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Humble beginnings

Shayal Devi
Thursday, April 20, 2017

AS far as local wedding photography companies go, Kama Catch Me has become one of the most sought after businesses in the wedding industry. From locals to tourists, many couples exchanging marital vows in Fiji choose this company to capture these very special and precious moments. They are enthralled by the services provided by the company — headed by husband and wife, Ropate and Gitte Kama. More than five years in operation, Kama Catch Me has successfully tapped into one of the more unknown markets of destination weddings in Fiji — photography.

Early days

Having spent his childhood and teen years in Suva, Ropate Kama attended Suva Grammar School before he joined the British Army.

And it was during his stint in the army that he met his wife to-be Gitte, who had a master's degree in product development but worked as a photographer.

"Kama Catch Me started in 2012 in the United Kingdom and before that my wife was a self-employed freelance photographer and designer," he shared.

"I was in the army at the time and photography for me was just a point and shoot hobby. When I proposed to Gitte, she said she would only marry me if I left the army.

"This was a decision I struggled with as I didn't know what job I would do. Gitte talked me into the idea of learning photography as a profession. I was on tour in Afghanistan and a series of events eventually made me make up my mind that the army wasn't my future and so I resigned, left the army in 2012 to start a new adventure."

Fresh start

This new adventure was the setting up of Kama Catch Me. For Mr Kama, the venture marked a significant milestone in his life. Like his career, he also decided to take his relationship in a new direction.

"For us, 2012 was a year of change. Within that year I left the army, we got married and we also sold everything we had in the United Kingdom and moved to Fiji with just two suitcases, our camera gear and captured our first Fiji wedding."

Rough start

Setting up a new business, however, proved to be a challenge.

Like all ventures, getting a new company to take off was not an easy task. The biggest challenge for Mr Kama, though, was in learning to take instructions and direction from his partner, Gitte.

"Our first wedding shoot together was in England in 2011," he says.

"I had a Polaroid camera and was there as Gitte's assistant. This was my introduction to wedding photography and it nearly put me off it all together! It wasn't necessarily the long hours or having to think on your feet because the army instils these qualities within you. To be completely honest, it was more about having to take orders from my then girlfriend."

That one wedding, and the many others that followed, taught him a lesson in humility.

"It made me realise that despite having lived in the United Kingdom for the best part of 20 years at that point, my mind-set of being brought up in a male dominant or masculine culture (both as a Fijian and a soldier) was so old school and very primitive.

"We got through the day and are now able to laugh about how difficult I was to work with."

Being a local also posed a challenge to breaking into the wedding photography market.

Mr Kama said starting any business from scratch in an industry already heavily populated would always be hard.

"Being a local has its advantages and disadvantages. The main advantages are that you know the land, the cultures and traditions and that you are more acclimatised to the weather.

"The disadvantages are that you don't rate yourself as highly as the non-locals. We tend to have an inferiority complex which I think has more to do with our colonial past than anything else."

Overcoming challenges

To combat this, the Kamas set a five-year development plan for the business.

"That timeline was broken down into goals and dreams, what we wanted to achieve and how we were going to achieve them. This was broken down further into 12-month short, mid, and long term targets.

"The great news is we have hit and accomplished all of them!"

Mr Kama said certain weather conditions were often hindrances to the work they do. Case in point, the harsh sunlight and hot or humid temperatures usually associated with parts of the country, especially the Western Division.

"Not having proper servicing outlets in Fiji is actually a huge challenge. We shoot primarily with Canon gear and the nearest Canon Professional Service is in Australia. So that's where we have to send our gear to every time we need repairs.

"That means we have to have backup gear for our backup gear but you can't just walk into any store in Fiji to purchase this so we order online or travel out of Fiji to purchase gear."

Making a mark

When Kama Catch Me first began to take shape, Mr Kama and his wife Gitte wanted their photography style to reflect who they were as people and what they enjoyed doing. Both say they like to be creative and love going on road trips to explore the untouched parts of Fiji. This was the reason they started the Off The Beaten Path sessions. With the shortage of local wedding photographers in the market, Mr Kama said they spotted an opportunity to tap into the wedding sector.

"We like to think that we are making some waves within the industry through our Off the Beaten Path sessions and quality of work," he says.

"This is where we take the couples away from the more popular, touristy spots and offer a unique experience, introducing them to places like the underrated highlands or hard to reach locations like ship wrecks and waterfalls.

"We believe that connecting these couples to the land is where they get to feel the real essence and mana of Fiji. As of last year, we have even begun organising "Off the Beaten Path" elopements and small group weddings, which is going really well."

He says it is positive to note that more couples are choosing local photographers to capture memories on their special day.

Mr Kama said apart from his wife, he had only one staff member — Faith Naivaluwaqa — who is an extremely talented photographer.

Future plans

Kama Catch Me has made strides in the Fijian wedding industry but Mr Kama believes the company has a long way to go in terms of development.

"My wife has been my inspiration in this line of work and while we are yet to complete our next five-year plan, this year we are focusing on building a home and studio," he says.

And this new development will be a key step towards hosting workshops to help other creative audiences and up-and-coming photographers to develop skills on how to run a successful business.

"Photography is a strong visual medium to promote a location and because we showcase a lot of the Fijian landscapes in a fresh way, we believe this contributes to the tourism industry. We have had a number of people coming to Fiji especially because they saw our photographs and wanted to get married here or get their portraits taken by us."

The industry has the potential to develop further, Mr Kama says. He said local photography companies also needed to raise the profile and credibility of local photographers.

"Often we would hear that overseas couples choose overseas photographers purely because they feel that they can trust them more and how bad the customer service is. I am sure that there are some Mickey Mouse photographers out there who have given the rest a bad reputation."

The company covers about four weddings and a number of "Off the Beaten Path" or Trash the Dress sessions in a month.

"And that's just enough for us to give our full attention to."

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