Even though the history of photography in Ethiopia is not clearly registered, Menelik II was the first in the country to have his picture taken by a Greek photographer. The photography business has been growing since then. Yet, people have still a blurred view of the business. A photographer is considered no more than a person who takes pictures. But there is much more to the profession, writes BERHANE HAILEMARIAM, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
It was unwittingly that Yemane GebreMedhin became attracted to photography. A married photographer in his late 50s, he has since spent close to three decades in the profession he chose to practice for lack of a job in computer science.
Before opening his studio in Piassa, around Ras Makonnen Bridge, 18 years ago with cameras he brought from abroad, he worked as a still photographer on Italian magazines.
"Still photography is shooting life," says Yamane, who had to take a course in this field for three years, "It is shooting products in a creative way."
Yemane is involved in the promotion business- where he works with companies that sell or produce food, beverages, furniture and vehicles - and believes he gets the best quality pictures from analogue cameras.
Analogue photography is the sort where a roll of film is loaded into the camera. When the photographer clicks, light interacts with the chemicals in the film, and an image is recorded. The first of its kind is about a couple of centuries old.
"I am a lifetime admirer of analogue cameras," he says, referring to a technology that has mostly become relegated for that of digital cameras.
He employs a number of techniques to aid him in taking photos, such as a combination of effects like light, frost and vapour sprays when shooting products to get the real live image.
Digital technology has made the younger generation more acquainted with professional photography, according to him. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see youth making use of their increasingly more sophisticated smartphones to take what has become known as "selfies".
Similarly, digital cameras, which were first invented at Eastman Kodak almost half a century ago, have likewise become more abundant over the analogue ones in the hand of both professional and amateur practitioners of the vocation. Together with this, the profession has become diversified.
Unlike Yemane, Martha Tadesse, a college graduate in her late 20s, has been working as a freelance photographer for three years. But like Yemane, she decided to practice the profession without any prior education, thanks to a small camera that belonged to her family.
Now though she has graduated to using 700D and 6D models of the Canon cameras, the camera that varies based on its pixel, lens size and film speed. The latter of which she uses more often by replacing the lenses.
She bought the body of the camera for 28,000 Br, when she started the business three years ago, from another user that bought it from overseas, much the same manner that Yemane did. But she finds that investing in lenses is more feasible.
"The most essential and sensitive part of the camera is the lens, and it must be well protected and cleaned," Martha says, adding that a photographer should possess different lenses compatible with other modern cameras.
There are different types of lenses based on their focal ranges, which is the distance between the lens and image sensor. They can allow a camera to be employed for various purposes, such as for taking portraits, wide panoramas or fast moving objects.
"I also sometimes use Pentax 35mm analogue cameras to get old images or vintages," she said.
But the analogue camera is not always convenient as the picture that is taken has to be developed, whereas with the digital ones, the best picture can be selected and the rest can be deleted.
Even though photography as a profession is not given in any of the public universities, private schools have emerged since the early 2000s to take advantage of growing enthusiasm in the profession. Tom Videography & Photography Training Center is one of them and has seen 10,000 students graduate since 2001.
But the schools face great challenges in acquiring the photography equipment for students to get hands-on experience, according to Yared Kassa, training coordinator of Tom. He attributes the challenges to high taxes on cameras and the lack of foreign currency.
The photography business has also opened an opportunity for professionals that provide maintenance service. Amongst them is Mazhar Hussein, who has been in the business for close to four decades.
"Analogue cameras have intricate mechanical parts and are difficult to maintain," he says.
he finds that the high time in the maintenance business is the wedding and graduation season.
"People borrow or lend the cameras, then after they are broken as a result of misuse," says Mazhar, whose shop is located at around Arada Post Office.
Another maintenance worker, Endale Mulugeta, who started his career while employed in a repair shop almost a quarter of a century ago, says that the major handicap of the business at the moment is acquiring the physical parts of the cameras for they take too much time to bring from abroad.
But he solves the problem by buying cameras that are beyond repair and putting to use their parts that work.
The challenges are different for that of camera importers though, such as Glorious Plc, and retailers like Elias Yassin, 25. Both broadly categorised groups face the same problem of drawing in customers. Citing graduation and wedding seasons as the most successful periods, they both complain of failing to sell a single camera.
Unlike Glorious, Elias, who owns the retailing business Layka Trading around Atikilt Tera, acquires the second-hand cameras he sells through word of mouth, from people coming from abroad. This is because importing the cameras needs much capital owning to high duties.
This has changed to an extent though with a directive issued by the Ministry of Finance & Economic Cooperation (MoFEC) last December that partially exempts travellers from paying duties on cameras. Those looking to bring in more than a camera will incur duty of over 133pc of the original value of the camera though.
"We have still not felt the effect of this directive," Elias told Fortune.
At Layka, depending on the make of the camera one can be sold for as high as 11,000 Br, and as low as 3,000 Br. The most economical priced photo camera at Glorious though can set a customer back almost 6,000 Br to around a fifth of that amount.
As for Yemane and Martha, they prefer the more expensive ones that have better image sensors, lens quality and a high number of pixels. These usually fetch between 80,000 Br to 100,000 Br.