For you who follow celebs such as Zari on social media, you must wonder how they are able to have such cool photos all over their feeds every time. Well, these are not phone photos and there are guys behind all this as Hassan Ssentongo writes.
A celebrity photographer is a professional who earns a living taking pictures of public figures. This form of photography requires a considerable amount of aggressiveness, creativity and patience.
Musicians, actors, media personalities, and now, ‘slay queens’ keep their social media feeds littered with impossibly beautiful images, sometimes to promote new projects, from public appearances and during events. Celebrity photographers were non-existent a few years ago but there are names highly sought out for their skill.
Fred Bugembe considers Sheebah, Desire Luzinda, Leila Kayondo his loyal clients. He, however, has worked with a long list of celebrities, including Vinka, Maurice Kirya, Nina Roz, Judith Heard and many more.
His most memorable project is socialite SK Mbuga’s wedding. Bugembe’s journey started in 2014, working with a number of studios before starting his own brand in 2016.
The 26-year-old creative believes that a good photographer does not have to own expensive equipment. “All you require is your creativity and commitment.”
Moses Mbogo– Mozart Pictures
Moses Mbogo, famously known as Mozart, might possibly be the most in-demand celebrity photographer in Kampala, thanks to his long list of clients which include Jack Pemba and Bebe Cool.
Unlike other photographers whose names you know, but have no idea what they look like, Mbogo is as comfortable behind the lens as he is in front of it, something that has turned him into a celeb in his own right.
This guy started by assisting his brother, who was a ‘cameraman’. The first class Fine Art graduate worked with Globetek Photography and Paramount pictures before going solo in 2012. “I started Mozart Pictures with nothing but talent and passion. I borrowed cameras and saved my meagre earnings to buy one.”
His first camera cost Shs3.5m but as fate would have it, “The same night I bought it, thugs broke into my house and stole it.”
Knowing how hard it was to get clients, he focused his energy on high school events. “These were potential clients and if I impressed them, chances were high that they would continue working with me even after school.” The strategy worked.
Mozart’s robust social media presence has grown his brand into a real force.
“I sometimes fly abroad to shoot weddings and private parties. Recently, I was booked for a fashion show in Rwanda. I have also worked in Tanzania and Kenya.”
At 30 years old, Mbogo employs more than 20 people, has ventured into real estate, and is building a house. His advice to upcoming photographers is “treat your customer well, deliver on time and be patient”.
Rolland Manzi is famous for his down to earth personality and a unique sense of creativity. “I do not just take photos, I tell stories,” the 25-year-old photographer says.
He is popular in the fashion industry, with his work featured in magazines and online blogs. Perhaps one of his most famous pieces is the photo of Bobi Wine’s campaign poster.
His journey started during his S.6 vacation, working at his cousin’s studio in Kabale. This is where he met Beny Popie, another popular photographer.
“By then, Beny was already popular in Kabale. I learnt a lot from him, we have worked together since and I consider him my best friend.”
Manzi has a degree in Industrial Art and Design from Nkumba University.
“I spent most of my free time on YouTube learning and researching,” he shares.
After school, he was hired by iLove PhotoPro, an opportunity that allowed him to rub shoulders with famous people. He has worked with Barbie Kyagulanyi, Bettinah Tianah, Malaika Nnyanzi, Lillian Mbabazi, Anne Kansiime, Maurice Kirya, Crystal Newman, Sheilah Gashumba and more. He also shot 2016 presidential aspirant Rtd Maj Gen Benon Biraaro’s campaign photo.
Working with celebrities comes with its own challenges but he has sailed through without a fight. “I think it is because of how I approach people. I am humble so if you come with your ego, it will easily get crashed,” he explains.
Manzi believes that photography is a profitable business if you get into it for the passion. His only challenge is “sometimes people look down on our profession.”
Daville Andrew Mutabazi Kafeero
Mutabazi believes that for one to get a head start in this business, they need to assist or intern for an established photographer first. “There is a lot to learn; from the software to use, the latest technology, to how to handle clients. As an assistant, you gain all this experience as part of your job,” he advises. He started out by assisting renowned photographer Oscar Ntege, who exposed him to all the basics of the profession.
“I had passion for art and photography right from high school, although I never got an opportunity to study it. I started by working behind the scenes, laminating photos for Oscar.” He later moved to Multiways Photography until August last year when he decided to focus on his personal brand.
The early days were pretty rough, he had to acquire a loan from a client to buy his first camera, a Canon 6B.
