Mukamunana: Thriving in the male dominated photography business

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Mukamunana taking pictures at a recent event. / Kelly Rwamapera.

When Hidaya Mukamunana Cyusa went for a school leavers’ party to take pictures of relatives and family friends, she never thought much of it. Though unknowingly, that marked the beginning of her journey into commercial photography.

Mukamunana had borrowed a relative’s small digital camera, and besides her relatives who were completing school and wanted to record the moment, she was requested by other pupils to have their photos taken at a small fee. That was in 2014, and by the time she left the party, she was Rwf16,000 richer, thanks to the Rwf100 advance payment for each photo to be ‘developed’. On delivering the pictures she was paid Rwf150 for each photo.

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The photographer poses for a picture with her camera. / Kelly Rwamapera.

For the then jobless and secondary school dropout from Kiramuruzi town in Gatsibo District, this was like a Godsend opportunity from which to earn a decent means of livelihood.

“I had for long been looking for an income-generating project that doesn’t require a lot of start-up capital to earn a living through self-employment.

“Therefore, when I made some good quick money at the school leavers’ party, it dawned on me that it’s what I should be doing. That was beginning of my story as a commercial and freelance photographer,” says the 25-year-old Mukamunana.

New dawn

My sister and I had been searching for another source of income to supplement what she was earning from her grocery store, she adds.

When she discussed the idea of venturing into commercial photography with her sister, she was supportive and encouraged Mukamunana to pursue it. So, the following day after the party, she set off for Kigali to print the photos, but didn’t know where exactly to find a photo lab.

“I didn’t even know any photographer to guide me, and that was one of the first challenges I encountered in this venture,” she says.

The lab she found printed the photos at high rate, but the quality was poor.

Being the first time she had taken pictures, her framing was very poor and most of the photos were taken at wrong angles.

“Most of the figures in the pictures were almost on the edges with people’s legs, arms and hair cut inappropriately,” Mukamunana recalls.

As expected, owners were not amused by the pictures and didn’t want to pay the balance, but she persuaded them and asked for “one more chance” promising to take their pictures at her own cost.

“Whoever complained about their pictures, I offered to take a different picture of them to prove that I could take better pictures to win their confidence,” she explains.

The approach vindicated her as the next set of pictures “passed the test, and that’s how I managed to regain trust among my first clientele”.

Growing strong

Today, Mukamunana is a common sight at public ceremonies, family and school parties, weddings, church ceremonies and birthday events, doing what has become her career, taking pictures. She says business peaks during the months of February, March, July, August, November and December.

On average, the enterprising young photographer makes at least Rwf150,000 a month. She hires a colleague on temporary basis whenever she gets a big project or deal that she cannot undertake single-handedly.

Mukamunana was able to buy her own bigger and professional camera within one year, and returned the one she had borrowed from the relative.

“I was planning to buy a camera at Rwf500,000 in Kigali but learnt that someone in the neighbourhood had a similar camera they were not using. So, I persuaded him to sell it to me at Rwf250,000,” she says.

The fact that she’s always the lone female photographer at most public events does not affect her, and she says this has in some way enabled her to get some jobs.

“People like the way I do my job and the fact that I am able to deliver as planned,” she says.

How to succeed in commercial photography

Although Mukamunana’s picture quality dramatically improved overtime especially after she bought new equipment, it is not the only factor that has enabled her to win more customers for commercial photography venture.

Factors like time management, knowing the right setting (time or place) for a photo are the secret values in commercial photography, according to the entrepreneur.

“Photography is about time; when one calls you to take their photos at a certain moment, you must be there at the agreed time or lose the moments a client wanted to be captured and this makes you unpopular,” she explains.

This also goes with producing and delivering the printed copies at the appointed time.

“Suppose you take pictures of people who are leaving in a few days and want to keep the memories they shared through pictures, you have to deliver on time to remain their photographer of choice among customers,” says Mukamunana.

Mukamunana says she always advises clients on the best time and place to take photos. “Some clients don’t always know what they want so it’s up to me to guide them to get the best results for everyone involved.”

She urges young women who are interested in photography not to be intimidated by the fact that there are more men in the business compared to females.

Mukamunana has been able to use this to her advantage to attract more clients.

“Besides, photography is not reserved for only men. So long as one has the skills and passion, there is nothing else that should stop them from venturing into the business.

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The commercial photographer also provides video coverage services. She plans to buy her own equipment. / Kelly Rwamapera.

Challenges

Mukamunana says the change in technology is the biggest challenge she faces, noting that new gadgets coming onto the market are rapidly changing trends in commercial photography.

She adds that some people tried to dissuade her from the job, but “I ignored them and concentrated on my work.”

The advent of smartphones has also affected the business as some people prefer to use their own devices than hire a photographer.

“When I was starting out, one could do with a small digital camera, but that has since changed requiring bigger cameras. Besides, people can now take their own pictures using smartphones.”

“In addition, some clients want you to give them still photos and a video. So, if you are not able to do both, you lose the job,” she adds.

Mukamunana plans to buy a video camera so she can provide both photography and videography services, saying she wants to make the venture a one-stop service centre.

Tips on entrepreneurship

From how she identified her business idea, Mukamunana says opportunities are always “next to us” but “it requires our willingness to explore the world around us to find them.”

“Therefore, we need to think outside the box and explore our environment or communities to find these opportunities.”

She encourages those who want to enter the world of entrepreneurship to look for opportunities in things they are passionate about, saying that doing what you love is a key ingredient to business success.