Henry Oji, Principal Photographer at Big H Studios
From photographing top celebrities to world leaders, Henry Oji’s rich portfolio and years of experience have made him one of Nigeria’s renowned photographers. In this edition of How I Work, talks about his journey in the world of photography and the tools and systems he uses to consistently create quality work.
Current role: Senior Photographer at Big H Studios and Mentor
Location: Abuja, Nigeria
Current mobile device: iPhone X
Describe how you work in one sentence: Building relationships
Briefly tell us how you got started and how you got to where you are today
I started photography in 2012. After my wedding I traveled with my wife for my honeymoon and on the way back I got my first DSLR camera. I always wanted to be that guy who would attend friends’ weddings with a good camera; not necessarily professional, but I’ve never been a fan of using iPads and all that. In a way, I think what was an interest became a strong interest, and then from a strong interest it became a passion.
The journey hasn’t been particularly easy, but I like to say that God has been very faithful. Over the past 10 years, there have been times when it has been exciting, challenging, and excruciatingly difficult. But overall it was a good trip because the exciting parts and the tough parts led to forming the person I am today. And I wouldn’t want to have it any better than I had it.
What is your job exactly ? Tell us about a typical working day
I am the main photographer at Big H studios. There are other photographers: associate photographers and intern photographers. My role is to coordinate the work at all levels and to ensure that we provide the service that people pay for. So if someone comes to the studio or has been booked in for a photo shoot, we want to make sure the experience is smooth from start to finish.
From the moment they make a call or send an email, there is someone who books the clients, and then we have consultations to get to know the client and also share creative ideas for the shoot. After that, on the day of shooting, we have assistants who help with the shooting. Once the shoot is done we send the footage to the editing team, but before that I was doing what a lot of people call color grading or color work. And after that, I would send the photos to the editing team to complete the skin work. When this is done, the images are sent back to me for final proofing. It is therefore simply a matter of ensuring quality control and that all images meet the required standards.
So a typical day for me at work is just coordinating and making sure that everyone who has a unique or specific role performs that role to the best of their abilities.
Beyond that, there is also the mentoring aspect. We have an academy called the Follow The Light class and when we have classes there is also a role change where I not only become an organizer of the class but also a facilitator and teach in that class.
What apps, gadgets or tools can’t you live without?
I think that as a photographer, you can’t do without your eyes. And by the eyes, I’m not necessarily talking about your ability to see with your two eyeballs because I also know that there are a few people who are blind and who are also photographers. By eyes, I refer to your ability to see into your mind. This is the first thing we use to be able to design these images.
Then we move on to the actual tools I work with, which are my camera, my lights, Capture One, Photoshop, and my iMac. That is just about everything.
What’s your favorite shortcut or hack to get things done?
I think the only shortcut is to get the job done, to be honest. I don’t know if we were able to design a particular hack. If there’s a shortcut, I’d say, get the job done and delegate where you can so you don’t overwork yourself.
What task(s) do you dislike but still do?
From the process of conceiving the idea, meeting the client, photographing the client, and editing the images, my least favorite task would be selecting images, especially wedding images. For an average wedding, you’re looking at over 2,000 photos. So you need to profile 2000 images and in some cases out of 2000 images you will only have to select 200 or 300.
This process can be tedious because you have to make sure that the ones you have selected are the best.
It’s not something I can’t do, but it’s just not as exciting as all the other jobs we do.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I have a team that I work with. We have a studio manager who takes care of studio activities: paying bills, purchasing equipment, and everything else. We have an administrator who looks almost like HR and manages the daily activities and people of the studio. And we have a creative director who handles creative mood boards, planning and executing shoots, and managing staff.
Everyone has their unique role and I think when everyone is functioning optimally, everything goes well. So I just depend on my team and if my team works, then everything works.
How do I reload or take a break?
I’m still trying to find that, unfortunately. I’m not the best person to take a break. But generally speaking, if I want to take a break, I travel or do something that is not directly related to photography.
It’s not something I do all the time. I have already travelled; I had a creative block in 2018 and traveled to a very remote location for a conference and came back very refreshed and ready to go.
If you are in a system that causes burnout or contributes to stress levels, then my advice would be to take a few steps away from the system and do things that are not necessarily related to the system.
Lately, we have been working from home, so I have also started to prioritize rest. Once upon a time, I worked very late, sometimes overnight, sometimes I slept in the studio, but I realized that no matter how hard you work, there will always be more work. So you have to be very intentional about creating rest time.
What are you currently listening to, watching or reading?
I’m not a fan of movies or series. It doesn’t necessarily make me more mature than anybody, it’s just that sometimes I look at things from a time perspective, and for the kind of work that we do, you can’t give two hours to watch a movie if you’re in front of images of customers. You won’t be able to watch it with peace of mind because you couldn’t deliver.
But when I watch, I like to watch martial arts movies and comedies. I really like watching comedy because laughing is very important in any type of work. So even now I watch a lot of sketches on Instagram – the funniest ones. I’m also a fan of Marvel, the Avengers and all that.
For music, I always listen to instrumentals. It helps me calm down because sometimes we tend to want to get on our nerves with work. I used to listen to Maverick city but didn’t pay attention to any of the new songs. My go-to person right now is a guy on YouTube called DappyTKeys. Other than that, random Christian music and sometimes, maybe when I’m working out and need something upbeat, then I might listen to Nigerian afrobeat songs.
Are you reading anything right now or are there things you would recommend?
I want to read my Bible a lot more. I slacked off on that. I used to read a lot, I have a library but to be very honest in the last four years I haven’t really gone back to it. I think I just need to be able to discipline myself to save time and read.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My late brother once said to me, “Never share your opinion of other people with other people, because you don’t know who you are talking to.
One of my favorite pieces of advice from my late father was when it came to money and friends he said ‘don’t give a friend money you can’t give up because at a At some point, you’ll have to choose between money and your friend. ”
For any photographer or creative listener, my advice would be to keep shooting, practice, improve, and that success is not a destination but a journey.
The final piece of advice would be that every blessing God gives us is people-centered. So it’s not up to you alone to say, “Oh, I’ve been blessed, let me enjoy the fruits of my labor.” Every time God deposits something, be it a donation, finances, whatever it is, it is because He wants you to be a channel to bless others.
What is the problem you are still trying to solve?
I always said that I wanted to create a podcast, and I also gave this year as a goal, but I am very far from having achieved it. I started this year with a lot of enthusiasm, I told someone about it, I got the equipment I needed and I prepared the space, but we are already nearing the end July and nothing reasonable came of it.
I really want to have a podcast channel so I can just share life experiences and also invite people who can also share their own personal experiences.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
Beyonce, because of her work ethic. I’m not a big fan of her music per se or anything she stands for, but there’s something she said once that stuck with me. As she was getting ready for a show and wanted something done, the organizers and people helping her with the performance said “Beyonce, that’s absolutely impossible, nobody’s ever done that. before, it is impossible.” And then she said, that’s the reason we’re going to do it.
It really stuck with me because success doesn’t come cheap, you have to put in the work and you have to be kind of crazy. I feel like if she answers those questions, there are a few things she would touch that would inspire so many people, myself included.
Also, Barack Obama. I really like him and how he presents himself, how he talks and some of the things he does. However, I’m not a big fan of some other things about him.
I’m a big fan of Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) as a leader. I know a lot of people don’t like him, but it will be interesting to hear his perspective.
And then in the world of photography, I would say TY Bello and Kelechi Amadi. It would be nice to know who they are, what motivates them, what makes them humble even after having accomplished so much.