Finding Your Spark: Emotions, Atmosphere, Intimacy And Joy In a Click

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

I decided to start the "Finding Your Spark" series to shine a light on different types of people who are following various paths – their OWN paths, whatever those may be. The whole idea is that there's no single way to live life and a person doesn't have to be "famous" to inspire others. These individuals have found what inspires them, motivates them, makes them happy. And they've run with it.

Read all posts in this series here.

I don't remember how I came across Afoma Umesi's blog but I'm glad I did. It's one I keep up with regularly, filled with book reviews, interviews, stunning photography, and recommendations on other media to follow, read, or listen to.

Originally from Nigeria but now living in the Caribbean, Afoma recently finished medical school and earned her M.D. On top of that, she's been blogging for seven years (just as long as she was in med school) and has had her own photography business just over a year now, since the start of 2017. Reading her blog and following her on Instagram, I am constantly impressed with how much this girl gets done.

With experience in so many different areas, I knew I wanted to talk to her to learn more about the history of her blog, behind-the-scenes details of her photography business, and how she keeps up with all of it.

You can find Afoma on Instagram both on her personal account and her photography account.

What made you want to start a blog?

I was bored and reading a lot of blogs at the time. It was my first year in medical school in a foreign country. I think it was a great way to explore my creativity at the time. If you look at my first ever blog, you’ll see the kind of posts I was doing back then. Funny enough, blogging was so much fun then because no one was reading and I could write whatever I wanted, purely for my own pleasure.

How has your blog changed over the years? What prompted those changes?

It evolved from writing tidbits about my life to writing poetry and short stories. Many people don’t know but I’ve still got all my poetry and short stories on They’re just all the way in the archives now. It was around the time I started writing that I also began reviewing books on my blog. I stopped sharing my writing on the blog eventually for two reasons. First, because it seemed no one was reading and second, because I felt boxed in.

I’d started blogging to yap about whatever I wanted online, but now I felt like, as a “serious” writer, I couldn’t blog about anything else. As someone who wrote and was known mostly for fiction and poetry, I felt pressure to stick to that if I wanted to be taken seriously. Meanwhile, I was developing new interests. In fashion, for one. So I started blogging about fashion and style. In retrospect, I think my motivations for that were honestly misguided. I wanted more readers, more traffic, but I wasn’t thinking about what I actually liked to talk about.

Well, more people started to find my blog and to read. People really did enjoy my style posts and I still get messages now about  bringing those back. However, I stopped blogging about style because it wasn’t for me. It got old after the first ten or so posts. It felt incredibly boring and shallow (to me) to post five photos of myself in an outfit and meander, grasping at straws to find something to share. I branched into lifestyle and travel content for a while but it still did not feel fulfilling to me.

After taking nearly half a year off blogging, I figured out what I wanted to talk about and be about. That was when I rebranded into a lifestyle and literary blog, now Afoma Umesi as you know it. Blogging has taught me the importance of taking breaks and staying true to what feels right to you. I see a lot of people following trends and chasing traffic and it makes me a bit sad, because that really does take away the joy in blogging. To me, blogging about what you enjoy is the first step to great blogging. I’ve even written an entire post about it here.

How do you decide what to write about for each post?

I honestly don't think too much about it anymore. With BOOK'D running weekly, semi-regular book reviews and regular monthly favorites posts, I have enough content for most months. I also regularly make lists of books that I'd like to share, but my blog is a hobby. So my focus is having fun with it and helping spread the word about things I love. There isn't a ton of strategy to it for me anymore.

How did you get involved in photography?

Blogging! Well, blogging and photographer friends. In Ukraine, I had a couple of friends who love photography! It was so much fun being a subject and getting tons of great candid photos, but after a while I just wanted in on the fun myself. I got a point-and-shoot first and then a small Nikon and finally my current camera.

How did you transition from photography as a hobby to your own business?

It was not easy. I’m socially anxious and even shy sometimes, so I struggled with photographing people. I think for a whole year, I only took still-life photos. But once I started photographing people, I was hooked.

The business of photography has been difficult, especially living in a small island, but it was born out of necessity. I needed money and it was my only real skill.

What are the basics/what's the general process to having your own photography business?

I think a good first step is actually being good at taking photos. You don't have to be perfect but you should know about composition and editing at least. I think it's good to spend around a year taking photos of humans for free first and understanding how lighting works and all that.

Then, there's business, figuring out pricing, client relations, posing and marketing. It's an entire learning process, and I'd be lying if I say I've figured it out. So, keep learning would be my main advice. Love the craft and explore different styles of shooting and editing.

What's your favorite part? The most challenging?

Just the process of a session. Capturing people in their element, making them laugh with my bad jokes and watching couples in love interact. Showing people the final results is also high on my list of favorite parts.

Most challenging is marketing, booking clients and getting paid what you deserve. I like the final results of editing but I hate how long I have to be in front of a computer.

What's one thing most people don't know or misunderstand about photography?

People think it’s just clicking the camera. They think taking photos of their friends is the same as taking photos of complete strangers. Photographing normal people (not models) and creating honest, intimate portraits even of shy, anxious people and making them look and feel like models is what I’m about.

Photography is capturing emotions, the atmosphere, intimacy and joy in a click. People should look at your photograph and feel the dreaminess of that moment. I read something once about how your photography should make people think of the people/the scene/the magic in the picture first and not the photographer. That’s my motto. I don’t think many people think of photography that way.

How do you balance blogging, med school, photography and your other interests/hobbies?

Whoo, this is the most asked question. I honestly just prioritize. I do the important things first. My spirituality is the most important thing to me, so that’s how I start my day. I get it done first. Once I’ve done the most important things, then I arrange the other things in order of importance and work through the list.

I’ve also learned to let things wait, when no one’s life is on the line. Also to simply let things go undone if they’re not "life or death." I recognize my most productive hours are before 12 noon, so I try to do the heavy lifting in the morning when I can. We waste so much time on non-essentials from social media to entertainment and even just projects that we’re neither into nor benefitting from. I try to regularly evaluate what’s working and what’s not.

And sleep! I’m more productive when I’ve slept six hours or more, so I try to go to bed at grandma hours even if it means putting my phone on Do Not Disturb. When your eye is focused on what matters, it’s easier to balance stuff. Obviously, life will go out of balance every few weeks but then, you just evaluate and re-center.

What advice do you have for people with big dreams but a lot on their plate?

Start with one thing. What matters the most in your life? Start with that. You can really only keep a few things on your plate successfully at once. Pick well and leave the rest off your plate until you're ready for them.

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