of atmosphere, it wasn’t long before he began incorporating people into his work too. Starting by shooting his family and friends, he quickly refined his skills and began shooting with models.

While he still occasionally dabbles in music, Khiski now focuses primarily on photography. He is stylistically partial to contrast, vibrant colors, and unique use of light, exemplified by one of his favorite shoots featuring model Xhris Watson at Toronto’s Neon Demon Studio.

Khiski had reached out to Watson on Instagram, pitched his vision for the shoot, and in a few weeks’ time they had both booked a day trip to Toronto just to work together. Offering advice to aspiring photographers, Khiski emphasized the importance of building an artistic network.

“I reach out to people all the time just to tell them I admire their work. Sometimes it turns into something; sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does turn into something, it can be really helpful, whether they’re another photographer giving you advice or a model who wants to work with you—that’s how you build your career.”

The shoot with Watson is one of Khiski’s favorites because of how he distinguished his work from other photos shot there. He brought a spray bottle to create the appearance of rain, integrated prisms to bend the neon light, and used Watson’s lighter to create contrast lighting with the neon. Despite doing the shoot in a cold studio in the dead of winter in Canada, “I was sweaty by the end of the shoot,” recalled Khiski. “I’m constantly moving around, trying to capture every perspective, every angle.”

Another one of Khiski’s favorite shoots was one in which he created rather than captured the atmosphere, exemplifying his talent at toeing the line between photography and mixed media. The red shadows cast on the model, Suzanna Komyshan, were created using a red gel strobe light.

If you look closely, her face is lit differently than the rest of her body, which Khiski accomplished using an angled reflector. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Khiski’s post-production process though is the ocean, which Khiski painted into the photo when the window was overexposed in the original image.

Khiski is truly an artist in his ability to not only capture moments uniquely and beautifully, but to transform moments into masterpieces through manmade atmosphere and creative editing.

If Khiski’s work has piqued your interest, check out Clicke’s YouTube channel for an inside look at his creative process.


Book Shako Khiski and photographers like him through Clicke!


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