Busola Salawu Olanipekun, who hails from Offa in Kwara State, graduated from the University of Ilorin in 2008. She served in Abuja at the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission but later joined the Lower Niger River Basin Authority, Ilorin in 2012. In this piece, Daily Trust Saturday writes on how she has successfully combined engineering with photography to carve a niche for herself.
Combining photography and engineering is uncommon, but that is not the case with Busola Salawu, a professional engineer and successful photographer. Her journey to the world of engineering and photography started when she was admitted into the University of Ilorin to read Electrical Engineering.
As a lover of photographs, Salawu used to take pictures every day for the fun of it until when she finished her degree in 2009 and the idea of taking it further to a professional level while waiting to get a job came up. She followed that conviction and enrolled for photography training at a studio in Tanke, Ilorin South Local Government Area of Kwara State.
That corridor, interestingly, is where her studio is now located, from where she has grown to become a household name in the profession and exploring a field that was thrust upon her by necessity when she had her first child.
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Undaunted about the challenges such combination might bring, Salawu dusted her certificate to seek a successful appointment at the Lower Niger River Basin Authority as a professional engineer.
Asked which of the two professions she would want to let go, she said, “I pray I don’t have to choose between the two.”
But how did she navigate both demanding professions as a married woman and mother of two to carve a niche for herself? She said that aside her passion, she was fulfilling her father’s wish.
“My family was actually very excited about my decision to veer into photography. My father is a lover of photography and actually wanted to be a photographer back in the days, but it didn’t work out. When I told him I wanted to go into photography, he was excited and gave me all his support. In fact, he bought my first camera as a birthday gift.
“But it hasn’t been easy. In fact, it has been quite stressful combining family responsibilities as a mother and the professional demands as a photographer/engineer. But the passion for photography has made it enjoyable for me. I go to work from Monday to Friday. Sometimes, after work, I go for some photography sessions. On weekends I focus on my photography.
“Engineering and photography are two separate fields, although they are both creative. Thank God I have the support of my husband and other members of my family,” she said.
Salawu said she became a household name in Kwara State through years of persistence, focus and determination, hard work, consistency and the grace of God, adding that she is always ready to learn new things.
She added, “The birth of my first child was a significant trajectory in my journey. I was into event photography, but after I had my baby, I wanted a picture of the newborn and there was no one doing that here in Ilorin. It was while I was still on the hospital bed that I thought about it and decided to venture into it. It was already gaining popularity in Lagos then.
“For a woman, it is not easy to be an event photographer; it takes a lot of time. You can be at an event from morning till evening, yet you have family and children to take care of. But child photography gives me more time for my family. Now I only do booking sessions and work strictly by appointment; it is not a walk-in studio. I invested my time and everything in it that has made me very popular. There are a lot of photographers who do all, but it is good to focus on one and create a niche for yourself.
“The patronage has really been great. Some people might complain that my prices are too expensive, but if they want quality, they have to pay for it. Those people who are familiar with the quality of my work don’t complain. Once you are consistent with the quality you are giving, you will get your clients.”
Salawu said her average price would depend on what customers want. She said, “I have different categories. I have packages for newborns between three and six months; one year and above. I have another one for the family and maternity. The least price is N50,000. The maternity package is just pregnancy shoot before birth. We book the session ahead, so when the belly starts showing, we take the picture and for those that are still interested in taking pictures of newborns when they put to bed. For the newborn, we have 1, 2 and 3 outfits. The 3 outfits cost N80,000.”
To succeed in child photography, Salawu said lots of patience was needed. “A baby’s picture can take a whole day, especially when the child would not cooperate. You know how babies can be, so you would have to wait, be friendly and warm. Impatience is a no-go-area.
“There is also the need to invest a lot in props and decorations to make distinct pictures. I buy new things for almost every shoot. It is actually lucrative, as long as you know your worth. Ilorin is not like Lagos, where people are ready to really pay for photography, but we are managing. Photography will be one, if I were to count my blessings,” she said.
She said there had been instances where clients refused to pay for services. “I covered a friend’s wedding since 2014 but she has not paid me the balance of N50,000 up till today.
Also, some clients just want to talk down on you just because you are a photographer. They beg for discounts but want you to use all the expensive equipment.
“Clients want the best but don’t want to pay for it. Some feel they have the right to embarrass you after payment.
“I always make it clear that I am offering a service they are paying for; it is not like they are doing me a favour.
“Also, it has not been easy juggling family responsibilities, work and photography.
“Equipment and props are expensive. Ilorin is not doing badly in photography when compared to some years back when people hired photographers from other states to come and work here,” she said.
Salawu said she had so far trained close to 10 people, including a youth corps member, and they are doing well in Lagos, adding that she looks forward to mentoring more people.
On her challenges as a female in a male-dominated industry like photography, Salawu, who is popular with the name, I_Katching, said, “Generally, a female in any field is very challenging but also an advantage. As a woman, when you approach the male photographers for assistance, they are always willing. And as a mother, being into child photography is an added advantage. My photography requires a lot of patience and time; and as a mother, that comes naturally. It has been great and I am really enjoying it. To start a photography business in Kwara, you need from N2.5million because the cameras are very expensive, the lens and other equipment.
On how she deals with advances from men, Salawu said, “When I was into events, I had one or two cases, but you just have to be mature about it. Politely tell them that you are married and you are professional about your work; you don’t need to be hostile.”
Salawu also said photography had taken her to many places, especially when she was covering events. “When I was into event photography, a lot of people thought I was based in Lagos. I have been to the United States twice to cover a wedding event of a family in 2015, and my brother’s wedding in 2021 because of their impression of my work.
“Being a female photographer has cost me nothing really, except money, strength, energy and time; but it is okay,” she said.
Other areas she thinks colleagues can also explore in Kwara include architecture and nature. “The focus here is events, child and portrait photography. Others can focus on editing to save photographers several hours and stress of going through their own pictures after snapping. This will also create jobs.
“For me, there has not been a single regret so far, but to say Alhamdulillah for what I have done with photography. Last year, I got two awards as the best child and female photographer in Kwara State at the African Women Industrialisation Awards. And I know that more are coming,” she added.
She advised young women not to wait for white collar jobs but try to discover themselves. “They should find their passions and go after it. It is important to learn a trade and make life out of it. A white collar job can be an added advantage if it comes; and if not, you know you have something going for you. Photography is not a man’s field as people erroneously used to think.
“Corporate bodies can come in to assist us own studios. A lot of people, especially portrait/child photographers, want to own studios. In Lagos, people have studios they rent out. I have several people who do not have money to establish, so they can invest in such people. I would also want to expand to other places and states,” she further said.