Lights, camera, click! The rise of Nairobi street photography

street photographer

A street photographer at work along Koinange Street yesterday. Nairobi City Centre has in recent months seen an influx of street photographers, with the business booming during weekends.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Lights, camera, click! This is the new reality of the Nairobi central business district every Sunday.

Walking along Kenyatta Avenue and Kimathi, Muindi Mbingu and Koinange streets, you will see groups of young people with cameras alongside models in their best outfits pausing for pictures and others shooting TikTok videos.

As many photographers say, street photography is like fishing, and catching the fish is more interesting than eating it.

You have probably seen beautiful images of the city captured at dawn, in that golden hour when the bright orange sun washes over the Nairobi sky or  at night when the moon looms over the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), have you been on the streets of Nairobi on a Sunday?

Long gone are the days when you would take pictures with your phone and be satisfied. And it’s not just the young ones, adults are also seeking out professional photographers for swanky images to frame or post on their social media accounts.

street photography

A man and his child have their photos taken on Banda Street in Nairobi on August 28, 2022.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

James Kipkemoi Bett, a professional photographer with V-Spots, says Sundays are the only days to take pictures because there are fewer people in the streets.

“Sundays are the days you will see how Nairobi has beautiful buildings, KICC, City Market, the streets ... making pictures look really beautiful with amazing backgrounds. Sometimes when you take pictures and look at them later, you will not believe how beautiful Nairobi is,” said Kipkemoi.

For many photographers, taking pictures is a side hustle, but for Kipkemoi, it is his source of income. He says he can make more money on the streets than in the studio.

“With the high cost of living, street photography is way better and profitable because I charge Sh100 per photo, and it is non-taxable and I am not paying any rent. In the studio, it is Sh150 per picture,” he said.

“I do very professional pictures, so when I come to Nairobi on Sunday, let’s say with three clients, chances are high I will get other clients on the streets, so it’s way cheaper.”

Backgrounds in photography are a big deal for Sasha Idebe, a commercial model we found taking pictures to add to her portfolio. “I like taking outdoor pictures, they are more real. For me, the background speaks a lot and that’s why I prefer coming to the CBD and taking pictures,” she said.

“As long as there are not so many people and there is some action happening ... usually I am available every Sunday, so I take advantage of that. Coming here and taking pictures is cheaper than getting a high-ranking professional to do an outdoor shoot, because they charge more for a few pictures but here I am paying Sh250 per photo,” she added.

The county allows creatives to take pictures in the CBD on Sundays only.

Street photography

 Caleb taking photograph of his friend along Banda street, Nairobi on August 28, 2022. Nairobi City Centre has in recent months seen an influx of street photographers with the new business booming during weekends. 

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

“Sundays is when we are allowed to take pictures by the county. In most cases, on Sundays we target a certain age group that loves photography, and it is more like most clients want creativity rather than just photos,” said Samuel Owio, a professional photographer based in Nairobi.

“Studio photography is more profitable than street photography for me because if a client gives me Sh5,000, I need to pay the police for security of my equipment at Sh500 each, and if there are two I pay them Sh1000,” he said.

“My favourite spot is the City Market background because of the art, the graffiti, which speaks to many photographers. The most important part of photography is lighting, and of course different weather comes with different lightings. That is why I choose to carry my own lights everywhere, just in case, and the best part is you get to meet other photographers and it sort of brings people together,” he added.

Both models and photographers say street photography is all about loving other people, regardless of their background, race or socio-economic class. Perhaps then, it is one way of promoting love, peace, tolerance and mutual understanding across the globe.