Bitz Photography, documenting lives of Gambian people

Mohammed Bittaye, 24 years old young professional photographer (although he said he would not call himself as such) graduated from the University of The Gambia, got his BSE in Biology but discovered his passion for photography. Today, he owns a company called Bitz Photography, which he established 2 years ago. While doing wedding photography and portraits, he dreams of becoming world-known photographer with a legacy.

He started with the phone photography, iPhone 6 to be exact. He is not even sure how he got his first booking like that. He tells us he was really nervous. He went to his friend to borrow his phone, since he had a better model; iPhone 7 plus. He did not even have money to pay his transport fee, so he had to walk all the way there. But after that, his friends pushed him to get himself a DSLR camera and to start his own business since he showed a lot of potential. 

Today, most of his bookings are weddings which he also prefers, it is easier than the smaller bookings, as you can ensure the exact time and even earn maybe enough money to buy a lens. But right now, he is working on home studio, where he can have his working space and have some of his work on display. But to buy the equipment he would have to travel to Senegal or order it from eBay. He hopes he will have it finish by the end of the year and this way he will save a lot of time, because people would come to him instead of him going around with all the equipment. 

His love for photography started long time ago; since he was a small child, but it was not till later in his life he realised, this is really something he would like to do for a living. Not long ago, he discovered a picture on his dad’s iPad, which he had taken in Tanji as a small child, showed a lot of potential even then. But the passion came back when he started his schooling in the university of The Gambia. He was really focused on becoming a lab technician but whilst in University they went on a training trip to Tendaba, there was a lack of network there that pushed him to do something, since he is not a person who can just sit doing nothing. He started going around, taking pictures, showing it to friends, and they really liked it. He started to realise; he is very good at photography. When he got back, he started to link with other photographers which helped to pave the way for him in the industry of photography. He says: “It’s good to have a degree in something, but I believe, in life, doing what you love, is the most important thing.” Therefore he is now solely focused on photography and he hopes one day he will be a famous photographer well known around the world.

One of the hardest things for him, when starting was, which camera and lenses to choose and use. “When starting, you really need to know what you want to do. It was also a big challenge here in the Gambia, because, if people don’t know you, they will never book your services,” he admits. Having people help him is why he has the identity he has today and for people to know that professional photography exists, for him, is a key thing. 

There are many challenges a photographer faces, especially in The Gambia. Clients not being there on time, not knowing what your clients want, sometimes there is a bad lightning or customers did not give you a good description of the place, so you are not ready with the correct equipment.  

“As a photographer you need to be able to control every situation and depending on what you have, you have to see what you can create out of it.”

“Especially if you don’t have the proper equipment, you always have to make the best out of every situation and improvise,” he explains. But for him, now, he is very confident, he can make it work in any kind of circumstances. 

He admits, that in the Gambia, the struggles are real. “There you can’t get any proper equipment. You can order only on Amazon or eBay. And you cannot charge as much for the wedding or ceremony here in the Gambia, as in US for example, so you have to work for a long time before you can be able to buy just one lens.”  He says from his own experience, that sometimes you have to improvise with the equipment you have to do everything you want to do. He has done all his shootings with 50 mm lens for almost 2 years. So there has to be a lot of improvisation. He explains further: “but as time goes on, then you can get more equipment. Which can also be a struggle, because most of it you cannot buy in the Gambia, and shipping costs can be as much as the cost of a lens, so you have to be resourceful to maybe find somebody who is coming to the Gambia to bring it.” 

“The more equipment you have the easier the life gets, but also the less creative you become.”

Another thing he feels is wrong here is when you tell people your price, they don’t recognize, how much work is behind it, they would think it is the same as if you would be taking pictures with your phone. But there is also a lot of value in the cameras, lenses, lights. 

As he and his friends call it; the university of YouTube, there is where he learned every single thing. When he plans to buy a new camera, he watches all the reviews to make sure, the product would favour him, so he is really grateful to all youtubers out there which are doing an amazing job. As well as many of us, who are much interested in YouTube channels, he picked his favourite youtuber, which is Cass Jobe, a Nigerian photographer. 

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“It takes time, before you get to the style you want to put out,” he told us when we asked about his journey with the editing tools. At the beginning, he edited with the phone. But then he did his first bigger project to showcase the way of life of people in a very olden way on places like Banjul, Bakau, … When he started that project, he realised he would also need some program for editing. He was following Cass Hope and learned from his steps. Since then, he developed his certain way of editing which now, doesn’t take much time, since he created his perfect pre-set. 

Last year he did his first exhibition, which might as well be the first ticket exhibition in The Gambia, since then, all exhibitions are for free. He thinks maybe it is because people are afraid nobody would turn up, but he managed to fill the place. This was a big step for him, and he is also planning to hold another one this year, but bigger. His one goal is to make sure he will not be just a photographer which would go on events and make some money. “I want to have a legacy. So, when you are gone, people are going to remember you did something in the Gambia here. But not only in the Gambia, I want to be remembered also in Africa, the whole world.” One of his goals for this year is to work on two documentaries. His dream is also to be admitted in the photography awards. 

»Everything has a start. When you do something because you love it, it makes a lot of things easier than just doing it for business. «

He also wants to have a big studio where you can teach people photography skills: “because in The Gambia, a lot of people after school they don’t know what to do. It has to do with the culture and the mindset. You have to go to school, finish university. It is always learning, learning, learning. And there is a mindset that if you don’t sit in the office, you are not very important. « But he feels there is a lot of potential. So, with a big studio, where you could learn arts, photography, videography, editing, that would be a way to broaden photography and videography industry in The Gambia and to see a lot of youths do good. 

When talking about the reactions of his family and friends when telling them he will not be continuing in the same field he got his degree in but to do something totally different, he explains, there is a big stigma in the Gambia. Photographers are not really taken seriously. Some of the friends supported him but it was really hard to convince his dad to support him. Most of the relatives expected he would do the same thing as his dad did and they didn’t take his decision seriously. But after some time, when they saw him growing, they started to support him. Even the first camera he bought; he asked his father for help. He had to provide exact plan of his future earnings for him to convince him to join hands with his uncle and get him his camera. But from there on, they were very supportive. Seeing them on his exhibition, was very important to him. »My, mom, when they asked her to speak, she just started crying and that meant a lot. « He feels that his parents, seeing their child do good, can inspire other parents to let their kids do what they love. There many people in Africa who want to do something, and there is a lot of talents, yet the lack of parents’ support.

His message to the world is:

  1. Just do what you love. Life is short. You don’t have the time you think you do, because you don’t even know when it’s going to be your last day in this world. Doing what you love makes you happy. If you do something you don’t love, you just feel stressed, like you are pressured to do something. I feel like it’s not worth it.
  2. Everyone should accept one another. The differences are what makes us unique. We don’t have to be the same. If we were the same, we would not like to be together because we would feel like it is the same all over.
  3. To the Gambian parents and the government. They need to help kids and support them, provide education. Every environment has its own problems but you need to find a solution for kids to be able to grow. 
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