Lessons from a Master in Photography @PAWA 254

le class

By Gloria Mwaniga.

Chronicles of a photojournalist

The boy gathered all the courage he could find within his tiny frame and opened the hardwood door.
Drawing in a deep breath, he smiled at the receptionist exposing a perfect set of white teeth. ‘I am here to see the Managing director, ‘he said staring straight into her well made up face.
The girl calmly put down her pen, looked up and gave him a long scrutinizing stare, ‘which of these men do you want so see?’ She asked in a not-so-convinced voice, pointing at large portraits on the wall,’
‘ that one in spectacles,’ the boy said, pointing at a big framed bespectacled guy with a camera hanging over his neck, ‘he gave me an appointment, I am a professional photographer,’ he added more to himself than to her.
‘Okay, go in, she said dismissively to the shocked boy.
He walked past the huge mahogany door and found himself face to face with Mohammed Amin.
How can I be of help? Amin calmly asked, ‘Eeeh sir,’ the boy stuttered, all the courage he had gathered earlier melting in the heat of the moment as he stared at the renown photographer, ‘I want to become a great photographer,’’
Well then, you have my blessing young man, Amin added standing up to see him to the door.
‘Sir, but I am not yet finished… I want to learn from a master of the art, do you mind?

And so with this dramatic start off, Sam Ouma put into action the famous Buddhist saying that ‘when the student is ready, the teacher appears’.

Sam had dreamt of meeting Amin ever since he realized photography was a passion he couldn’t run from. To him, Amin was an embodiment of all his life’s dreams, a man who cameras loved as much as he loved them.
Thereafter, Sam went ahead to pitch a career as one of Kenya’s and Africa’s best photographers under the wings of Mohammed Amin. Like every good student, Sam too became a force to reckon with in the photography world working with The Nation, Weekly review and Kodak International in his lifetime career as a photojournalist.

What had began as a quest to make an extra coin by selling low quality photos to his classmates in school ended up being his lifetime passion.

Lessons from a Master in Photography

They say that a person does something for two reasons, the good reason and the real reason.
On Thursday the 23rd of April as I made my way through State house Avenue to PAWA 254, I had two reasons for attending the Photography Master Class. The real reason was that as an art writer and blogger, a photography talk would be a plus to my knowledge base. The good reason was that the previous week, during a poetry workshop POWO, I had come face to face with the renowned Boniface Mwangi; a one time CNN photojournalist of the year winner. The displayed awards of the young achiever impressed me too much to say no when he asked if I was planning to attend the photography class the subsequent Thursday.

So on that sunny Thursday evening, I took the flight of stairs two at a time and walked straight into the green, red and blue walled room with drawings and quotes by historical figures like Malcolm X, Wangari Maathai, Mohammed Ali and Obama.
The room, already full of photographers buzzed with anticipation and conversation as photographers exchanged hash tags and blog addresses.
Sam wasn’t hard to pick out, probably because of his large masculine frame and strong presence, or maybe his red shirt.
Before long, we were immersed into the world of this master teacher and photographer, who used his best tool, the camera, to pass across the message.
Some of the key pointers he shared are:

1. Be in love with your camera

Sam’s first lesson to the photographers was to love their cameras.

To connect this to his life story, he narrated an anecdote of how after being offered a job by Mohammed Amin, his first assignment was to click the camera for a whole week. Believe you me after that week, his finger always twitched as he imagined himself clicking the camera. Talk of passing a point across.

2. Rely on your sixth sense and sharpen it.

Just like in life, the sixth sense could save your life in photography..
Always learn to rely on it.

3. Create a rapport with your customer:
Make your clients feel at ease.
Always wear a pleasant face and be friendly. The first impression will determine whether you get referrals from them.

4. Every second counts.
In photography, you don’t have a minute, only split seconds
This therefore means that you should be ready anytime.
When you see a spectacular scene, first click the camera then admire later.
Sharpen your eyes to anything.
Look beyond the ordinary to see story
In other words, be on the beat: that’s how you get hot stories.

5. Make contacts
Have contact with people everywhere; police, customs, military etc
You will need them at some point.

Wedding photography.

About photographing for weddings, Sam warned that one had to be careful so as to be governed by light.
Creativity was also encouraged.
For Studio photography, he insisted on focusing on details and the angles.

When a picture is worth thousand stories.

Being a teacher and therefore understanding the importance of demonstration, Sam then took us through some of his pictures taken all over the continent.
From West Africa’s popular Okada transport to the famous Zimbabwean bridge made of Kenyan material, through Nigeria’s bush monkey meat sold in the famous Oshodi market that has one million people; these everyday anecdotes triggered our imaginations and curiosity.
Sam also treated his students to amazing but sad pictures of the Rwanda genocide and stressed on the importance of emotional debunk especially after photographing such traumatic events.

Final advice

Even when bursting with creativity, Stick to assignment; don’t allow thy creativity to wander .
Understand where your strength is as journalism whether in Sports or social events.
Also understand light angles and the levels of smile

About PAWA 254 Photography master class

This is a monthly salon that is ideal not only for established professional photographers seeking to learn how to succeed in this field, but for also those starting out and seeking to grow.

It happens fortnightly at the PAWA 254 premised on State house Avenue.

Entry is free and refreshments are always served.

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