One of Savannah’s favorite photographers conducts his craft with a musical brain.
Somi Benson-Jaja is the founder of Shot by Somi Studios located in the Savannah Mall, 14045 Abercorn St. Shot by Somi Studios is a commercial portrait photography studio that specializes in brand and portrait photography including headshots, maternity, family, weddings. They also host events and do food photography.
Shot by Somi Studios has received local accolades including Connect Savannah’s Best Of Savannah 2021 ‘Best Photography Studio’ in and Savannah Morning News’ Best of the Best.
The photographer said that when he was younger, his career pursuit had actually always been music.
“In high school, I was in the band,” Benson-Jaja said. “I loved band life. I loved playing my trombone, I loved marching. I went to Jenkins for High School. ‘We are the marching warriors. We are family,’ was our motto. ‘We’re the best in the land.’ Band, band, band.’ That’s all I lived and breathed through high school.”
Benson-Jaja even went on to attend Armstrong University — before it became Georgia Southern’s Savannah campus — for Music Education with a goal and dream of becoming a high school band director. He played in the university band, the jazz band, and sang in the gospel choir.
“I was full on immersed in music education,” Benson-Jaja said.
Though he always had a love for music, the camera was always in his hand as well, the photographer shared.
“When I was a kid, I did not like being in pictures,” he said. “In a family that loved photographs, out of five siblings, I always volunteered to take the pictures.”
In high school, he even got the nickname ‘Kodak’ for always being the guy to volunteer to take photos. Nonetheless, after he graduated college he taught elementary school music at Gadson Elementary while subsequently teaching band part-time at Garrison School for the Arts.
Eventually, Benson-Jaja began to see the potential for photgraphy as a side-hustle.
“It didn’t blossom until I had been teaching elementary school music for about six years and one of my friends in college said that her sister needed pictures for prom,” he said.
After the request, he bought a camera from Ebay to take the pictures, and eventually it became a weekend hobby.
“I think my first shoot was $50,” Benson-Jaja said. “It was just a stress reliever and my side-hustle as a teacher.”
Benson-Jaja shared that he had never been one to settle for mediocrity. Though he received a formal education in music only, he leveraged the knowledge he developed amid the music educational structure to build and grow his photography craft. He said he never wanted to seem like the underdog in any field.
“There’s music theory, so I researched photography theory,” he said. “There’s music composition, so I researched the composition elements to make a photo. I also researched the history of photography, so I wasn’t a novice. I could speak to photographers that went to school for it.”
To make his work even greater, the photographer says he even leverages skills he learned outside of music education to engage in photographer-client relations. The photographer said he developed much of his people skills while he served as president of the student government organization at Armstrong University. He said, during that time, he had a goal to meet as many people as possible and what he found is that people warm up when they can find some sort of connection.
“I ask them what they like, what they love, and what they do,” Benson-Jaja said. “Then they automatically become confident and they forget they have jitters and nerves because they are speaking of some things that they are knowledgeable about.”
Benson-Jaja enjoys his work as art, but he also takes it seriously.
“Photography is half business and half art and you need to know both to get in the game,” he said.
The photographer said he works on personal projects to continue to ignite his creative fuse while simultaneously avoiding the five-year-burnout span of the average photographer.
“Photography is the manipulation of light so I want to be able to spread light on things from the perspective of my own artistic expression,” he said. “One project I did last year was my homeless series called ‘Stories from Savannah.’”
During the project, Benson-Jaja said he found people that were living on the street and asked them questions pertaining to their personal processes including how they got to where they are now and how they are surviving.
Photo Courtesy of Shot by Somi
Shot from 'Stories from Savannah' homelessness series
“It was definitely eye opening,” he said. “It showed me that people are still people despite their situations. They all still smiled and it showed me that they have hope and resilience.”
In that light, Benson-Jaja wants to encourage young people to stick to what they love and learn how to do it well.
“For the young photographer, artist, musician, painter or anything that you’re doing as a young entrepreneur, take time to learn your craft. Take time to study to get to where you want to go,” Benson-Jaja said. “Meet as many people that can lend a helping hand to get you to where you want to go because that possibility is out there for you, and there shouldn’t be anybody that says you can’t do it.”
to learn more about Somi Benson-Jaja and his photography studio.