Shola Balogun, popularly known as Shola Creative, started as an apprentice in 1997 and today, he is one of the outstanding celebrity photographers in Nigeria. Shola Creative Photo Studio is a must visit by top flying models, actors and actresses for their photo shoots. He has attended courses and seminars in Germany, UK, and South Africa to learn the rudiments in photography. Today, he is the official photographer of many high profile Nigerians and corporate organizations. ENCOMIUM Weekly had an interview with him on 18 years of setting up his studio…
It feels great and I thank God. A lot of people we started together have diverted into other businesses for lack of money and new technologies. These days, you don’t need to learn photography before you become a photographer. You could just train for a month or two, get a camera and start. But it is not easy to start with analogue and be in the business till date in Nigeria. Before you mention five names you can still mention Shola Creative as one of the best. So, it is a big opportunity and privilege. If not because of the elections, I believe the party would come up after the swearing-in ceremonies. We are looking at Eko Le’Meridien or Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.
When did you start?
After I finished apprenticeship in photography, all I had was my Canon camera. Things were so hard. I had no money, and I had no backup. I started taking pictures in parties. You print out the pictures and they pay you. I did that for one year. Then it was N60 or N70 per copy. At the end of the day, if you did not collect your money, you may not know where to meet them again. Some would collect the pictures, tell you they didn’t ask you to take them. They will seize the pictures or even tear them in your presence. At the end of the day, no money and all your efforts gone. There was this friend of mine that had a small shop and I tried to use his place as a contact point. Later, I had a misunderstanding with his brother and he said it’s either I stayed or he leaves the place. It was that incident that led to my renting a very small shop. I still go to the lab in case someone wants a shot, I could quickly do that and print in the lab.
How has business been so far?
It is not easy. Photography has turned to another thing. With digital camera, you don’t need to learn photography before you become a photographer now. Technology has made it so easy. With your camera, your laptop and printer, you could be operating from your house. We still thank God that despite all the odds, professional photographers are still thriving. We thank God we are still existing and more artistes and Nollywood stars feel comfortable coming to us. I attend seminars abroad where I meet other photographers. I once met a photographer in Amsterdam, Holland. He snaps only Ferrari cars and he has been doing that for 21 years. I found out if you are stagnant as a photographer, people will push you away. But when they see the latest gadgets you have for photography, they come around to patronize you.
When did you record your first breakthrough?
My breakthrough was in 2001. In the whole Surulere, Lagos, we were just two photographers focused on glamour shots. My narrow office was the changing room. The place was a studio, changing room, reception and everything. I was snapping for N100 while the other person was snapping for N300. People started comparing our pictures and asked for my address. It was analogue then. I began by finishing one film a day after, it became two, three films a day. People realized that with N300 they could do three pictures of good quality with Shola. Some models went for auditioning and they are told go and snap pictures where this person had snapped. When actors or actresses submit picture for movies, the producers will show them samples of my photos and tell them to locate my studio. Since then, many agents started coming to me. They basically look for me through my jobs. I remember I snapped pictures of Desmond Elliot when he did Tantalizer advert around 2000. It was just the quality of the pictures that brought more customers.
Things changed very fast. I remember the day Linda Ikeji came to my shop. She asked, are you the Shola? Where is the studio? I told her where you are standing is the studio. She said, this is where your studio is? You mean here? I felt bad that day. So, I started thinking of upgrading. I moved to a three bedroom flat. I kept working from morning till night, no sitting down. I have worked for agencies. Thank God we are here today.
What challenges did you face on the job?
Many times, people had to sit in the sun, rain because of space. When it was raining, I would stop the generator because the shooting must stop until the rain stopped. You go to the lab and you are told the job is not ready or the film is not coming out nice. It’s nasty. Then it was just a manual thing, you had to go to lab, book and if somebody came for extra copies, you would look for negatives unlike now, when the computer is there.
How did you feel when you made your first million?
I felt so excited. I got that money from Orange Drugs job. It was N1.5 million cheque. So, I can make a million from photography? That spurred me up. I just held the cheque. I quickly ran from their office down to the bank to submit it. I just wanted to see if I would get alert. Is this cheque real or fake, was all I was thinking of. When I got the alert, I was so excited all through.
A model took her pictures to Orange Drugs. The company had been sending models to us to take their pictures for several years. All the models and faces they have used in their pageants, soap packs, calendars’, posters all passed through my lens. It was after several of such shots that Chief Ezenna sent for me, asking why I did not want to meet the clients whose pictures I had been taking for several years. So, I went to see him. Ever since, I have been the only official model and general photographer of Orange Drugs. I see the man as someone who wants me to grow and he gives me encouragement. He advised me to work hard in the profession God has chosen for me. He mentors me and puts me through on how to manage my money.
How do people perceive you as a photographer?
I have set a standard, so people don’t treat me like a street photographer again. I could remember in 2001-2002, I charged peanuts because clients believed they wanted to help me but now, they have seen how far I have gone in the profession. I can conveniently tell you if I’m covering your wedding, you shell out one million. Of course, they are aware this person asking one million naira must have seen millions of naira. We are trying to create standard. Presently, we are in a three storey building duplex – four rooms, five toilets, boy’s quarters and a penthouse. We can do a lot of things here now. We have more space now than the three bedroom flat. Many models come here to learn how to catwalk, how to pose in front of a camera. I have instructors that come around.
What vision do you have for Shola Creative photo studio?
I want to have a photography school where we train people how to be good photographers and train models on how to catwalk. Photography is beautiful. While taking a shot, you need to know what hairstyle makes you look good, which makeups make you look good, which smiles make you look good. Each model is supposed to know how to strike a pose, at least 10 different poses without a director. Aside photography, I want to organize an NGO under Shola Creative to help the younger ones have a future and hope.
How do you cope with pretty girls, I mean your clients?
Any photographer that doesn’t have control for women is not fit to be one. 95 percent of my clients are ladies and I know how to handle them. It is not easy, but you have to be disciplined. I always look at them as images. I don’t look at them as human beings when I am shooting. When I am shooting, I don’t care about the thighs, boobs or anything. I see their appearance as an image. For them to open their bodies in my presence is because I am a professional and I should not abuse it. Ladies love to do photo shoot with people they are free with and someone that is not carried away with the way they pose.
How does your wife feel about these ladies?
I make my money from these girls and she knows the type of job I do. She hardly comes around my office. She knows I am not a wayward person, I am only doing my job.