I never knew photography would make me a millionaire

Shola Balogun

– Shola Balogun, CEO, Shola Creative Studio

About two decades ago, not so many Nigerian youths would give a thought to carving out a career in photography. The clicking and flashing business was not only considered less lucrative to attract ambitious youths in those days, but also less glitzy compared to many other vocations which attracted the attention of millions in that era. Only a few Nigerians saw the prospect of hitting it big in this profession which had in the last two decades undergone unprecedented techno­logical revolution. One of such few Nigeri­ans is Shola Balogun, CEO, Shola Creative Studio

Shola’s foray into photography began as an apprentice in 1997. And today, he has suc­cessfully clicked his way to fame by becom­ing one of the very few acclaimed celebrity photographers in Nigeria. His creative photo studio situated in Surulere, Lagos, is now a Mecca of sorts to top ranking models, actors and actresses who trudge the place for their photo shots. He is also the official photogra­pher to many high profile Nigerians and Cor­porate organisations.

He shares the story of how it all began in this interview with HENRY OKONKWO.

Most business owners have not had so rosy experiences in starting out. Was yours different?

After I finished my apprenticeship in pho­tography, things were so rough. All I had was my canon camera. Things were so hard- I had no money, no back-up. Then I started by tak­ing pictures at parties. You print out the pic­tures and they pay you either N60 or N70 per copy. I did that for one year. But because they did not invite me to their events some people would say they didn’t have money and would take two pictures for N50. At the end of the day, if you refused the money, and you don’t know where to meet them again, you would be the one to lose out. Some would collect the pictures; blast you that they didn’t tell you to take them. Sometimes, they would seize the pictures or even tear them in my presence. At the end of the day, I would have nothing for all my efforts. There was this friend of mine that had a small shop, and I tried to use his place as a contact point. Later, I had misunderstand­ing with his brother and I was kicked out of the place. So, I decided to rent a very narrow shop. Even when I got to the shop, I was still going about hanging camera on my neck. I would go to the Lab and sit there in case there were people who wanted to snap passport size photographs. I would snap them and print it in the Lab.

When did you record your major breakthrough in pho­tography business?

My breakthrough began in 2001. In the whole of Surulere, we were just two photog­raphers that specialized in glamour shot/mod­elling. My narrow office then also served as the changing room. When a male client came for snapshots, the female would have to go out and vice versa. If any client needed to change, I would have to go out. The place served as my studio, changing room, reception and everything. I also managed to buy a small generator. Then I was snapping a picture for N100, while other photographers were charg­ing N300. That attracted more people to my shop. People realised that with N300, they could do three pictures of good quality with Shola.

Then, there were just two photographers in Lagos that really know how to direct and capture good modelling shots. People use my shots when searching for modelling jobs. They take it to agency and auditioning. When a model, an actor or actress submits pictures, the producers would show them sample of my photos, and tell them to locate my studio and take pictures there. Many agents traced my shop and started coming to me. That was how the breakthrough started. Corporate organisa­tions and, even advertising agencies ask mod­els who snapped their pictures. I remember I snapped pictures for Desmond Elliot when he did Tantalizer advert in 2000. It was just the quality of the pictures that attracted custom­ers.

What were the initial chal­lenges you encounter on the job?

When I started, there were times people had to sit outside under the sun and rain because of space. Whenever it was raining, I would stop the generator which means the shooting had to stop until the rain stopped. There were times one would go to lab only to discover that your jobs were not ready, or the film did not come out fine. Then it was just a manual thing, you had to go to lab, you had to book and if somebody came for extra copies you would have to start looking for negatives un­like now when the computer is there.

At what point did you feel the need for a turnaround?

Things changed very fast. When you take good model pictures you get referrals. Then I worked alone and if there was the need to work outside, I would lock up the shop. I couldn’t afford employing a receptionist. At a time I started thinking about what next on the job. I remembered the day Linda Ikeji came to my shop. She was still a model then. She came in and asked if I was the Shola they were talking about and asked for the location of my studio. I replied her that where she was standing was my studio. She was confused at my studio and asked, “This is where your stu­dio is? You mean here?” I felt so bad that day. But that made me to start thinking of upgrad­ing. So, I moved to a three-bedroom flat on Adeyemi Street, in Surulere at a rent of N11, 000 per month. At my first studio, the charge was N1,500 monthly. So, at Adeyemi, I kept working from morning till night, with little or no rest.

How did you get your first million and what was the feeling like?

I was so excited. I did a job worth N1.5 million. I got that money for an Orange Drug job. They gave me the cheque on a Friday, and I quickly ran from their office down to the bank to deposit it. I then waited anxiously to see if I would get alert. I was not sure if the cheque was real or fake. But when I got the alert, I was so excited all through. I asked my­self, “So, I can make a million from photog­raphy?” That spurred me up. The realisation that I could get that much from one company was a major motivation.

How did you clinch the con­tract?

A model took her pictures to Orange Drugs; the company has been sending models to us to take their pictures for several years. All the girls, models and faces they used in their pag­eants, soap packs, calendars, posters all passed through my lens. It was after several of such shots that Chief Ezenna sent for me. He asked why I did not want to meet the clients whose pictures I had been taking for several years. So, I went to meet him. After that meeting, I was made the official model and general pho­tographer for Orange Drugs. I see the man as someone who wants me to grow and gives me courage. He advised me to work hard in the profession God has chosen for me. He men­tors me, and puts me through on how to man­age my money.

What would you say peo­ple’s perception about you is like now as a photographer?

Because of my standard, people don’t treat me like a street photographer again. I could remember in 2001 or 2002, I charged pea­nuts because clients saw me as somebody who needed help but they have seen how far I have gone with the profession now. I can conveniently tell you that I don’t cover weddings for anything less than N1million. Many models come here to learn how to cat­walk, how to pose in front of a camera. I have instructor that comes around. We are just try­ing to create standard in the photo industry.

What is your advice to up­coming photographer?

Source : SunOnline

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