#LLAInterview – “Carve your niche. You cannot be all things to everyone.” Abisola Ijalana, CEO M12 Photography
Barely 7 years ago, Abisola Ijalana did not know that a decision to take a photography training during the Daystar Skill Acquisition Programme would set her on the path to becoming an award winning photographer. She instantly discovered her affinity for the craft and further carved a niche for herself in the industry. In our interview with her, Abisola tells us all about her exciting journey.
Who is Abisola Ijalana and what does she do?
Abisola is a young Nigerian female entrepreneur from Ogun State, South-West Nigeria. I am a maternity, newborn, baby, children & family photographer. I run M12 Photography, based in Lagos.
I am an award winning photographer, winner of the prestigious Female Photographer of the Year Award at ELOY AWARDS (2016) in Nigeria, organized by Exquisite Magazine.
I am a graduate of Biochemistry from the University of Ilorin, graduate, Creative Enterprise Programme (CEP) offered by the British Council. I also have a training certificate in photography from the Daystar Skill Acquisition Programme (D-SAP) offered by Daystar Christian Center. I also participated in the 5th Batch of the Women in Management & Business (WIMBIZ) Mentoring Training Programme in 2012.
I am a recipient of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Scholarship Programme and a graduate of Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management (CEM), offered by the EDC, Pan-Atlantic University (formerly Pan-African University.
I am a facilitator of Newborn Photography class at the Annual Edition of the Nigeria Photography Expo & Conference (NIPHEC). I am also a contributor for Bella Naija Living on bellanaija.com, a leading blog in Nigeria, where I write on maternity, newborn, baby, children & family photography.
I am married and have 2 boys.
When and why did you decide to pursue photography professionally?
I finished my National Youth Service Programme (NYSC) in 2009. I wanted to do a business and at the same time work in an office. I got married in April 2010 and after a few months became pregnant. My husband and I then decided to put a hold on office job interviews and search since I was expecting a baby and settle on an entrepreneurial venture. I later got information about an entrepreneurship training programme offered by Daystar Christian Centre known as Daystar Skills Acquisition Programme (D-SAP). Since I was naturally a creative person I chose photography from the various courses that were offered.
At the end of my D- SAP training, I enrolled for further photography training with Quartz Fotography run by Leke Adenuga. These formed the foundation of my career in photography.
Photography in Nigeria is not what it used to be and more women are embracing the craft. What will you say is responsible for this?
I think the successes of some of the female photographers have encouraged and served as inspiration for other women to pursue a career in photography. A lot of female photographers in Nigeria and outside Nigeria are doing extremely well in the profession.
You carved a niche for yourself by focusing on babies and family. What led you to do this?
My decision to specialize in this genre of photography came from my belief that ‘You cannot be all things to everyone’. I started my career covering weddings and events, children parties etc. With time I discovered my passion for photographing babies and children. I noticed that this market was not being served as a specialty as it is done in the U.S, Australia and in Europe. I then decided to specialize in this field of photography and began to train myself. Today in Nigeria, I am happy the M12 Photography brand is a reference brand for baby, children & family photography.
How were you able to win the trust of your clients when you first started M12Photography?
Trust is very important for someone starting out in photography or any business. I got my first photography job in 2010 through a referral by a female friend. This was just a few months after I finished my start-up photography training. My friend’s neighbour was getting married and she introduced me to the intending couple to photograph their wedding. This was a demonstration of trust and willingness to support my career on the part of my friend. For my second job, a colleague of my husband was getting married, and they contracted me to cover the wedding. From there I covered more weddings, corporate events, social events, and thereby gradually building my portfolio which I can show to other prospective clients.
I was able to deliver to client’s satisfaction the photography jobs I got which helped in getting referral businesses and to build my portfolio.
What will you say is responsible for your success so far?
I will say that carving a niche and establishing my expertise as a baby & children photographer has significantly contributed to my success as a photographer. The quality and creativity behind the images I create has given me accolades from clients, professional colleagues & fans. The M12 brand has become a reference for baby & children photography. Also I am constantly retraining myself in my chosen photography specialty to improve my skills and add value.
They say photography is an expensive craft. How do you ensure that you stay ahead of latest technology without breaking the bank?
Photography business is an expensive business. You need to be prepared to spend on equipment, accessories, software, props and adequate training. I understand that I don’t need to buy too many things at once. I buy only things I need to get the job done based on the brief. This is the advice I give to intending photographers. When starting out based on the resources available buy only basic camera and equipment needed. As you get jobs, build your portfolio and generate income, you can always add to what you have or upgrade camera or equipment.
Aside from finances, what other challenges have you faced since you started?
When I started my career as a photographer, I had the initial challenge of some prospective clients not trusting if I could deliver on the job since I had just finished training as a photographer back then in 2010, but I have always believed that you cannot get every job. Some will believe in you and give you the job, while others may not. What is most important is that for those that give you the job, you give your utmost best and referrals will follow.
When I delved into the field of baby & children photography, the challenge I faced was getting babies & children to stay calm to be photographed. Children are all the same. Some will be calm & cooperative during photo sessions, others will be cranky and uncooperative. For some children it takes a few hours with the photo shoot depending on the brief, but some other children it may take longer hours. With time I have mastered the art of managing children emotions and personalities, making them calm and smile during a photo shoot and getting the best quality images that their parents will love and they will be proud of when they grow up.
How can a young woman who loves to take pictures, begin her journey as a professional photographer?
Training: Training is very essential for anyone desirous of a career in photography. There are a number of photography businesses and entrepreneurship institutions that offer training programmes for beginners. You will learn such things as understanding your camera, composition, lighting, editing, etc
Find a mentor: A mentor is important in your journey as a photographer. You will need someone who has gone through the career path you are about to undertake. The mentor can be a senior photographer or a business coach.
Networking: It is important for a female intending photographer to network with other industry professionals to keep abreast with current trends in the industry.
Creativity: This will help separate the female photographer from others. She needs to understand that whether she is shooting weddings, events or portraits, it is the level of her creativity that will make her stand out in the industry.
What are some of the personal values or principles that you live by?
Kindness: I try to be kind and show love to everyone I come into contact.
Diligence: Whatever I find myself doing, I try to put in my best.
Do you believe women can have it all when it comes to career and family?
Women can maintain the right balance when it comes to their career and the family. They can still play their roles as wife to their husband and mother to their children. They need to secure the understanding and support of their spouses. I have a very supportive husband. This has helped a lot in my career success.
Outside the creative industry, do you have other interests?
I have interests in baby & children fashion. I plan to learn how to sew maternity gowns and children clothes. I use them a lot for my photo shoots. I also have interest in agriculture. I have always loved the idea of venturing into agriculture business. I hope to start something in this area soon.
What do you do to relax?
I spend my relaxation times with my family. We sometimes go out to eat or go shopping. I sometimes travel out of the country alone or with my family.
In the next five years, where do you see yourself?
I see myself as a role model and reference point for artistic creativity. I see myself as having trained and mentored a number of ladies who are making giant strides in their photography profession. I see myself as a source of pride to current and aspiring female entrepreneurs.
Do you do anything to mentor young girls and women who want to follow your path?
I run an internship programme where I have mentored ladies desirous of learning photography. Young men have also been part of this mentorship programme. Aside those who are directly my interns, I render advice to quite a lot of ladies who have reached out to me via phone, email or social media on how to kick- start or improve their photography career.
The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes women empowerment and gender inclusion for women of African descent.
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