Trip City takes a batch of pre-wedding pictures for N50,000. In Lagos, that’s a great price for customers and, lately, Trip City has received more orders than usual from young urbanites who are having to get married in the middle of the recession.
But spot-on pricing aside, commercial photography is making a resurgence. Despite the millions of mobile phones with a capacity for high-resolution image capture, more companies are opening photo studios all over the city. It’s not because the photos are cheap, says Tayo Okeowo, cofounder of Trip City, “it’s because people value quality photography.”
According to Trip City, quality photography involves ambient lighting and backdrop, props, outfit changes, and post-production, which itself comes with modern graphic design touches like emojis and witty one-liners imprinted on the pictures. All of these, he says, aren’t available via instant mobile phone photography.
Aside from the young urban creatives, aka YUCCIES, who form a considerable portion of Trip City’s clientele, many of those who value the “quality photography” he’s talking about are on-air personalities, actors, and musicians, the kind of people Okeowo describes as “brands”. These days, the big names use the studio, located in Yaba, Lagos, for publicity shoots, vlogs, and other serialised shows for the TV and the Web.
This is quite interesting, especially because Trip City didn’t start as a photo studio. In it’s first incarnation, circa 2012, it was a record label. At the time, Okeowo was an up-and-coming pop artiste known as Slim T. After meeting and finding himself fascinated by the sinewy singer/dancer, the owner of Trip City, Lanre Ayorinde, offered to sign Slim T to the label. But instead of the expected signing fee and all the trimmings of a record deal, Ayorinde offered the young artiste some stock in the company. That’s how they became co-owners of Trip City.
“We made a lot of money that year and decided to get some equipment and set up a photo studio.” Good thinking, because shortly afterwards, the music business slowed down for the partners. In 2013, “just to get the word out there,” they spent the entire year giving free snapshots to anyone who would walk into Trip City. The following year, the business took off and has sustained itself since.
Although Trip City doesn’t yet operate at the level of famous brand photographers such as Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko, Moussa Moussa, Kelechi Amadi Obi, Jide Odukoya, and Obi Somto, it’s part of a new wave of consumer-focused studios. Just like Studio 24, which recently opened a massive two-floor centre on Allen Avenue, Trip City and these new group are riding on the public’s latest knack for professionally-shot photos for couples, pregnant women, social media influencers, and the aforementioned celebrities.
Just when you thought the democratisation of digital photography had taken the power away from mass-market photographers, it appears the same technology has turned around to save them. Ironically, says Wole Lexy Adeoye, lead photographer at Ignite Studios, many of those who request studio sessions pay for these special snapshots so they can share them online.
“There are still more opportunities,” Adeoye says. “We are following the trend closely.”
While they wait for what might happen next, these studios have to contend with the rising prices of equipment, especially camera lenses and lights. With the prevailing economic situation, a small support light, says Okeowo, now costs about five hundred thousand naira. “And sometimes, it’s even fake. It looks like some of these local suppliers order mass produced lights from China and just paste the logos of popular brands on those fake lights.”
But will these start-ups quit because of expensive fake lights and skyrocketing operational costs? “Hell no,” says Adeoye. “The business will take care of itself,” he imagines. If the growth of a company like Studio 24 is anything to go by, perhaps he’s right.