“Surprisingly, the response was positive and I paid it back in three months instead of the agreed six. Some of Daville’s popular clients are Bettinah Tianah, Fatumah Asha, and Lydia Jazmine. He also claims to be every slay queen’s favourite photographer, something that keeps him busy.
He has been able to acquire six highly specialised cameras and lighting equipment, works with a team of eight people and has bought a company car.
“The biggest challenge clients always have with us is late delivery. I make sure to deliver within the agreed timelines and I believe that is my strongest point. I ensure to share pictures just in time for people to post on social media during an event,” he shares.
On his part, the challenge of working as a photographer is the expensive equipment. His advice to upcoming photographers is not to get into it for the money because “it won’t come. Be humble, passionate and patient.”
Has he worked with a client who was not professional? “Sometimes it is us who give the subject the wrong ideas. Whether they are half naked or not, your focus should be on taking the perfect shot. That is all. Fortunately for me, so far, all my clients have been professional. I guess it is because I am professional too.”
Haruna Ssebagala of Access Films
Ssebagala has no kind words for people that look down on photographers. “If a photographer brands themselves well, has strong values, they can even earn better than a banker,” he asserts. “I am living proof!”
As we chat, Ssebagala is in Gaborone, Botswana where he opened a new studio and office. Surely, being Zari’s official photographer comes with quite some perks. Besides sending shouts out on her Instagram, Zari has supported Ssebagala’s business unconditionally.
“I am her personal photographer whenever she is in Uganda, and a lot of times I travel with her.”
His relationship with the socialite dates back to 2011 when he worked on her Introduction ceremony.
“I was working with Photo Artistic then. I managed to befriend Zari and her mum but after the event, we never talked for almost two years. Then in 2013 we met again through my good friend Zahara (her sister). That is when I landed the gig to be her official photographer.
What is it like working with celebrities? “If people knew that it is very easy to work with anyone in life regardless of their status in life, we would be very far in life.” “I love working with Zari. She is a very straight person. It is the same case with other celebrities I work with. Just do what people want and you will work with them smoothly,” he advises.
Ssebagala is also Club Guvnor’s official photographer. His most memorable projects are; the recent visit of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Uganda where he worked with the president’s official photographer, and the MTN CEOs conference early this year.
At 29, Ssebagala has bought land in Entebbe, owns three company vehicles, and takes care of his family; mother and two siblings.
Beinomugisha B Kyakabale aka Beny Popie
Kyakabale discovered his love for art while in high school, where he binge read comic books. In his S6 vacation, he got an opportunity to work at his cousin’s studio in Mbarara. “Honestly, I was just a bag holder spending my day at work seeing how things are done,” he admits. He worked in Mbarara with his brother before they decided to move to Kabale, where opportunities were endless.
“You remember those cameramen that would walk from home to home offering to take pictures of people? That is what we were doing. Because our quality was unparalleled, and customer care was excellent, we instantly won the hearts of most of the youth in Kabale.”
Thanks to this popularity and experience, when he moved to Kampala, he joined iLove PhotoPro studio. It is here where he gained even more experience and managed to find his niche which is portraits and fashion.
Popie has shot lots of pictures, but the work he did for NBS TV and BBS still holds a special place in his heart. “Most of the work we do lives on social media feeds and albums.
However, seeing it on a billboard or in a magazine is different.
Billboards with NBS news anchors on them are spread across the country, even in Kabale. Every time I see them, I smile.” His challenge are clients who prefer overly edited pictures and clients that never pay in time.
Nelson Byanyima, aka Nelly Salvatore
Nelson Byanyima did not intend to become a photographer. After completing a project geared to market energy-saving stoves, he realised that he had spent money on a camera which was then useless.
“I started taking pictures of people and places everywhere I went, just to pass time but then I got passionate about it,” he shares.
His journey as a professional photographer started last year in June, but he is already the official photographer of Comedy Store Uganda.
According to the 28-year-old creative, a great photographer has to be; passionate, trustworthy, ambitious and dynamic.
“I’ve learned some of the things I know from YouTube and Google and I continue to learn every day. You need to brand yourself well, build and grow your network overtime, “he advises.
Just like all his colleagues in the industry, Ugandans are yet to appreciate photography as a profession. “Most celebrities feel like they are entitled to our services at no cost which is very wrong. Equipment is quite pricey, and there is more to a photograph than just a snap. A lot of art and creativity is involved.”
His most memorable work are pictures of the late Mowzey Radio during his appearance on Comedy Store in November last year.