What I learned about photography

Participants at the U.S. Mission Nigeria Photojournalism training with Maggie Steber in Abuja Nigeria.

I attended a photojournalism training recently and it was an eye opener for me. I love photographs and unlike lots of other people my favorite social media platform is Instagram. It’s simple and straight to the point. The pictures say everything. Although I knew this, it was Maggie Steber, the trainer, who articulated this idea. Photographs tell stories and capture a piece of history. I remember pictures of my mum taken in the seventies in which she was wearing a mini dress and afro hairdo and another one in which she wore an “oleku” which incidentally made a resurgence some few years back. So I do see how photographs relate to history.

The power of photography is in the fact that it’s a universal language. A photograph doesn’t need translation. Whether it’s a wedding photo of a Chinese couple or the picture of a new born baby in the arms of its mother in Ecuador or two street boys fighting in Lagos, it’s instantly understood. That’s why I love Instagram so much; not many words, just pictures.

Another thing I discovered during the training is that photography is hard work. It involves going the extra mile. You may have to walk for miles to find that perfect shot which captures the essence of the story you’re trying to tell. It also involves taking postures that people might regard as undignified in order to get a particular shot. One has to be passionate about this work, if you are going to be successful. Fortunately, I saw a lot of this passion in the photojournalists who participated in the training and in the beautiful pictures they shared with the group.

Good human relations are also important to the success of a photographer. Maggie explained that if you’re genuinely interested in the people you photograph, you’ll take better pictures. She exemplified this fact in the time and effort she put into her work in Haiti, getting to know and love the people on that Caribbean island. This interest led to a project in which she and some of her friends convinced young Haitians to take pictures of their country. The pictures were featured in National Geographic Magazine under the title “Haiti on its own terms.” The young photographers wanted to show the world that their country should not be defined entirely by its natural disasters and poverty. There is also a great deal of beauty there. She encouraged the Nigerian photographers to do the same thing because unfortunately, the image that many people in the West have of Nigeria is largely negative. Herein lies the power of photography. It can express beauty in a way that words cannot and begin to change some of the misconceptions about Nigeria and its people.

I also learned that Photoshop is great! The first time that I saw the impact of Photoshop was when I viewed my wedding pictures. I did not recognize myself! Maggie told the journalists to use it to make their pictures richer and I support this wholeheartedly.

Maggie Steber

At the end of the training, the participants, all professional photojournalists, were excited about the experience and wanted to learn even more. Even those of us who aren’t professionals left with a new way of looking at pictures and were thankful to the inventors of modern photography.

Editor’s Note: This entry originally appeared on “From the Drive”, the U.S. Mission Nigeria official blog.