Dig­i­tal dream man

Finweek English Edition - - SPOTLIGHT - BY JON PIEN­AAR

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

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