I use my “holy trinity” of lenses to create epic memories


SHEM OBARA is a professional documentary and commercial photographer who learned his skills by being exposed to cameras from an early age. He shares with JAEL MUSUMBA how watching YouTube videos has helped him perfect his art:

How did you come to photography?

I have always been interested in photography from a young age. My dad was a photojournalist, so I was pretty exposed to cameras and photographic equipment as a kid. In primary school, I was in film clubs hosted by Eugene Mbugua. I was able to refine my knowledge of cameras a little more, but it wasn’t until high school that I had the idea to put my enthusiasm to good use. It was sort of my “Aha!” moment.

In addition to being supervised by your father, do you have formal training as a photographer?

Most of what I know about photography is either self-taught through practice or by watching tutorials on YouTube.

What is your expertise as a photographer?

My photography is diverse, but I have developed a particular taste for portraits, editorial and conceptual photography.

A portrait of Shem Obara. PHOTO: Courtesy.

Have you ever worked in a professional studio?

I currently run the photography department of Documentary and Reality Television Limited.

When did you officially go for photography?

Professionally, it has been four years now. I took photography seriously in 2018.

What do you like the most about your job?

The creative process, seeing all of these ideas come together to create such pieces is a phenomenal experience to be part of and fully enjoy.

What equipment is essential for you when you go on a mission?

In my gear bag, I always have my “holy trinity” of lenses. These are three of my go-to lenses that I am always assured will give me beautiful results in any setting. It is a zoom lens, a wide angle lens, and a primary lens. I never go to any mission without them. They offer diverse perspectives in photography and create different avenues for the flow of my creativity.

Which professional photographers have influenced your work and how do you incorporate their techniques into your photographs?

There are several photographers who have influenced my style over the years, both internationally and locally, but a few Kenyans who have stood out for me are Mutua Matheka, Ernest Omondi, Lyra Aoko, Tintseh and Francis Kiguta.

What details do you think make the best photographs?

How do you work on them? I believe the best photographs are those that accurately portray a person’s view in the real world. From the composition of the image to the post-production to the emotion, the image radiates and the general atmosphere during the shooting, I try to be in phase with this vision as precisely as possible.

What makes the difference between a good image and an iconic image?

I believe that a good image is the one that captures the attention. An iconic image is an image that captures and commands one’s emotions.

How do you treat a customer who is dissatisfied with your service?

Not everyone will always be happy with my job. Sometimes my vision doesn’t quite match that of the client, sometimes I’m just not at my best. I try to limit the damage by talking to the client to try to assess whether any of the works that have been shot can be corrected during editing. Many times this works, because I always make sure that the initial footage is good while filming and therefore I have never reimbursed a client for the work done because I never had a reason to.

What are some of the challenges associated with your job?

Lack of inspiration is a bigger challenge than you might think when getting into photography. Other challenges include lack of equipment or capital. There are also those who sometimes do not know that it is not for the faint of heart.

What are you proud of as a photographer?

I believe that a creative should create a world in which we can escape, even if it is only for a second. With every project I do, I strive to create such worlds for the people who will see my work, and every time I see this reaction on their face, I feel happy.

What’s your biggest challenge so far?

I would say my biggest challenge is getting people to appreciate the amount of work that creative photography involves. Most people think of it as just grabbing a camera and taking a picture, not realizing that it takes a lot to actualize a concept.

What has changed for you since you were in a relationship?

My style has definitely evolved. My editing standards and the general workflow of my shoots have become more diverse, but specific to the purpose of each shoot. I grew up more in studio work, especially editorials, and yet something that has remained constant is my enthusiasm for creativity. I’m always up for making epic things as much as I started out as I am now.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to be a photographer today?

The best way to grow taller is through practice. Photography is not a profession based on theory, but on practice. So grab this camera, get out there and shoot. You’ll end up picking up a thing or two.

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