Digital dream man
Asel f-t rained professional photographer who, after he got his f irst smartphone, discovered he could point, click and create art is taking South African fashion photography by the scruff of the neck and giving it a good shake.
As a boy, Lebz Skywalker dreamed of becoming either an astronomer or a photographer, but was told that these professions were too expensive to study. “Don’t go there,” he was told. “It is beyond your reach.”
But technology is now on the side of those who make and create in the f ield of photography. As Apple and other smartphone vendors l i ke Samsung battle it out to create better cameras in products, and as photo-sharing sites like Instagram and Flickr take photographs to the world.
In 2012, Lebz Skywalker – then known by his birth name Lebogang Tshetlo – bought a second-hand iPhone 4 from a colleague. “I always thought that iPhones were for the elite,” recalls Skywalker, adding: “I never thought of it as something I could walk into a store and buy.”
Instagram opened up opportunities for Skywalker when people started noticing his pictures. “People started telling me how I just ‘got it’ – that I ‘got’ photography.” With this confirmation, he saved up and bought a Canon DSLR camera the following year – and decided to offer his services professionally.
After some hustling, Sky walker landed a job photographing NeoBeats, a South African Hip-Hop Awards winner, making a video. “The confidence I had, how comfortable I was taking these photos – everyone assumed I had been doing this forever!” he laughs. “That was the gig that made me know I was going into professional photography, and Lebz Skywalker was born on that day. That was in December 2012.”
Skywalker had a day job as a project manager at a digital marketing and promotion agency, and on weekends and evenings he moonlighted as a photographer, building up his portfolio and his reputation.
Late last year, Skywalker had an epiphany while working on an activation for a big brand. “I realised I wasn’t stressing about the activation,” he recalls. “I just wanted to shoot the activation. That’s when I knew I had to leave my job and go full time. Four months later I left my job to become a f ull-time photographer.”
When he finally went solo in March of this year, the income from part-time photography matched his salary. “It was a no-brainer,” he says, “I went for what I love.”
When asked what advice he would give his 19-year- old self, Skywalker proclaims: “Start it when you want to do it. If I hadn’t listened to people when I matriculated in 2001 I would have been much further now. I lost about a decade of photography. Don’t listen to people who tell you to defer your dreams. I was told that it is hard to make it in photography, and that it is not a viable career. That’s a lie. I am doing it, I am feeding my family, I have fully financed my own studio.”
Another recommendation he makes to aspirant photographers is: “You must always shoot – if you don’t have paying jobs, then hone your skill. You must always be shooting and putting stuff online. The more people see your work, the more they want to be working with you.”
Technology is also a boon, providing free platforms for marketing. “I market t hrough socia l media. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are my three main tools. I use Instagram and Facebook mainly, and 80% of my business comes from these two platforms. When I do