Guest blogger: Kevin Kallombo, photographer extraordinaire
Kevin Kallombo

Before you settle in for this week’s guest interview, we’ll need you to do something real quick. Why are we asking you a favour one line in? It’s because we believe context is everything.

Now, head over to Instagram, search Kevin Kallombo and scroll. It’s a photography account so he won’t mind if you end up double tapping on all posts till the first post published in May 2016 😊

Picha Booth fell in love with Kevin Kallombo’s work and it’s not hard to understand why. His photography style is refreshingly different from other photographers you likely already follow on social media. His ability to use natural and ambient light and capture people’s emotion and souls is remarkable. We had to sit down with him to find out what makes him such an exceptional photographer. Here’s what we found out.

How did your upbringing influence your career?

I have been taking photos (laughs) for the longest time. I started when I was in Nairobi Primary. We had these educational tours we used to go to annually. Our school was privileged; we went to Tsavo, Mara, Lake Bogoria, Lake Baringo, Lake Elementaita and all these places and I’d take photos. Back in the day it was those point-and-shoot cameras which my mum bought me but it wasn’t all that. That was high school but as life goes, photography just died. So in campus, it was swimming and a bit of rugby.

Tell us then about your journey to photography.

I am very much like my dad; he’s late. He was a finance guy and he was a photographer. I did finance in campus but found my way into photography when I was there. I had a cousin called Herbert who was getting married in 2006-2007, I can’t remember. So at his wedding I see these guys with gadgets- you know those big cameras? And you know as a layman those cameras looked expensive.

Towards the end of the wedding, I approached the team leader called Dan. I told him I was interested in what they were doing and would like to work with them. It took about three or four weeks for me to formally go there, Studio Shutter Speed, for an interview. They asked me what I had done in the past- I said “nothing” but said I was willing to learn because I loved photography.

A brief Picha booth summary: Though he let them know he had no experience and was still in school, he emphasized his interest and willingness to learn. A month later they called back. He had “training” for about a month and then started working. There really was no training; Kevin was given a folder about photography to read. It’s safe to say that Kevin was a self-taught photographer from early on. He stayed at Studio Shutter Speed for seven months at which time he felt he’d learned all he could. Kevin then made a bold move to become a freelance photographer.

The beginnings were hard as is expected of any budding creative career. One is typically not sure who to go to and where to go and get clients and how to price, and a person at this point has limited experience. He would take any job and the purpose was to learn. It started with family and those close to him and the business grew from there.

What kind of photography do you do?

I do any kind of photography. I do food, I shoot wedding and portrait sessions, I do travel and architecture for my own projects. I want to be versatile in as much as people in the industry are opposed to that and instead advocate having a specialized niche.

How has the learning process been like?

I started in 2008 and yes, I am still learning. The creative space has been evolving, especially with software like Lightroom and social media. People say “you have really nice work!” but I feel I have not gotten to where I want to. It is not a fast food process; it’s an evolution. You need patience, dedication and your eye. You need to see things differently because that’s what sets you apart as a photographer.

What is your style? What can you say gives you that edge?

Back in the day when some photographers were coming up in the industry, they all had one style of shooting. Setup and shoot. Everyone would strobe- that’s using artificial light in photography. I wanted to go the other way and so I decided to start working with natural and ambient light. I wanted photos to look as natural and as real as possible. The beauty of natural light is you can shoot anywhere, at any time and kill it. So I would say my style is natural- I like natural light setup. It is real, rich, unique and very dynamic when it comes to editing.

There’s some sort of “sorcery” you seem to apply to your photos. Is it the lens you use?

It is all about timing. It has nothing to do with equipment. Tech is moving so fast that you can achieve a lot with a phone. Photography has never been about gear, it is about light. You can shoot with an entry level combination of gear and still make it work. There are people I follow on Instagram who use their phones and you’d be shocked at how those photos look like. So the number one thing is your eye. It is about how you look at the world around you.

Have you bought gear that you found to be useless?

My approach to photography has always been from a minimal point of view. There are people who say they want to do photography, go online and find a list of equipment and come up with a budget that comes to about a million or a million point five. After buying the gear, they start a business with equipment they don’t know how to use and no knowledge of photography itself. My approach then is using what you have until you see the need to upgrade. My advice is this: don’t buy things you don’t need just because you have the money.

Do you have any formal education in photography?

No, right now everything has been purely self-taught. The reason is that there is no photography school in Kenya offering a degree. Most of the big photographers in the industry are self-taught, and most that do a degree in photography never end up in photography. Kind of like how you aren’t doing what you studied in campus.

Touché. What is the one thing you think is negatively affecting the photography industry?

Under-pricing. New photographers will ask other seasoned photographers what they charge for a corporate party and then undercharge. They do that only so that they can make some money and say they did a shoot. The people asking for the quote can likely afford even a million bob. Say you charge 5,000 and I charge 600,000, what is that doing to the industry? When will you buy your next camera? Corporates have budgets to spend on luncheons, breakfast meetings, all these things.

My advice to these young guys is do not rush to charge. Work and perfect your craft, and when you start shooting quality, you will learn how to charge quality. It is sad what newbies are doing. They are killing the creative space because the client will always want something cheaper. Others don’t understand what quality is while those who do don’t care how much quality is.

When did you know photography was it for you?

I didn’t, when I approached Studio Shutter Speed it was because it was something I was interested in. It’s not that I gave it too much thought, it just grew in me.

How do you become a guru in your field?

The number of photos I look at in a day are so many. I am always looking at photos to learn styles and techniques. And that’s why I say it’s a process. The more you shoot, the better you become. There is a saying, “your first thousand photos are rubbish.” There is no technique, there is no skill. The more you shoot, the more you understand what you are doing and your style of shooting. It is quite important to have your own style of work because it identifies you and makes you a brand. I’d call my style fine art because it’s not your usual style of photography.

Let’s talk editing.

People always say editing is what makes a good photo, but it is not. I think of editing as the icing on the cake, or vanish. Garbage in, garbage out; you can’t give me a bad photo and tell me to make it good. You have to get it right. The only thing editing does is give you that final touch. So when you shoot, you have to shoot with purpose- I shoot with a story in my head and knowing what shots I have to get. And that comes with experience.

Who influences your work?

I follow a lot of accounts on Instagram and generally look at a lot of photos daily. I get my inspiration mostly from around the world because I want to see how different people look at things. I want to move to destination weddings, parties and such events so I have to see what people are doing on a global scale.

Where is Kevin headed?

International. I want to shoot fashion as well. I’m hoping to do a course in photography just to have that added knowledge such as in advertising photography because that’s a niche on its own. It’s also to learn photography as a business; when you look at it as a whole there are expenses, transport, equipment you need to change, insurance, costs and all these elements.

Final words to the budding photographer

Take your time and practice. You will slowly get your own inspiration and your own style. Most people give up after the first two years because they expect ‘bam!’ They expect to be doing shots for three hundred Gs and going to destination weddings. As I said, it’s not fast food. It’s a process. Patience is key.

We want to say a big thank you to Kevin Kallombo for making the time to talk to Picha Booth. We are all about promoting and supporting businesses we believe in. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram @KevinKallombo and reach out on 0720458601.

We will leave you with this from a portrait shoot Kevin did for the Kinyori Family 😊

Picha Booth fell in love with Kevin Kallombo’s work and it’s not hard to understand why.

As always, thanks for stopping by.