My brother is a famous photographer y’all! Like, if you Google “top Nigerian wedding photographers”, it’ll be Femi Abolude, then some other random ones like Jide Alakija. Go argue with whoever.
I had the best interview with Femi, and at the end, I so badly wished I had properly recorded our conversation as a podcast; mostly so you could hear his passion, but also because Femi’s Warri sense of humor would have you rolling on the floor. If you need inspiration for WHATEVER it is you are working on, trust me, you want to read every word of Femi’s story. So relax, grab your fanta chapman, and enjoy.
Tell us your background story from when you were in Naija, to moving to the U.S.
After I completed university in naija, I thought about my life – “so now that I have a Business Administration degree, how do I use it?” I knew I had to distinguish myself from others, and that resulted in me taking IT courses; from hardware to software.
Shortly after I completed my NYSC, I worked at a Bank and tried to get into the IT department there since I had all these certifications. But trust naija, there were only a few of those IT positions, and I had no luck. Regardless, I made the best of my circumstance at the Bank. If the network was down, I would help troubleshoot and do stuff that a network engineer should do. Shortly afterwards, baba God came through, and I found myself in the U.S., the land of opportunities.
How did you get into photography?
One day, I attended a birthday party and took my camera along, and it so happened they didn’t have a photographer. So I pulled out my camera from my trunk and started taking pictures of people just outside the party. Before I knew it, more and more people were asking me to take their pictures. Keep in mind, I didn’t even know how to properly work the camera, so I was shooting in auto mode. It just didn’t look quite right. So I went back home and got on YouTube university. I call it that because you can become a professional photographer by watching training videos on YouTube. So I watched video after video.
In addition, I found a few exceptional photographers that let me second-shoot for them. I didn’t care for money then. I just wanted to see what they were doing and learn from their experience. Now, it’s my turn to give back. Because there were photographers who welcomed me with open arms, I realize how valuable the [photographers’] community is. I’ve never turned anyone anyway who has come to me and asked how they can learn. I’d only shy away from them if I notice they are not serious about learning.
Tell me about the random jobs you did after you moved to the United States? Give us the gist.
I applied for IT jobs, starting with a QA analyst position, and it opened my eyes that I could not only do QA, I could also be a business analyst. So of course, I went back to YouTube university and I saw that it wasn’t rocket science. I got a contract position with the IT department at my school, and was converted to a full-time position when I completed my master’s program. From then on, I’ve gotten multiple positions at other companies.
Prior to getting the contract position at my school, I worked as a cashier at a truck stop. It’s funny because then, I didn’t even understand the coins. I couldn’t tell a quarter apart from a nickel, so I sketched the coins on a cheat sheet and added some notes, like 10 dimes equal a dollar. I worked there while I did my master’s program. Even when I started the contract position, I continued working at the truck stop and would take on night shifts, and juggle things up.
What about Uber/Lyft?
At the time, Lyft was new in Baltimore, and they had these ridiculous incentives for their drivers. I gave it a try and it was very rewarding. Then Uber came into Baltimore, and they had even better incentives, so I signed up with them. They guaranteed crazy amounts as long as you were signed in as available to drive. So the Warri boy in me would turn on the app 1-2 hours before I got to work, and turn it on again as I left work, until midnight or so. Sometimes, I’d be falling asleep at midnight when a request would come in, and I’ll jump into my car. I made about $800 that first week, and was like “Femi, this is real”. I drove like crazy the first month and made almost $4,000, just off of Uber. I did this until the “space” got saturated with so many drivers and the incentives weren’t as great anymore.
How did you get into videography?
I realized that the same camera I used for photography; I could also use for videography. So I thought “hmm, I can start accepting videography requests”. Someone asked me to film their church wedding ceremony, and I was like “sure!”. I got a tripod and placed my camera on it. After that gig, I realized it wasn’t up to par with some of the beautiful wedding videos I’d seen online, so I resorted back to YouTube university.
I also reached out to other professionals in the community to learn the ropes of videography. On YouTube, some videographers have complete coverage of how they shot a wedding; they’d have someone shooting behind the scenes for them while they talk into a microphone connected to the behind-the-scenes camera. So as that person was filming, they were describing what they were doing – genius men! That was like gold. I still watch those videos. Sometimes while editing, I pull up a tutorial on another screen. It’s great because it continues to enhance my skills.
Do you see yourself doing training videos, tutorials, etc.
For now, I don’t see myself organizing a training and having people pay for it. I feel it’s something I can do just to give back. I want to be a blessing to others by teaching them instead of making money off of them. I would train people, but nothing paid.
I’m currently a Sr. IT project manager. In addition, I shoot weddings and events on the side. My 9-5 job is cool, but I don’t see myself doing it forever. I think I have some ideas pinned down now, I just need to take a vacation from all these things I’m doing, and put together a business plan. Definitely, down the road, I see myself having a multi-billion-dollar company.
Anything else you’d have liked me to ask that I didn’t?
Yes – What is my drive? Why do I do all these things?
I don’t like to sit around just watching TV. I like to get busy and get working. Mom used to say back in the days that “ise o kin pa ‘yan”. My interpretation to that saying is hard work doesn’t kill; and not working hard is a recipe for disaster. I want to be someone that influences my generation in a positive way, and having the right skills and resources to do that will go a long way. I find myself wanting to help, but you can only really help people if you have the resources to do that. Just imagine if I had a few billion dollars in my account?
Down the road, I’d have an organization that helps people with the basic necessities – food, shelter, clothing, and education. There are a lot of children hawking on the streets of developing countries, and many of them don’t have basic necessities.
As Femi’s sister, I am impressed by the state of his heart. These weren’t pre-meditated responses. I literally hijacked him while we were riding together and interviewed him. So many more questions I wanted to ask – like how he balances his time, especially as a new daddy, but we had reached our destination and the sun was too hot for my many questions. Femi often describes his photography as creating magic, and that’s exactly what it is!
Even if you have no interest in photography, you can learn from Femi’s hustling spirit; no excuses should stop you from doing what you want to do. I hope you were inspired as much as I was, and that you are reaching out to experts in your field, and getting on YouTube university right now and searching “how to [insert your dreams here]”.
Femi’s IG page: https://www.instagram.com/femiabolude/?hl=en