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A Guide to Picking Up Photography In Egypt

Serious about photography? Have a kick-ass idea for an exhibition but have no clue how to go about it? Want to build a career in the field but not sure where to go? Here's the down-low.

We've become so visually inclined that we just can't imagine life without digital photography. Snapping a selfie at the top of a mountain or preserving pictures of our meals to add to Instagram; youth especially have become very aware of the importance of capturing our every moments. The job market has even adapted to these technological innovations; journalism jobs often require a basic grasp of photography, editing, and videography. But when we really think about it, what does it take to become a photographer? What are the steps needed for generate work so interesting that it can be publicly displayed at an exhibition?

A word of warning: digital photography as a professional field is costly. From gadgets to workshops, finding opportunities and settling for mediocre paying jobs that ultimately give you only some experience, this field can be either very lucrative or your complete downfall if you’re bad at managing your time and resources. Don't worry; I've got an approximate idea of logistics and steps to kick-start your career!

To start, any beginner photographer would need the proper tools for it. We’ve all seen many obnoxious, spiky-haired teens posing for pictures in Citystars, and many of them use very professional cameras, which we assume they’ve all collectively paid for together. Indeed, a DSLR is not for the stingy.

Although the idea of renting a camera is a fantastic short-term solution, it really doesn’t work long-term in terms of finances. Cairo Camera Rentals offers great packages and opportunities, but the period of renting can make it a steep bargain. For instance, a Canon 5D Mark III FX D-SLR Camera + 16 GB Compact Flash Memory + 1 Battery LPE6 would cost 500 LE per day. This package comes without a lens; to add one in such as the Canon EF 16-35mm would cost 225 LE per day, and 115 LE per seven days. Yikes.

On Souq.com, a wide set of Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras can be found with prices varying between 2,000 to 15,000 LE. One can get an amateur camera, such as a Sony H300 point and shoot camera for 2,600 LE, but we would recommend a Canon EOS 1200 D for 4,000 LE or a Nikon D3200 for 5,000 LE. This, in the long run, seems like the most frugal and smartest option. Of course, you can get a secondhand camera for half the price, but then the functionality isn’t always guaranteed.

Now, equipped with your camera, you need to move on to learning the secrets of the trade; there are a plethora of options. The Contemporary Image Collection of Cairo (CICC) offers a beginner course for six days (17 hours) for 900 LE. Photopia also offers three-week courses, which, as of right now, are 1,350 LE. There is one option to consider and that is to audit a Photography Foundations course at the American University in Cairo, which would set you back on around 4,500 LE excluding the application fee. I had the chance to take the course at AUC and never regretted it; it was fantastic to learn how to use all of the functions of the DSLR, even manually, as well as learning about the historical and artistic movements within photography. The important thing is to keep an eye out for opportunities, even Sufi Bookstore and the Cairo Photography Club offered photography courses for 650 LE in the past, but the key is to focus on pricing and quality in a whole array of different places.

Once an amateur photographer is fully comfortable with his or her equipment, it’s impervious to practice as much as possible and build an online portfolio where your work can be shared as well as accessed easily. WIX.com and Tumblr are good options, and buying your own domain can set you back to $10 - 15 a year. Again, CICC offers a course on how to build your online portfolio, three days or nine hours for 750 LE. This step is important because it sets a platform where it would be possible to present work to photo editors and magazines, publish photo essays, and so on. 

There are no paid internships when it comes to digital photography in Egypt, at least none that I know of, but there are opportunities to work alongside reputable photographers within Cairo.

There are heaps of walking photography events organised that are easily accessible on Facebook; Cairo Saturday Walks and street photography day events usually cost around 50 to 100 LE but give you a whole day with notable photographers like Roger Anis or Karim El-Hayawan. The great thing about this is that amateur photographers and participants get to exhibit their work after! Photopia is the best photographer's hub for exhibitions; it has displayed works by over 80 local and amateur photographers after those tours. Darb 1718 also features work by amateur photographers when there are themed exhibitions. However, if a photographer wants to instil a big exhibition for himself, it requires a lot more work. For a prestigious exhibition at CICC, for example, the photographer would have to present their work to the director and, if the work is good enough, then an exhibition can be arranged even for gratis. The idea of renting out space or buying one's spot at CICC doesn't quite work, as it wouldn't in many other high-standard galleries. 

While some photographers work for the recognition, others work for the financial reward. Keep this in mind, though; even if your 'photographer' friend in the United States is making $25 a picture (published in a newspaper or magazine), this won't necessarily be the case for everyone, especially at this time of high competition and especially not in Egypt where even the most brilliant picture will end up selling for 200-300 LE if you're lucky. 

In the digital age, and particularly fittingly for digital photography, comes the significance of social media for exposure. Many artists and photographers have made a name for themselves through positing their work on their pages and on Instagram. Moreover, competitions are usually announced on those platforms as well, so it's key to keep connected to the Internet world. 

Many people think that simply being equipped with a camera automatically gives you the title of photographer, but that is far from the truth. I cannot deny, however, that the digital age has made for the democratisation of photography and a whole range of variety as the practice is now being picked up universally. A little effort comes a long way, though, so arm yourself with a good camera and bare your unique ideas to the world.  


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