Oke- My Goal is to Use Photography to Change Lives

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Femi-Oke, a portrait photographer, in this interview speaks about the photography business. Ugo Aliogo brings the excerpts:

Why do you go into photography amidst other career options?

I am a portrait photographer. I am a graduate of psychology from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU). I decided to go into photography because for me, I have always been to a creative person. I have always loved to experiment; I have always been inquisitive and create things. All through my teenage years, it was time for me to develop my creativity. I sang, danced, played musical instruments and drew objects. I have always been drawn towards creating. I gained admission into University, I wanted to study Microbiology but didn’t make the cut-off mark, I was given zoology, from there I crossed to psychology by choice.

But the creative side of me could not be silenced. So when I finished school, I asked myself if I wanted to paint or sing. So I decided that those hands-on skills I am already good at can wait, I can always come back to them later. So I decided to learn a new medium of expression, this led me to try my hands in photography. So that was how photography became the number choice that I am stuck with today.

I learned photography as an apprentice. I started from Full House Photo studio in OAU and enrolled as a trainee. So that was my first contact as a trainee proper. But before then, I have been experimenting with photo software on my laptop. I spent a year at Full House Photo studio and then I came to Lagos because I was done with University education.  While waiting for my National Youth Services Corps (NYSC), I trained under Hello Photos headed by Segun Akinsanmi for two months. From there I went to train again. Thereafter I trained under Ria Solanke, of Ria Solanke Photography, she is a child photographer. I trained under her for six months. So you can say cumulatively I trained for two years. I have a photography studio that I run here in Lagos and also a photo academic to train persons who are interested in photography. We just started the academic and we currently have four trainees. The goal is to have not more than 10 persons in a class.

Can you talk about the photography business in Lagos and Nigeria. What does the industry look like is it lucrative or not?

In Lagos, the term lucrative is subjective to people’s goals and desires. For instance, the business I am doing and complaining of not having enough capital is someone’s goal for a year. So if I say photography is lucrative, it might not be the same for another person. It is therefore subjective depending on how the individual positions the brand.  There are people who before you invite them to photograph you, you must pay N3.5million because that is their work and they are so good at it and they have placed premium value on it and people who recognize that value will go for it.

The products that you have to offer, and the clientele you are targeting depends on the value you place on your work. For instance, if I frame a portrait and sell it for N3.5million, you cannot question it because it is my art and that is the premium value I want to place on it. So someone who appreciates me as an artist will buy the work. As a result of the fact that over time, I have delivered excellent and I am good at what I do, then the industry can be lucrative for you. Then you brand yourself, market to the right audience, and deliver the value that people are paying you for.

Between picture portrait and digital pictures which one of these get more demand and market share especially in this age where people crave for digital pictures more?

We are living in a generation where print photography is actually fading out, and everyone is going electronic. Everyone wants a soft copy of everything. What I do is portrait it is my own technic of taking photographs, but we have clients who say they want print, honestly, people prefer soft images more than print. For me, it has never affected my work, because what you are paying is not whether you get the digital or print but the picture.

For printing the image for you, it costs me little or nothing, unless you want to do large super prints. As a result of the fact that the industry has evolved photographers don’t wait anymore to print, we charge for creating the photographs. In this era, if you want to make as much as you want, you have to focus on the cost of creating the photograph and in that, you have your profit, otherwise, you will be begging people to come.

If I create photographs for you, you book a photo session; from there I have made my money.  We have different packages for print and it varies from client to client. When you come to my studio, there are some add-ons that can I give to you based on the level at which I am transacting business with you which will not matter to me. So for me, if you say you are doing my diamond package or platinum package, by the time, values exchange hands, there are some things that I can always give you complementary on. In my business transaction, there are the gold, platinum, diamond and bronze packages. So a client can choose from any of the following packages.

Can you give an insight into your clientele base?

For me, I have decided to be a luxury photographer. By that I mean to be expensive. If I studied in school for six years, waited for two to carry out my National Youth Services Corp (NYSC), and used two years before I settled down for photography that is 10years of life, I wasn’t going to be a roadside photographer. So I decided to look at the photography business and realised that in every industry, there are people who are doing it at the rock button, and there are those who are doing it at the top. So I asked myself at which scale do I want to do business in this industry. In every industry, there are persons that are expensive and those that are cheap.

There is a brand for everyone. I decided in this industry I will not offer cheap photography, but good photography. Deciding to be stand out professionally on the ladder of your trade, requires some level of sacrifice, training, mentoring, expertise, and funding. I started small and I focused on the big chunk on the table. We are not there yet, but we are heading there. It is a journey and we have decided not to embrace mediocrity.

When it comes to excellence and quality, it can be expensive. My target customer is the rich in society because I noticed that there are some products that the rich patronise and there are some markets that the rich visits. I decided that if I wanted to be a service provider, I will provide my service to the elite who can afford it and appreciate the excellence which I put into my work. I put in so much work into my craft to be excellent so when I place monetary value on it, people who understand value will pay for it. I have invested a lot into my business and keep investing a lot daily on loans and grants, there are times I empty my account so that I can go for a three hours’ workshop, so I can know more about photography.

Can you talk about your photography academics? For me, it is an idea that is new?

Where I am today is because I benefitted a lot from people who were ready to support. Whatever I know today, someone taught me the business of it. I believe that there is opportunity for everyone to succeed; therefore I have never being a believer in hoarding knowledge. I believe in giving it out so that more can come. When I decided to do photography, the first place I went to was the academy of a photographer who was training young people.

From there, I was able to figure out what I wanted in life and how to move. There are a lot of talented young men who are creative but are not gainfully employed or probably don’t have the platform to express themselves. The academy is an environment where people can come and acquire skills and give an expression of themselves.

The academy also focuses on mentorship programme where young photographers can be attached to accomplished photographers for mentorship. Photography is about learning the skills and trade therein. We focus on teaching people the skills, art, and trade. Learning the marketing aspect of the trade implies that you have to learn the language of value of the high-end consumers and then you will be able to monetize the language of value you have to give to them.

The training periods for participants include five days, weekend package (we can give them a crash course in photography), two and three months respectively. There are those who prefer we visit them at home. Presently, we have people that will be with us for three months, we also have someone who will be with us for a month, so cumulatively we have five persons with us right now. After the inaugural set, we can start asking for a fee for those interested in learning. I use capture one and photoshop for picture editing.