Finding your place in a crowded industry


Although it might seem like a daunting task, entering a saturated market isn’t always a bad idea.

A saturated market is often an indicator that there’s demand for the product or service on offer, and that there are plenty of suppliers who can help you along the way.

These, however, are not the details Gabriel was thinking about when he entered the competitive field of professional photography.

His is the story of a young man who stumbled onto something that he discovered he had a passion for – and then bet everything to make his dreams a reality.

By honing his skills, identifying his niche and staying focused, Gabriel’s business – Gabriel’s House of Photography – has been able to meet his needs in despite it being in a crowded market.

How did you get started in photography?

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I was at JKUAT (Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology) where I was studying computer networking, as well as Maseno University where I was studying computer science. One of the lecturers at Maseno asked us to bring two software programmes to work on in class. A classmate of mine handed me Photoshop and I started editing photos I found online.

People liked my work and they started asking me to take their photos. Back then, I’d charge a client about Sh500. I wasn’t very good at taking photos, but I knew I could do a great job editing them and give the client a product they would be happy with.

At what point did you decide to take photography seriously?

While I was in school, I went for attachment at a bank and hated it. I started out doing very menial work but was soon moved to the server room. It was always so cold and being there alone surrounded by all that equipment was very boring. I am a social person and I didn’t like working alone.

I also didn’t like that the work was so routine. I like facing different situations at work, and what I was doing at the bank was not stimulating. I, however, was determined to work hard.

The turning point for me came when it was time for the bank to offer us interns permanent jobs.

I had been working with people who only had a high school education. They weren’t college educated, yet they’re the ones who were offered jobs because they had connections to senior employees.

I was very disappointed and that’s when I determined that I would never seek employment again. I figured that I could make something of photography and chose to pursue that instead.

I went back to university the next semester, but when my dad handed me the money to pay my fees, I hesitated.

My friend’s wife had asked me to do a baby bump shoot for her, but I didn’t have a good camera. I had seen one being sold online at Sh93,000 – which I later discovered was way too much – so I made the gamble to buy the camera with the money my dad had given me for fees and do the shoot.

I figured that in the course of the semester I would get more work and earn enough money to pay my fees before it was time to take the exams.

Luckily, I had developed a good relationship with the guards and receptionist, so I was able to attend classes even though I hadn’t paid fees.

Did your gamble pay off? Were you able to make enough money to pay your fees?

Not quite. I made some money but not enough.

A classmate of mine, knowing of my dilemma, offered me a deal. He was a sponsored student and his benefactor would send him blank cheques to pay his fees with. He said he would hand them over to me in exchange for Sh40,000.

I was hesitant to make this deal with him because his character wasn’t the best, but once again, I took a risk. I paid him the money, used the cheques to pay my fees and to my relief, they cleared. I graduated last year.

So you’re now pursuing photography full time?

Yes, I am. Over the three years I have been doing this, my skills have improved a lot.

I ventured into wedding photography where I charge Sh80,000 and above per shoot. I will take photos over the weekend, have them edited and sent to the printer by Tuesday. The rest of the week, I do academic writing to bring in extra income.

How have you managed to grow your base of clients?

Mainly through word of mouth. Most of my clients have been referred to me. Because I am very social, I have a way of putting my clients at ease, which makes for better photos. I also come in with a crew of about seven assistants to ensure everything is done professionally. My clients like this a lot, which has made referrals easier. I also offer them a commission when they bring work my way. Other than that, I have also invested a lot in online marketing.

How do you hope to grow your business when you can only be at one wedding at a time?

I have tried to train others, but I don’t feel that they can represent me as well as I do. In this business, you have to diversify to thrive, so I have taught myself how to do animation work and I am looking to branch into editing photos for commercials and advertisements.

What I would really like to grow into, though, is a one-stop shop for event vendors. I want my clients to not only get photography services from me, but also everything else they will need for their wedding – catering, DJ services and sound equipment, flowers, transport, and so on. I want to put together a list of vendors whom I can work with.

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