Have you been taking photos with your android phone, posting them on Instagram and getting hundreds of likes and now you think you are now ready to be called a photographer?
While you might have a natural talent for taking good photos, this is just one of the ingredients for a successful career in the field.
Long before photography became a cool career every Tom, Dick and Harry wanted to be part of, there were the likes of Mwangi Kirubi and Boniface Mwangi perfecting their craft.
They spoke during the Spotlight on Photography session organised by Aspire Ltd last week and here is their advice for anyone considering a career in the field.
Mwangi Kirubi, better known as Mwarv, has been in the photography industry for 11 years and characterises his success as being driven by passion and building strong relationships. He owns the firm Click PictureWorks Ltd.
One of his recent projects involved taking photos of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. Mwarv says that although the project is mostly associated with him, his friend and fellow photographer Allan Gichingi also played a key role in the photoshoot.
Mwarv says, “A friend of mine who works at State House gave me a call one day and asked if I could drop what I was doing and head to State House to shoot portraits of the President because the person who had been booked had flown out. I agreed to it and asked my friend Allan Gichingi to accompany me because I knew the task ahead was beyond me and Allan is very talented.”
Before Mwarv ventured into photography in 2006, he was a copyrighter. “The salary was good, but I felt there was no need to be empty during the week and then full on weekends, which is when I pursued my photography passion. Quitting my job in 2006 was the best decision I made.”
He says a good way to know if you are passionate about something is to ask yourself if you would do it for free.
Mwarv started out by taking photos for Mavuno Church’s events and moved on to wedding photography, which he did for a number of years until it no longer fulfilled him.
“I used to take any project that would pay, but it reached a point I asked myself whether the photos I was taking served a deeper purpose. At first I thought I would take a short break and the drive would return, but it didn’t. And I cannot do anything I am not passionate about. Besides I didn’t like that I was missing out on spending time with my family during the weekends.”
That is how he started documentary photography. “I wanted my photography to have a deeper purpose.”
Mwarv takes photos that showcase Kenya’s beauty and that of other countries. He also works with NGOs and other development organisations to showcase their work.
He says in the near future, he wants to start working on three or four big projects a year that pay well and then spend the rest of the year with his family and travelling the world.
Mwarv has never approached a client for work.
He says, “Passion can take you before kings. You can imagine all the security involved to get to see the President and yet I got there just because of my talent. Your talent will open doors for you.”
Mwarv advises youths to always go the extra mile without necessarily expecting anything in return. Back in the days when he was an events photographer, Mwarv attended an event at the Tribe hotel and after the gig, he came across a man proposing to his girlfriend. He decided to capture the moments and he later shared the photos on his social media platform. The pictures spread like wild fire and he got a call from the man who proposed, asking if he could forward the photos and he did so, without his watermark.
Later, he got a call from the same man and he was hired for both the engagement and wedding photoshoots. To add to that, the man referred him for his company’s events and he held the contract for three years.
Mwarv’s quick tips for success:
1. Don’t be selfish and don’t be afraid to share opportunities if you know of someone who can do a better job than you or if you are tied up doing other work. “Be a channel of blessings,” Mwarv says.
2. Go above the call of duty to help a client. If you are hired for a wedding and your contract expects you to be on site between 9am and 6pm, don’t pack your equipment and tell the groom to pay and extra Sh5,000 if they want you to stay beyond that time. “Are you going to leave the event before the wedding cake is cut because it’s past your contract time? Do the job and let the groom know they don’t have to pay you and they could end up referring you for more gigs.”
3. On how much beginner photographers should charge, Mwarv says it is an individual decision – you have to work out the costs associated with your work and determine your mark up
4. Friends can be the number one killer of businesses because some expect to get services for free. But Mwarv advises, “If your friend wants you to take photos for their birthday, why should they tell you to do it for free? Aren’t they paying for the catering and venue? So what is different about the photography?” He encourages photographers to learn how to negotiate sometimes: “If they are so particular about how much you are charging and you are a beginner who is also practising, you can offer to do a good portrait photo for your friend for free, while they will pay for the birthday photography.”
5. It's all about relationships. If you want to be successful, build good relationships. Clients are not islands. They are great advertisers.
The money: Mwarv charges an average of between $550 and $750 per day for his services.
Boniface Mwangi’s story
Boniface shot to the limelight after taking photos of the 2007-08 post-election violence, which left him traumatised.
He decided to use his photography to create social awareness and the activist was born.
During Madaraka Day celebrations in 2009, Boniface stood up and heckled then President Mwai Kibaki to protest against what he termed as injustice.
Although he has shifted his lens to politics as he runs for the Starehe MP seat, Boniface still takes photos every now and then and he has nuggets of advice for those interested in the field.
Boniface’s tips for success
1. Love yourself – you cannot give what you don’t have. If you are to do good work, you have to love yourself and believe in yourself. Accept your flaws.
2. It’s not always about the money. “Sometimes I’ll do a job for free if I know I stand to benefit more from the contacts I’ll make.”
3. Social skills are everything. “Talent is only 10%, communication skills 90%”. Boniface says he has been contracted by dignitaries and one thing they tell him is they hire him because he is able to assimilate with the crowd. “These are clients who want somebody who can mingle with the crowd and not start complaining that the contractor left them stranded in a room full of people they don’t know.”
4. Don't shoot straight. Straight is boring. Have angles.
5. Don't eat or drink at events, engage the audience. “People love to talk about themselves, if you learn this skill, you will go places. All the solutions you need in life are with people. There is no epiphany. Just learn to live with people with their eccentricities.”
6. Don't have friends who distract and destroy you.
7. Don't be the one giving people a push in life and going nowhere yourself. Boniface says, “When I was young, there was a guy at our estate who used to offer to take people wherever they were going and when we returned at night, we would find him sitting on the streets asking for a tip. Don’t be that person. Make something out of yourself.”
The money: Boniface charges no less than $400 today and a travel day is a working day.
So you have decided that photography is something you want to do? Well you also need to consider the legal aspect.
June Gachui spoke about the basics photographers should know, like: if you are hired to take photos, do they still belong to you, or do you relinquish your ownership rights?
June Gachui is the founder of a boutique intellectual property firm JGIP Consulting – June Gachui Intellectual Property Consulting LLP
Here are some tips:
1. You can copyright your work.
2. Exceptions to copyright include when a photographer is commissioned to do work. In this case, the person who commissions owns the photos. June says, “Don't come to my firm saying you took photo tibim sana [a very good photo] and your work has been stolen, yet you were commissioned.”
3. Commissioning ends when payment is made.
4. Always sign a contract when you are commissioned
5. Exploit – even if you have been commissioned – so you don’t own the photos – ask if you can use photos, not for commercial purposes, but to market yourself, say on social media. Then instead of charging, say Sh50,000, you can charge Sh20,000.
6. You can register a copyright at the Kenya Copyright Board at the NHIF building. Registration is Sh1,000 and you will also have to pay for a lawyer’s services.
7. How to protect your work: Other than the usual watermark on photos, you can protect your work using a digital watermark so that in case anyone uses the photo, you can trace it using metadata. The digital watermark is built into some cameras including Nikon and Canon.
8. If you still want to own your work, you could license it. Here the work remains yours, but you lend your photos for a set amount of time, for example, in adverts.
9. What to do when infringed – when your work is stolen. Ask for cash. Send an invoice rather than start court proceedings which are time consuming and expensive.
10. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills: don’t be so quick to take photos for free all the time.
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