Ok - so if you are a wedding photographer in Nigeria and you have never heard of Jide Alakija, then I suggest you go google him right now...no seriously, stop reading and go google, I'll wait. 🙂
All joking aside, in the past couple of years, I am yet to have a conversation with either a bride or a wedding photographer, where the name Jide Alakija hasn't come up. He is a well respected, universally adored international photographer that bounces between the US, UK and Nigeria shooting all things wedding, portrait, commercial and even a little bit of fashion. I met him a couple of years ago and he was kind enough to get me started on my wedding photography journey as previously discussed here and here. Jide recently invited me to shoot a wedding with him as part of a 5 man crew and I must say the experience gave me a renewed appreciation of all things Jide Alakija i.e. the artist and the brand. Anyway, I wanted to share some of my observations from that experience just as some thinking points for those of us looking to make our own mark on the Nigerian wedding industry. So here we go, the top 5 things I have learned, in no particular order (p.s: no post is complete without images, so thought I would include some of my favourite images from Jide's website. All images are by Jide Alakija):
1) "WHAT'S THE STORY?"
I smile at this because anyone who has ever worked with Jide will be familiar with his emphasis on the importance of a photographer being a good storyteller. In the early days when he would critique my work (oh so nerve-wracking!), he would ask "What are you trying to say with this picture?" and I wouldn't know, which explained why a lot of my initial images lacked impact. Having a clear point of view makes it easier for the viewer to appreciate your image. If you think of every image that you take at a wedding as a scene in your clients' love story, then as the director of that scene, you need to take a lot of factors into consideration - lighting, environment, props, subjects - and pick the right elements in order to tell the story the way you want viewers to perceive it. The more experience you have shooting, the easier it becomes to make those instinctive decisions about what to include and exclude to create your perfect image. Of course, there is more control if you are posing a shot vs. a truly photojournalistic image but the principle remains the same for both approaches.
Understanding composition is key to creating an engaging image, so I definitely recommend checking out Jide's course on "Lighting & Composition" at the Niphec conference this week (tomorrow I believe).
2) SHOOT EVERYTHING!
Jide shoots every aspect of the wedding day and I mean every single aspect. Sometimes we'll be walking between locations and he'll stop and take a picture and I'll have no idea why until he shows me the image and then I see what he sees (fyi - I am now working on visualising the shot before he takes it or even sees it - lol). As a wedding photographer, especially a seasoned one, it is easy to become complacent and even lazy and just focus on shooting the "usual" or "expected" images but it is important to realise that the wedding day is more than just the bride and groom and their families - it is also about the different choices they made and all the little details that have gone into making the day uniquely theirs. For me personally, I need to keep reminding myself to shoot more "setting the scene" images e.g. wide angle and detail shots of the ceremony location as I tend to focus more on the people and the emotions of the day.
Jide gives great advice about " shooting the day through brand new eyes". So for example, if you shot a wedding in a foreign country or were simply a tourist in a foreign country, what images would you be capturing that you aren't capturing in your weddings now? What images are you taking for granted and not bothering to include in your portfolio? This is an area I know I definitely need to work on because at the end of the day, it is about giving our clients the fullest, richest and most memorable representation of their day.
3) SHOOT WITH YOUR BRAND IN MIND
As a wedding photographer, it is important to have a clear understanding of your style and brand and to approach shoots with this in mind so you are able to offer clients a consistent look i.e. they know what they are getting when they book you. Obviously this is something that takes time as our style evolves as we gain more shooting experience.
Looking at his wedding website, one can see that Jide is all about dramatic images i.e. images that make an impact whether it be in terms of lighting, choice of background, composition or posing. So any potential clients looking to book Alakija Studios know instantly what to expect from Jide and his team and have complete confidence in the quality of images that will ultimately be delivered.
I'm relatively new to the wedding business and I'm still finding my feet in terms of defining my style but at the core of all I offer is beautiful imagery that evokes an emotion. I see beauty all around me, sometimes in the most unexpected places, and I feel compelled to share that beauty via my photography so others can see and appreciate it too. For me, there's no greater feeling than having one of my images put a smile on someone else's face. 🙂
My point is that it is worth spending some time figuring out who you are as an artist and what makes you stand out in this saturated sea of photographers. There is only one Jide Alakija but then again there is only one Wani Olatunde, so own the fact that there is only one of you and start celebrating it in your work. You will start attracting clients who want what only you can give, which at the end of the day is what we want as artists - people who appreciate who we are as artists.
4) THE LITTLE DETAILS MATTER
Ok, so anyone who has worked with Jide will know he's a perfectionist. There is always a sense of trepidation when I hand over my images to him because I know his eagle eye will pick up something that I missed but the extra pressure makes me think a lot harder before I push the shutter and that can only be a good thing. Sure it's easier to do a half-ass job and ignore that crooked tie or messy train or ill placed fork because you are under time pressure but a job worth doing is worth doing well and that is certainly something I have observed Jide commit to at every wedding he shoots.
In the beginning, I used to be quite passive and reactive working with what I was given but now I understand that part of being a professional photographer and a trusted advisor is taking control and creating the best environment for the image you want, whether it be moving your clients towards more beautiful light or clearing the background for a portrait. Attention to detail is an underrated skill in the wedding photography business but it is certainly something your clients will notice and thank you for.
5) EVERYONE IS WORTHY OF A "HELLO"`
This isn't something that is related to shooting but I thought it was worth mentioning. At a wedding, Jide greets everyone and I'm not just talking about clients and their families but I mean everyone from the security guards to the waiters preparing the tables. In an environment like Nigeria where a lot of people have the "Do you know who I am" mentality - I found it incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking. It was a nice reminder to not forget the human element just because we are in our element.
6) BECOME A MASTER OF YOUR CRAFT
Ok - I promised 5 so this is a bonus but I personally think it's been one of foundations to Jide's hard earned success.
Photography is hard. Wedding photography, especially in Nigeria, can be a warzone but I am a big believer that anything worth doing is worth doing well. Working with Jide in 2010 and then again in 2013, I have seen firsthand how he has grown as an artist incorporating new elements from new lighting to advanced posing techniques. Sometimes I look at other photographers' work and I am disappointed when I learn they have been in business for 5, 10 years because the quality of their work isn't much better than someone who has been shooting for half that time. As artists, it is important to never become complacent about what we do but to keep pushing our boundaries so we can raise the industry as a whole. Over the years, Jide has shot a lot of weddings (I'm pretty sure over 100) but he is constantly thinking about how he can make it different and fresh each time and it's an attitude that I am also trying to adopt.
“My Best Picture Is The One I Will Take Tomorrow” – Imogen Cunningham
A lot of incumbent photographers are afraid to share their "secrets" of success with up and coming photographers but Jide is one of the most generous photographers I know in terms of knowledge sharing and investing in the next generation of photographers. And guess what, he's not afraid to share because as someone who is continually growing he knows that by the time you catch up to him, he will have moved onto his next milestone. Catch him if you can. 😉
So if you want to learn more from Mr Alakija himself, then be sure to check out his two courses - "Lighting & Composition" and "A Professional Guide to Creatively Posing Anyone at Any Occasion" - at Niphec this week. I am definitely looking forward to the posing one because I have seen what he can do in a time crunch - made my eyes spin!
You can also see more of Jide's work over on his blog and facebook page.
Hope the above helps at least one person become a better photographer and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Have a fab week.