Earning a tidy sum from photography

Sunday July 14 2019

Moses Mbogo started as a painter. H

Moses Mbogo started as a painter. He has since diversified his business to take professional photos. PHOTOS BY ERIC NTALUMBWA 

By Eric Ntalumbwa

He is not the owner of Mozart Music Studio in Kampala, neither is he a great music composer like the influential Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But one thing for sure is that just like the others, he has established his mark in the arts business.
The year was 2007. Moses Mbogo embarked on a journey as a fine artist based in Lugazi.

His mother’s friends often bought his paintings. “A framed painting would cost Shs100,000. With time, I realised low sales and got a fondness for photography,” says Mbogo, known by the moniker Mozart.

Upon completion of Senior Six in 2007, Mbogo joined his brother, Abbey Ssenkumba at a small studio called FinePix located on Luwum Street in Kampala.

“Ssenkumba could not allow anybody touch his camera considering the fact that it was the time digital cameras had infiltrated the Ugandan market,” he recalls with a smile. FinePix had established its niche market of Secondary School leaver’s parties.

The breakthrough
One particular Saturday, Mbogo travelled with Ssenkumba to capture an event at Lowell Girls on Masaka Road. During the party, Ssenkumba fell sick and asked Mbogo to take over the greater part of the event. “I got nervous, because I had yearned for this opportunity.

I told him I could try if he showed me how to handle the camera,” he narrates with a beaming smile. After a few basic guidelines, Ssenkumba took a nap in the car and Mbogo assumed the role. At the end of the event, his brother reviewed the work and was impressed. “Effective today, you will take photos,” he declared. This sprung Mbogo to the field of photography.


The journey
The start was not a walk in the park; Mbogo had to balance his new found passion and university. Despite graduating with a first class degree in 2013 in Industrial Art and Design at Kyambogo University, he recollects the earlier days with sadness.

“The course I pursued was expensive. I was paying Shs4m per semester. At one point my mother doubted whether I was serious with my studies to an extent that she denied me tuition and I had to hustle to clear the dues using the little money I earned from photography,” Mbogo says. Circumstances did not deter him from achieving his dream. As time went by, he thought about positioning himself in the market.

“Since I am Moses and a fine artist by practice, I coined the two to create Mozart Pictures because I had become a photographer who did not own a camera,” he says.
Mbogo often hired a camera from a one Basudde, who plied his trade in Nalukolongo, to execute his gigs as a freelance photographer.
He worked with Globaltek and Paramount Images in 2012. “Basudde always charged me Shs100,000 per hire,” he says.

After many months of hard work, Globaltek gave Mbogo an advance pay of Shs1m for his service. He shared the good news with his mother, Robinah Kyalema. She was delighted to hear that her son wanted to have his first camera.

She topped up Shs1.5m and the total amount was delivered to Basudde. “I told him that the Nikon D80 camera he rented out was now my property. I purchased my first camera from Basudde,” he reminisces.

Mother’s support
Kyalema, a retired nurse has been a pivot in Mbogo’s success. She used her house as collateral for a loan to get her son his first camera (Nikon D80) worth Shs2.5m. Mbogo promised to settle the loan, but unfortunately, the day he completed the repayment is when they stole his camera.

“I was devastated, but surprisingly, mom called me to Lugazi and gave me Shs3m to purchase another camera. She never disclosed the source of the money because I knew she was a struggling single mother, but I suspected it was another loan. Thank God. I got two gigs and settled the debt,” recollects the 30-year-old photographer.

Life away from home was not a smooth ride. Mbogo says there is a time they robbed him of his property in Makindye. His mother invited him to her home and cautioned him against giving up. In good faith, she wanted him to get up on his feet and face the world because city life was about work.

Second chance
With the Shs3m he received, he was focused to return on the business scene. In 2013, Mbogo travelled to Kenya to purchase a good camera. “A Ugandan shop attendant in Kenya convinced me to purchase a Nikon D7000 and on return I was among the very few cameramen with that model. It earned me a nickname ‘Kasanvu’,” he remembers.

He proudly reveals that it enabled him earn lots of money and transformed his profession.
Later in 2017, the camera got spoilt, but he vowed to keep it in its faulty state. “I have kept the iconic treasure for my children and grandchildren. It gained me lots of fame,” he says.

A little earlier in 2016, Mbogo felt it was time for Mozart Pictures to hatch and venture on its own.
His dream was to revolutionalise commercial photography from studio to outdoor scenes. He often shot leavers’ parties and proms of St. Henry’s Kitovu, Rubaga Girls, Trinity College Nabbingo, Seeta High and Masaka S.S. The highest returns made from schools were about Shs5m.
“I enjoyed shooting Kitovu parties. I would take a box of photos worth Shs4m and all packs would be bought. Single schools valued photos more than mixed schools,” he says. Mbogo would print many copies per photo and sell to their prom partners in Rubaga. Schools were not a bed of roses since the profits from one school were seed capital in another school event.

“I regret that I never made profits.” It is upon this background that he now concentrates on city events, weddings and private photoshoots

Mbogo later opted to hook celebrities; they have substantial social networks and people are always interested in the trends and products that celebrities endorse.
Dealing with them was a bit complicated; many despised him because of his small and short stature. “I began with Leilah Kayondo, worked with Lydia Jasmine, Desire Luzinda, and Bebe Cool among others. My only charge was transport fare. A photo with Mozart emblazoned on it went viral when posted and garnered me more followers that immediately turned into potential clients,” says Mbogo.
He acknowledges Bebe Cool who propelled him to greater heights and gained him numerous clients from all walks of life.

A business’ address is an important factor in the way that business is perceived. Following a huge demand for a location, Mbogo established an office on Equatorial Mall. “I began with a two by two room. The office space was enough for one chair and table,” he recalls.
The number of clients increased and he shifted to a larger space. Previously, he was booked for at least four birthday parties per week to an extent that he outsourced photographers who could match his quality.

As time went by, wedding bookings surpassed the birthdays and impacted on his business. Mozart Pictures has a spacious room for editing; it has employed more staff in the field of photography and video. “The business now employs eight persons, and 16 support staff. We hope to expand,” he mentions.

Mbogo hopes to build a photography park in an undisclosed location. “I purchased land to set up a city with all sceneries in one locality; it will have studio, outdoor and other lovely settings,” he says.

Big moments
Mbogo’s use of Facebook has attracted clients beyond borders. He vividly recounts a wedding function in Tanzania in 2016.
The client always marvelled at his work online, but did not know how to establish contact. Through a friend in Uganda, the Tanzanian approached Mbogo. “I hesitated suspecting them to be conmen. Later I accepted the risk and took the deal.

It was my maiden trip to Tanzania; they transported me to shoot their wedding as a personal photographer and also cover their honeymoon. I earned Shs4m that week,” says Mbogo with a smile.

He says honesty and respect for clients is paramount in his business. His magic trick is working with fellow photographers harmoniously.
He advises budding photographers, “Photography is a trend. Today you are on top, tomorrow you are not. Always aim at challenging your standards”. He also encourages colleagues in the trade to have an address because it is a mark of confidence and creates a smooth working relationship. It has enabled him shoot big functions, both private and government such as Pearl of Africa Fashion Awards (PAFA 2017), Entebbe Red Carpet Awards, East African Wedding Expo in Rwanda, and Abryanz Fashion Awards.