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Kenya: Tech & the Rise of Professional Photography

Captivated by the art of photography from a young age, Thandiwe Muriu determined to embark on the long road to becoming a professional photographer at 14 years-old. Today she has received a lot of recognition for her work. In fact, at the Kenya Photography Awards 2013, Thandiwe was named ‘most promising young photographer and portraiture photographer of the year’.

“At the age of 14, my father taught me how to use a camera and I instantly took to it. I spent my teenage years reading as much material about photography as I could in magazines (I had no internet access then). After high school I got the opportunity to intern for a photographer in the US and that time confirmed my desire to become a professional photographer,” Thandiwe says.

Thandiwe is not the only budding professional photographer in Kenya. Wilson Mwaniki has had work featured as the editor’s choice in 500px.com, one of the world’s leading online photography destinations. Wilson specializes in outdoor shots and wedding pictures.

Over the last few years Kenya has seen a steady rise in the new crop of photographers in and around Nairobi. A good living can be made: a professional photographer can cost you anything between Kshs 60,000 (US$700) to Kshs 200,000 (US$2,500) per day, a fee which scales up for commercial purposes.

Technology has played a huge part in all this. Digital cameras, although highly priced, offer premium quality pictures without the mess of a dark room:

“Major camera producers have begun manufacturing cheaper cameras aimed at photography enthusiasts. This has allowed photographers like myself, in my initial years, to explore the world of photography affordably,” Thandiwe tells us.

High end phones with high resolution cameras have also tethered users to the importance of photography in life.

“When it comes to image retouching, my favorite piece of technology is Wacom's range of graphic tablets. These allow for more accurate, higher quality and faster retouching. Something that can really add value to a photographer’s work,” Thandiwe explains.

“With the advent of 3G internet in Kenya,” she continues, “I have been able to access online learning resources that have been instrumental in growing my skill and furthering my career. Being self taught, I learn new techniques from websites such as YouTube.”

The tech challenge

But as technology gives, technology takes. Recently, the photography community has seen rising cases of online infringement. In April this year, the online community was made aware of one Pete Vån Dévôure who stole pictures from various photographers and posted them as his.

This brought a sharp focus on the darker side of the photography industry. According to the Photography Association of Kenya (PAK), a new organization launched in 2012, the dangers online are sometimes hard to detect and prevent.

“Unfortunately there is no a guarantee that your images will not be pirated, but if it happens, and the photographer wishes to take a legal route, we assist on that and also hold different workshops that focus on how to avoid [the problem],” Muthoni Gitau, the Administrator of PAK tells IDG Connect.

Wilson Mwaniki suggests other technical way of presenting photographs online to minimize the danger of copyright infringement. He advises that:

“A photographer can first of all watermark his images intrusively but tastefully. A photographer can alternatively resize his/her images to about 200kb for each photo. This effectively reduces the DPI on the photo such that, manipulation on the photo isn't possible. Thirdly, a photographer should avoid uploading high resolution images onto social media platforms. A high resolution image would be easy to manipulate. Last but not least, always make sure that your photo's META data has your details, contacts or keywords that can be traced by search engines on the internet.”

At present PAK has its work cut out in helping its members to paddle these new waters, Gitau explains:

“We have started a mentorship program where we pair young up-coming photographers with the professionals. [This means] they learn the business as well as skills to survive the industry as they perfect their art.”

The Opportunities

With these dangers and more photographers joining the fray, Thandiwe hails the creation of PAK, as he believes it will help shape the industry in Kenya.

“The Photographers Association of Kenya was a bold step in the right direction for the Kenyan Photography Industry. It has worked to hold workshops to educate photographers and has an annual award ceremony to reward talent,” Thandiwe says.

The annual awards ceremony has grown to become one of the most recognized awards in Kenya and is used to celebrate the growing number of photographers.

With the dangers online avenues have, the industry is also looking to use the platform to its advantage. There is no one place to get African stock photos and the association is thinking in that direction:

“Recently, there have been some efforts to begin an African photo stock online by several different organizations,” says Thandiwe. “Hopefully in time these will come to fruition. I think the biggest thing the industry needs is unity. If all photographers come together under one umbrella, committed to growing photography on the continent, we could go far.”

PAK hinted that it is indeed looking to establish a Kenyan photography stock site to market images from the continent, on a bespoke African platform.  “Photography is now considered a career path, like any other, not just a hobby,” concludes Gitau.

 

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene

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Vincent Matinde

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.

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