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I use my ‘holy trinity’ of lenses to create epic memories - Photographer

By Jael Musumba | October 17th 2021

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


How did you get into photography?

I have always been interested in photography from a young age. My father was a photojournalist, so I was pretty much exposed to cameras and camera equipment as a child. In primary school, I was in film clubs facilitated by Eugene Mbugua. I got to fine-tune my knowledge of cameras a bit more but it was not until I was in high school when I got the idea to put my enthusiasm to good use. It was sort of my “Aha!” moment.

Apart from getting mentored 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 through watching tutorials on YouTube.

What’s your expertise as a photographer? 

My photography is diverse, but I have taken to a particular liking of portraits, editorial and conceptual photography.

A Shem Obara Portrait. PHOTO: Courtesy.

Have you ever worked in a professional studio?

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

When did you officially settle on photography? 

Professionally, it’s now four years. I took photography seriously in 2018.

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

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

Which equipment is a must-have for you when going for an assignment?

In my equipment bag, I always have my “holy trinity” of lenses. These are three of my go-to lenses which I’m always assured will give me beautiful results in any setting. They are a zoom lens, a wide-angle lens, and a prime lens. I never go to any assignment without them. They offer diverse perspectives in photography and create different avenues for the flow of my creativity.

What 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 believe make the best photographs?

How do you work on them? I believe the best photographs are the ones that accurately depict one’s vision in the real world. From the composition of the image to the post-production to the emotion, the image radiates and the general vibe while taking the picture, I try to be in line with that vision as accurately as possible.

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

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

How do you treat a client dissatisfied with your service?

Not everybody will always be pleased with my work. Sometimes my vision doesn’t completely align with the client’s, sometimes I’m simply not at my best. I try to do some damage control by discussing with the client to try and assess whether any of the work that was shot can be rectified in editing. Many times, this works, because I always ensure that the initial footage is good while shooting and thus I have never refunded a client for work done because I have never had reason to.

What are some of the challenges associated with your work?

Lack of inspiration is a bigger challenge than one would think when they are getting into photography. Other challenges include lack of equipment or capital. There are also those who sometimes don’t know it is not for the faint-hearted.

What do you pride yourself in as a photographer?

I believe a creative should create a world we can escape to, even if it’s just for a second. With every project I do, I strive to create such worlds for the people who will view my work, and whenever I see that reaction on their faces, I feel happy.

What is your biggest challenge so far?

I’d say my biggest challenge is getting people to appreciate the sheer amount of work that goes into creative photography. Most people think that it’s just picking up a camera and taking a picture, not realising that a lot actually goes into actualising a concept.

What has changed for you since you started to date?

My style has definitely evolved. My standards of editing and the general workflow of my shoots have become more diverse, yet specific to the goal of each shoot. I have grown more in studio work, especially editorials, and yet something that has remained constant is my enthusiasm for creativity. I’m always down to create epic things as much as I was starting as I am now.

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

The best way to grow is through practice. Photography isn’t a craft based on theory, but practicality. So pick up that camera, go out and shoot. You will eventually pick up a thing or two.

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