Boniface Mwangi gives his tips on how to make money as a photographer.
The Photographers Association of Kenya (PAK) celebrated Kenya Photo Week between the 19th and the 24th of August 2019, with a series of workshops, master classes and guest lectures at their location on 209 State House Road. Award winning photojournalist Boniface Mwangi was one of the speakers. Addressing a packed room, he shared his experiences of how he found himself as a photographer following an incident where he had to capture pictures of abuse meted out on students in a school he attended, to later joining the media. A maverick who is today a leading voice for social justice and equality, Boni, as he is popularly known, has won numerous local and international awards. In 2016, he published his autobiography, UnBounded.
His tips on how to make money as a photographer
This is about how you cover yourself, how you present yourself to the public. Dress well, look decent. It also entails discipline. When you go to cover an event, you are not going to eat or drink. Sometimes photographers forget they are on assignment and spend all their time at the bar. Have etiquette. Treat yourself as a professional and people will respect you.
- Be able to hold conversations
You need to be able to speak to anyone, be it a policeman, a businessman, a teacher, or a thief. You need to be able to speak your way out of potentially problematic situations. Be able to have something to talk about to anyone you approach. This is how you get clients. It also entails being culturally sensitive. Understand the cultures and spaces you are working in and respect them. Make friends where you go. During Post Election Violence in 2007, I had local fixers who protected me. Other journalists were getting harassed and mugged and losing their equipment but I was protected by the people on the ground.
- Know your worth
Don’t be afraid to ask a client for the amount of money you think you are worth. I asked someone 1.2 million to showcase my work abroad and he paid it without a fuss. I have made millions as a photographer. I am known and have won awards as a photographer, not an activist. It’s a question of where do you place yourself. A photographer I know charges 5 million shillings per assignment. The guy who did the Apple ad in Kenya charges 2 million shillings a day. Know your value and who you are talking to. One of the wealthiest persons in Kenya was Mohamed Amin. He owned Camerapix. You can become very wealthy as a photographer.
- Get into a niche and be known for something
It’s a competitive industry. There are people who take pictures of weddings, wildlife, insects and snakes. Be known for something, whatever it is, and work and become the best at it. Your work precedes you. Work on personal projects so that you get to find what it is you are passionate about. Shoot what you are passionate about, share the pictures online and people will come hire you. Choose what you do. Stop looking at single events and look at the trajectory of where you are going.
- Keep on learning
Look at what other people are doing, read other people’s work. Also, there are opportunities that will come your way that may not give you much money but will give you exposure. Now, I travel to speak and to meet people. Be interested in people. Because money is with people. Get yourself in uncomfortable places. Try to go to places that people are doing things you don’t know or care about, like knitting, or camping.
- Get another added value to your skill
It could be writing, training, editing. So that at the end of the day, it’s not just photography you are doing for people but you are delivering a whole package. Taking pictures is 10% of what you do 90% is presentation, communication and flavor.
- Tell the stories of your people
As a photographer, you are a story teller, a history shaper. Money follows good work and talent. Money follows excellence. As a photographer, your work is primarily to shoot. You can be in a risky situation and try to intervene and get killed. As a photographer, ethically and morally, your number one role is to shoot.
- Be creative with your shots
Don’t shoot straight. Straight is boring. You can anticipate your shot and frame it. For this you have to know your camera so well that you know how to touch it to get the best response. It’s all about framing and composition. Where you are standing, what you are looking at. It’s not the equipment that matters, it’s the eye. For this, you have to be attentive and alert to what’s happening around you. Once we were shooting a wedding in town and I saw a mkokoteni passing nearby. I stopped the mkokoteni guy and we took pictures with the couple in it and the image was so beautiful and creative it ended up going viral. Yet it was unplanned.
Study Osborne Macharia’s work. He works with a collective. He has specific people for lighting, location, wardrobe, costume and make up. Have a community that will help you up your game. Related to this, be a good person. Don’t be a backstabber, don’t be malicious. Don’t spread hate among your colleagues. Be ethical. You can focus on likes and short term fame for retweets, but what are you doing to people’s lives and what message is it sending to other potential clients?
- Focus on your skill
Polish it, be the best in it. When you’re the best, money will follow you. If you practice your skill every day, it shows. You will not be able to hide it; it will be noticeable to everyone. It may not be noticeable in the first few days but within a few years if you are continually doing it, it will be overwhelming. It’s like working out.
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