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The Photographer's Toolbox: 10 Things African Photographers Can Do To Set Themselves Up For Success

New years often come with renewed strength, enthusiasm, and excitement but more often than not, we get back into the trope of stagnancy and slowness. In this article, I want to share ten things you can do to set yourself up for success this year. Achieving your goals will not be by swinging a magic wand; however, it will require substantial work. Think about it, if it were that easy, everyone would do it.

Photo by KC Nwakalor

Here are my ten tips:

Get a website. I can not stress this enough. One voice in your head probably whispered, "I can't afford it." Do not listen to that voice. Listen to this angelic voice instead "Where there is a will; there is a way! You can afford it". If you already have a website, this is the best time to update it with your recent work and put your portfolio in order. I talked about how to build a portfolio here. It is always a pleasure for editors to view lots of work that embody your creative style, interest, and growth. You can build a website on many platforms quickly; some are free, and others aren't. You can check out Format, Visura, Adobe Portfolio, Squarespace, Behance, Wix, etc.; the list is endless.

Reach out. The holiday season is a great time to reach out to old and new clients. Do well to send a personalized holiday or new year email, thanking them for the opportunity to work with them during the past year and wishing them a great new year. By doing this, you help your clients to remember you, and they'd keep you in mind for their upcoming projects.

Be visible. Unless you have solidified your position in the industry (which I consider tricky), always show your work or work in progress. Use your social media to your advantage in terms of promoting your work. Show behind the scenes of your trips and assignment– I often use #OnAssignment on my socials. It helps your followers (potential clients) know that you are actively working and busy, and sometimes I give a sneak peek into the project I am working on. It is a covert way to stay in people's minds without appearing in their faces. However, be mindful of how you share on social media so that you do not expose yourself to security risks, breach your client's trust or even harm the people you tell their stories.

Photo by KC Nwakalor

Take your relationships seriously. Your network is your net worth. I am not saying you should be a people-pleasing freak. Trying to be everyone's friend to climb the industry ladder could be more distasteful. You should invest in long-term relationships with photographers and others within your influence. The Creative industry is a very lonely space as we often have to work in isolation; such genuine camaraderie is a valuable asset that can keep you afloat during life's storm.

Archive your work. It is critical to have it organized and well archived. You have to store your work in an easily recallable manner in hard drives and cloud services. I organize mine in folders like this: Drive 1: Year>Month>Client>Name of project>Photo/ Video >Raw folder /Edited folder. I pay subscription fees for Dropbox and upload tightly-edited RAW and High-Resolution Jpeg files. I only pay when I need to use the service as they will not delete your files, they will only downgrade your subscription to the free version so that you can not add new files.

Take your finances seriously. I asked a colleague whether he keeps track of his income, and he said, "No." I was shocked! Aside from tax purposes, how do you know if you are making progress? I have records of the very first client who paid me in 2016. I use the Wave App to keep track of my invoices, payments, and clients. I'm not sure Wave lets new users from African countries sign up, but I know you can try many local options. Photography is about creativity, but how creative can a homeless and hungry person be? Diversify your income; you can consider teaching, selling prints, or even NFTs (I'm not a fan yet), making sure you are not relying only on one source of income. The Covid-19 pandemic taught me this hard lesson. Do well to have savings too.

Invest in yourself. When you stop learning, you start dying. Seek depth in your practice, learn complex skills and see how you would fly high. Look around you; the people doing well invested immensely in themselves. Invest in your mind by reading books, traveling, and attending workshops or classes online. Invest in your gear and your body– exercise or get a massage. These investments will surely pay off in due time.

Step out of your comfort zone. Nothing new grows in the comfort zone. Try new things this year– as I speak to you, I also talk to myself. Approach your creative practice in a new way, do not box yourself in. You are not just a photographer; you could be many things all in one. Do not be scared to explore other aspects of your practice. Do not be shy to write a new chapter in the story of your life. Whenever I feel I have conquered space, it is often a prompt to seek a new challenge.

Photo by KC Nwakalor

Know when to take a break. My advice may be double-faced– telling you to be visible and saying, take a break. Breaks are powerful. I'm presently on a social media break. In December, I practically deleted all social media apps on my phone– leaving just Whatsapp, Linkedin, and Clubhouse. I figured I spent so much unproductive time on Instagram, Facebook, and sometimes Tiktok. My time has become more valuable as I do a demanding MBA degree, teaching, and a career transition process. All of which require my undiluted attention. So I now only access social media via my laptop as it is a critical part of marketing my teaching and creative work. All I am saying is to know when to take a break and focus on what is most important; the world will wait. It could be to work on your personal project, to archive your work, or to rest– do it!

You are not special. Go into this year, remembering you are not special. It is often a difficult pill to swallow, especially if you come from a family that has always drummed your uniqueness into your head. You might be special to the people that love you, but in the grand scheme of things, you likely aren't. The world will move on without you. If you change cities, your clients will hire the next available talent. So be humble. Value the opportunities that come your way, do every work like it was given to you, and stay true to your core purpose and values. Trends will come and go, but actual value remains.

I am glad you read every word I wrote. This year, I want to write more– after two months of writing three weekly academic essays, I can see that my writing is gradually improving. The eleventh piece of advice (this a bonus) would be to write more this year. Write about your photographs, your thoughts, and practically anything.

What other suggestions do you have that I might have missed out on? Do well to share your thoughts in the comment section. And also, If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend.

The Photographer's Toolbox is a monthly creative practice experience-sharing series hosted by KC Nwakalor, which targets freelance photographers living and working in Africa.

In the last seven years, KC has lived in Abuja, Nigeria, and has worked in six other African countries as a freelance photojournalist, documentary photographer & Producer for Publications such as the New York Times, Bloomberg, and Organizations like USAID, UNICEF, amongst others.

Through this series, he will share personal experiences and advice that can help you further your creative practice. You can learn more about KC's work on his website.

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Enjoyed! Eye opening!

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