Mani El-Darreiny, Photographer, Videographer & Poet



Mani El-Darreiny is a photographer, videographer and poet. School? LearnIT, majored in Business IT. He is the founder and proprietor of Mani Studio Works.

He was nominated and was a finalist at the EyeEm Awards 2018 in the the Creative Category.

Asked what he would be in “shamba la wanyama”, Mani says he would be a wolf. They have common characteristics: He can be a leader of the pack or be a lone wolf (when his introvert side kicks in); he knows when to be ferocious and when to be on his toes; he knows that hunting as a pack is a better option but would still find a way to eat; and he can be humble and domesticated without killing the wild in him.

For fun, he likes outdoor adventures. He also watches anime, movies, reads manga and novels, and swims.

His best quotes are:

“Even if the morrow is barren of promises, nothing shall forestall my return,” Loveless Act V from Final fantasy VII.

“If your “Why” is strong, your “how” will be easy,” Michael Flynn.

I asked Mani a few questions on his life and photography career:

What do you like about your profession?

I am passionate about photography, so I kind of like everything about it. Further, being able to capture priceless moments gets me psyched.

What do you dislike about it?

Product shots take too much time to retouch. I also dislike following up with payments and clients. It helps that I like my art.

How/why did you choose your profession?

I am passionate about it. I got to a point where I had to take a leap of faith in it or stay working with my 9-5. I decided to go for it.

Who is your role model?

I have two:

David Wallace: I feel like his pictures are out of this world, noting that there is no photoshop on them – mind blown.

Marshall Mathers: He went through a very rough childhood but still managed to pull through and become one of the greatest rappers. I can relate a lot to him.

What has been the highest point in your career?

I have had several. First was my first shoot that was worth 100K. It was the best moment of my life, noting that at the time I was doing shoots for 5K. I also treasure my nomination of my photograph in the EyeEm Awards 2018. The pictures I took on Mount Kenya with Nairobi Challenge Seekers are my best and most treasured. I also enjoyed taking pictures at one of my closest and best friend’s weddings, Martin Sekwe aka Shifu. I had to travel to Kampala twice because I couldn’t miss his introduction and wedding.

What has been the lowest point in your career?

There are some lows in self-employment. Not getting work for some time immediately after deciding to take a leap of faith (during the post-election tension) made me feel like I made a mistake. There was a time I was so broke that I couldn’t afford to go to town and back, and my ego could not allow me to ask my family for cash.

What mistakes have you made in your career?

There are a couple: Not getting a mentor – I am sure if I had one it wouldn’t have been as hard as it was; being too soft – I guess entrepreneurship needs more than just passion. Sometimes you have to be hard on people and things. I learnt that the hard way; and being quick to invest without thinking about the highs and lows of my business (the first year that is).

How did you get over them?

A lot of research and making sure that all my clients were satisfied. I would retouch more than 100 pictures while getting paid peanuts just to make sure that the work shared would be the best since it had my watermark. I believe experience is the best teacher and I learn quick after every setback. Don’t let it get to you. I now make sure that I save 30% of every shoot I do. I couldn’t do that if it was not for a lot of advice from friends and family.

Which was your best photo, and why?

This is a tricky question; I usually find one or two pics from every shoot that just get me all excited. But for this year, I would say my personal pics taken either with my phone or camera. Perfected shots are amazing, but there is something about imperfect pics taken randomly that is just beautiful. My cat has the most pictures here.

What motivates you?

I plan to be the best photographer in the world. I dream big and will stick to it till death. I also want to make money while I sleep. I mean, I don’t want to be breaking my back at 50 years. I want retire early and spend as much time with the ones I love.

Further, being a role model to my nephews and nieces who they look up to me, I don’t want to be the amazing but broke uncle.

What does mentorship mean to you, and what do you do to mentor others?

I believe mentorship is one of the most important things especially to graduates who are looking for work. Getting someone to show you the ropes is worth more than all the classes you had. I do mentor others, but I am very picky with that. I don’t mind sharing my knowledge as much as possible but I do not like lazy people. If you want my knowledge you need to show interest enough for me to feel like you will better yourself with it.  After all I am rarely free. I have mentored about 3 people.

What advice would you give young professionals seeking to join your profession?

Give it 110% on all your work, don’t be pissed at people criticizing your work. That’s how you learn. Always find ways to make your work better. If you don’t have time for classes, try flexible ones like online courses. If you can’t pay for those then try YouTube. It is free after all.

Don’t rush to invest in a better camera. Buy lenses and lights. Cameras get outdated but lights and lenses never will.

Don’t be scared of approaching clients out of your league, just make sure you have a good portfolio (if you can’t make one, pay a designer to do it).

Be creative, no matter what equipment you have. Use it to the max and make the most of it. All I needed most of the time was just a speedlight, a trigger and a tripod and I could basically make anything out of a scenario. The other equipment can come when you are in need or stable enough.

Save 30% of your shoot’s cash, we don’t always have work every day in our business. Know that there is more than one way of earning with photography apart from shoots, including selling pictures online, printing them and selling them at galleries and when you have a good social media presence, you can do influencer work.

Appreciate other photographers and give authentic compliments and reviews and it always comes back to you. That’s how my Instagram following grew.

Give your work all you have. I had days where I would stay up till 2am and wake up at 5am to meet clients’ deadlines. If you don’t have passion in what you are doing, just look for another job.

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