Going for shots that sell

By Njeri Maina
Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021
Trevor Maingi who studied software engineering in campus started his photography journey by using his phone. Photo/PD/NJERI MAINA AND COURTESY
In summary
    • Trevor Maingi is a firm believer in existing outside one’s comfort zone. Travelling and not locking himself in one photography genre is one way he stays out of his comfort zone and ensures versatility as well as personal growth.
    • His work has seen him work with big brands such as Safaricom, Huawei Global, Samsung, Guinness, among other prominent brands.
    • He hopes to one day be a NatGeo photographer.
    • He was recently in the Mara, where he took stunning photos of the wildebeest migration. He says the main thing he looks for in brand partnerships is a brand that will allow him to tell their story in an authentic way.
    • He is ecstatic about the growth in the photography industry in Kenya which he been active in for the last six years. He has seen how the perception around professional photography has changed and how people are willing to buy prints from photographers now, something that was not so common a few years back. There is still more growth needed to catch up with the world scene, but he is confident that it can happen.

Trevor Maingi is a photographer and filmmaker best known for taking beautiful travel & landscape photos and for shooting cinematic videos. Njeri Maina caught up with The Mentalyst, as he is known in the photography world, to learn more about him.

Njeri Maina @njerimainar

“As a child, I aspired to be a pilot first. But if that did not pan out, I wanted to be a chef.

You know, Gordon Ramsey, my way into the kitchen,” Trevor Maingi says while laughing as he explains his childhood ambitions.

He talks of how photography was never a personal ambition. How he went to university to study aerospace engineering then switched to a degree in software engineering in third year.

Instagram would be launched in 2010, and get wide usage in the country in three to four years’ time.

Trevor jumped on the platform and started posting images that he took with his phone just like everyone else.

He was not finicky about starting small, learning photography rules on the phone and mastering what shots looked aesthetically pleasing and what angles just did not work.

“I know it might sound a bit messy using a phone for photography, but it taught me how to create with what I have without being dependent on a device or technology.

Light speed.

It also made my transition to more professional gear smoother as I had an idea of what I was good at, and hence could get a camera and lenses that would amplify my strengths,” Trevor explains.

Starting out

Trevor explains how ‘YouTube University’, as he likes to call it taught him the foundational knowledge needed to excel as a photographer and filmmaker.

He firmly believes that being experimental and continuously pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is a sure way of growing your skills as well as your brand.

He explains how The Mentalist series inspired his social media name, The Mentalyst.

“I was a huge fan of The Mentalist series. I, especially, loved Simon Baker’s intellectual process, and his out of the box thinking.

At around that time, I was looking for a name to use across all my social media pages.

I settled on The Mentalyst, with a small iteration in spelling, as I believe that my photography and filmmaking is a bit iconoclastic and that it departs from the usual codes.

I have stuck with that to date as it reminds me to keep pushing the box,” he enunciates.

Having started photography in 2014 and sticking with it through the years, Trevor has worked in various photography genres, excelling almost in all.

He is best known for beautiful landscape shots, which are great in composition and symmetry.

He talks about shooting weddings, five in total, and how that pushed him outside his comfort zone as he is an introvert.

He describes how shooting destination weddings, (two of the five were destination weddings), was enjoyable.

He talks about wildlife photography and how he has immense respect for wildlife photographers.

“Wildlife photographers have patience in tonnes. The fact that you can leave your hotel and spend a full day in the wild looking for an animal that you may not even spot, requires patience.

I might take great wildlife shots, but I do not much enjoy the ‘wild goose chase’ or ‘wild leopard chase’ as the case might be. 

Leaving the hotel in pursuit of a wild animal and coming back disappointed and ready to start the same cycle the following day with no guarantee of success is just exhausting.

I guess I do not know how to adeptly handle disappointment, but I am getting there,” explains the Nairobi-based photographer.

Highlights and challenges

Trevor has shot several films and adverts for different companies, such as Angama Safari and Land Rover Africa.

He says he started his filmmaking journey by filming interviews then slowly moved to telling stories using stunning visuals.

He is also widely travelled, having visited countries such as Namibia, Egypt and Singapore.

He views travelling as a necessary expense to feed his creativity as it broadens his perspective and view of life.

He believes that exposing ourselves to new things is one way of getting new eyes into old issues or even noticing things we would previously ignore.

While his career has had many highlights with growth and working with big brands, Trevor has had his fair share of challenges.

Sourcing and financing proper photography gear was one of his major challenges while starting out.

It is still a challenge now as he looks to upgrade to newer camera gear, which can enable him to do more.

Covid-19 and its associated ripple effect on brands and their advertising budgets is also a concern as this has seen a marked dip in commissioned work.

But ever the optimist, Trevor believes that things will slowly recover. So what has kept him going?

“Life, impacting people’s lives. When someone looks at my photo and is wowed, that for me is enough fuel to keep me going,” he says.

On plans for the future, Trevor hopes to have his own production company up and running in the next five to eight years.

“The future is a rabbit hole; you can never be sure where it will lead despite the best well-laid plans.

It also keeps changing as we evolve. Five years ago, I would have a different answer for what I wanted in my future from what I now want.

There is also no accounting for unseen forces such as Covid-19. But we work hard, do our best and hope that our plans come to be,” he concludes.