Unlike most parties by young people that ask the attendees to carry drugs and booze, the party at hand, dubbed #SanaaNjiani, asks those interested to carry their cameras instead. The promise is a photo shoot experience en-route to Nakuru, that, to quote the poster; ‘will make you click with people as you click with the shutter.’

On Saturday morning at 5am, scores of young people assemble at Kencom bus stage in Nairobi. It is still dark, but the excited youngsters are already clicking behind their cameras. “Photos of Nairobi at night are a real asset to any photographer’s catalogue,” says Felix Kipng’etich, a 22 year-old fourth year Psychology student at Kenyatta University. He then proceeds to explain to his colleagues how best to capture Nairobi in the dark.

“First, put your focus on manual setting and start with a 30-second exposure. Make sure the ISO settings are maximum,” Kipng’etich explains.

By half past five in the morning, they are ready to embark on their journey to Nakuru. “Those of us with driving licences have borrowed our parents’ cars to facilitate the trip. It is better to use private means because that way, we can always stop along the highway to take photos of the scenery,” says Daniel Kahindo.  Kahindo, 21, is the Founder and Creative Director of Sanaa Story. He is a Fourth Year Civil Engineering student at the University of Nairobi.

“Many young artists out there are really talented but often lose hope with their crafts after they fail to make a decent living out of it due to lack of exposure,” says Kahindo.

He founded Sanaa Story in 2014 as a platform through which photographers and other artists alike would join hands and push their craft collectively.

The first stop is at Kijabe, just as the sun struggles to peer through the horizon. The group braves the biting cold and runs into Kereita Forest with alacrity.  “They are rushing to catch the very first rays of sunshine in the prime spots before the day becomes too bright to be as scenic,” Kipng’etich explains. “We are a curious bunch of people who are ever chasing the light,” he adds.

Some members of the crew have carried the complete photography gear; cameras, lenses, tri-pods, reflectors and extras. But a handful of them are just content with taking pictures using their mobile phones.

RARELY QUANTIFIED BY THEIR GEAR

“One’s photography is rarely quantified by their gear. Rather, it is measured by their art and skill. As long as one is patient enough to learn the right skills, even the most basic mobile phone can produce worthy images,” quips 21-year-old Gideon Mwangi, a Third Year Real Estate student at the University of Nairobi.

“Most of our members are usually recruited through social media,” Kahindo says. “We make sure to hold frequent meet-ups to discuss photography and get a chance to train the newbies who are looking to make it big in this industry. It is a good way to have fun, discover new places and network with fellow young people,” he adds.

The squad later proceeds to another shoot-location in Gilgil. As they bend and contort their bodies in weird positions whilst craning their necks for perfect shots, their passion for photography comes alive.

“Studying Architecture comes with its own pressures and if one is not careful, they might just be overwhelmed. I took up travelling as an avenue to release the stress and when I opened my travel blog, photography became my second nature,” says 21-year-old Christine Waithera, an Architecture student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. Her travel blog was nominated for this year’s BAKE Awards.

Abdallah Hassan, a 22-year-old photographer from Mombasa, popularly known as @Elphotographia on Instagram, is an example of how highly the members of Sanaa Story value their cameras. He was introduced to photography in 2012 by a cousin who worked as a model. He saved for an entire year and bought a camera worth Sh35,000  but unfortunately, it got stolen. Not one to be deterred, he took up a job as a petrol station attendant and saved part of his salary, managing to buy a gadget worth Sh100,000 after a year.

INCOME STREAM

“For many of these youths, what starts off as a hobby quickly graduates into an alternative income stream. Once they finish college, they take up photography as a full time job,” Daniel Karuga explains.

After the Gilgil photo-session, the crew is back to chasing the sunlight. It is time for the convoy of three cars to drive back to Nairobi. This is a Saturday well spent.

Among the people who have managed to make a living off photography is Stephen Ouma. myNetwork caught up with him while he was on a shooting assignment in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. “I get clients from across the continent and have to travel a lot for my work,” says the 25-year-old who was hired by the International Monetary Fund on a photography contract in Mozambique after winning the ‘Africa Rising’ youth photography award.

Ouma’s affair with the camera started way back in 2011 when his mother passed on. “I wanted to capture the final moments with my mother, so I borrowed a camera to use during her funeral. I was so captivated by photography that I used the money that friends and relatives had donated to me during the funeral to purchase my first point and shoot second-hand camera worth Sh7,000,” he narrates.

Armed with the camera, he travelled to Nairobi, where he frequently gate-crashed weddings, funerals and other social events to take pictures, which he would instantaneously print to sell for Sh50.  His big break was in 2012 when a renowned photographer from Netherlands, Suiejee Jeanan, came to Kenya on a mission to scout for talent and train photographers at the Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts. Ouma took a friend to an interview by Suiejee, and also ended up being interviewed. He beat almost 100 other applicants and was among the 10 who were awarded the scholarship. He would then spend the next two and half years studying the art under the tutelage of the best.

Ouma specialises on humanity photography, which he describes as a branch of photography that uses photos to tell the human story and influence the general public’s perspective.

Stephen Ouma Photography has employed five photographers and is looking to recruit and train more.

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STEPHEN OUMA’S TIPS FOR ASPIRING PHOTOGRAPHERS

  1. Learn to be your own boss

This may be both a blessing and a curse. Learn to be organised, disciplined and motivated all the time.

  1. Take time to learn and invest in your craft

Study and be conversant with technical jargon like burst rate, depth of focus, DPI, shutter priority and OLED. There’s more to photography than just pointing and shooting. Ouma had to go to school for over two years to perfect his craft. Photography can also be an expensive hobby and you should be willing to invest in gear such as lenses and lighting.

  1. You must sell

It doesn’t matter how great of a photographer you are if you’re not able to live off your craft. Passion will not pay your bills. Kenyans often take photographers for granted and end up exploiting them by not compensating them adequately for their services.

“Know your market well and avoid doing gigs for people who will use your friendship as an excuse not to pay you,” he advises.

  1. Run it like the business that it is

If you get to a point where you are making money from your photography skills, it ceases being a hobby and becomes a business. It should thus be treated as such. You should get a business name, relevant licences and become tax compliant, Ouma says. This is the only way to engage with cooperates and government organisations as they only deal with legitimately registered businesses.

  1. Clean up your Instagram

Social media, especially Instagram, is an important factor when it comes to promoting your brand as a photographer. As Ouma has witnessed, the more likes and followers that you have on your Instagram, the more likely you are to pull in clients.

However, for your Instagram to lend you credibility, it needs to provide a breath of fresh air. Unlike most young Kenyans whose timelines are littered with selfies and photos of their meals, your timeline should be decent and display your finest works.

“In this industry, your social media profile precedes you in acquiring any job. Employers go through the photos you have put up on Instagram and Facebook and will only reach out to give you a contract if they like what they see,” says 26-year-old Sanaa Story’s Kevin Olet, who works as a digital artist and freelance creative. “No employer will take you seriously if the only photos on your timeline are those from the nights you go clubbing,” he adds.

First appeared here