Inside hustle: Meet young Ghanaian who left her 8-5 job to become a fashion photographer

Would you leave a well-paying job to pursue a career in photography?

Sharon Camera

Maybe yes because you have heard photography pays now. Right?

Would you have said yes to this same question in 2004 or 2005 when photographers were still called ‘photo’? Probably not.

For Sharon Okai, a young Ghanaian photographer, she knew she wanted to be in the photography industry when she started watching America’s Next Top Model.

“It started way back when I was watching America’s Next Top Model. I loved how the pictures came out. So I keep telling myself it is either I’m taking pictures like that as the model or I am taking pictures of people like that.”

Sharon Okai attended the Africa University College of Communication (AUCC) in Accra.

“I went to AUCC, from there I was with Viasat1 for a while as a floor manager. Then I moved to Glitz Africa. Then I got the opportunity to be the manager of the O2 lounge in Osu. While I was at 02 lounge, I got another offer at Mtech communication. The money was good but I wasn’t happy because that was not what I wanted to do.”

Her love for traveling and taking pictures pushed her to buy her first camera, quit her well-paying job and pursue her photography passion.

However, her friends and family did not give her the support she expected from them. Her family mocked her because of the photographers they knew who rode on bicycles from village to village taking photos and bringing them on their next visits.

“When you talk about a photographer, you know the photographers with the bicycles from the olden days. If you’re having programmes they will come and shoot. So that is how they were seeing it but I was seeing a bigger picture.”

Her friends questioned her on why she left such a lucrative job to be a photographer.

“I remember when I bought my camera, I called a few friends and I told them I want to start photography. And they were like, Sharon you are good at what you do now. You are making money, why do you want to start photography?”

But Sharon was determined to see her dreams become a reality. She started taking steps that will ensure that she became one of the best photographers in the country. She used the contacts she had developed in her former jobs to develop her craft.

“Because of Glitz I knew a couple of photographers and I called a few of them and I’m like can I intern with you? Can I be an assistant?”

But she didn’t have a smooth sail as one would expect because Sharon said: “Everybody was giving me excuses.”

“I met a guy, Duke…I went to Duke’s place. We went out a couple of times and I started picking up. He was teaching me and I was still learning on YouTube every day. I was following foreign photographers that I love their work.”

Her family and friends discouraged her also because they believed photography does not bring in enough money.

But Sharon says “it does pay.”

She explained that you would need to have a good marketing strategy that will bring you clients and also building a good network of potential clients.

“Sometimes you can be a very good photographer but you may not be making money. It will be like the worst photographer out there will be making all the money. It’s all about marketing. Sometimes who you know.”

Now Sharon who is a fashion photographer says her family and friends are proud of her. She said that people in her circle especially family members call her to capture images for them which she does which so much delight.

On how much she charges clients, Sharon said “for me, I charge according to what you are shooting and the number of pictures you want. Whether it is an outdoor or a studio shoot. Because for an outdoor shoot, I’m moving from my studio. I’m carrying my stuff so that cost more.”

Sharon who has travelled to many countries due to her job said the biggest challenge in the Ghanaian photography industry is the lack of support among the players in there.

“We don’t support each other,” she said.

She gave an example saying “a designer from Nigeria wanted to do a shoot, she contacted me and she wanted a stylist. She was already in talks with a stylist from here. When she got to Ghana we met and we were talking then she was like the industry here is some way. Because the stylist that I want to work with is telling me that she can’t work with me unless I’m using his photographer.”

Despite the challenges Sharon said “I still love what I do. Even though it comes with its ups and downs it’s been interesting.”

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