Adobe Stock photographer Adaeze Okaro and the power of options

Adobe Stock photographer Adaeze Okaro.

Credit: Adobe Stock / Adaeze Okaro.

Adaeze Okaro’s love of photography began with a love of cameras as objects. Her first encounter came at the age of six, on a business trip with her father to the home of a family friend in Abuja, Nigeria.

“His son had a film camera with a flash,” she says. “He carried it everywhere with him, hung around his neck. We played together and I was so fascinated by it.” They shot a roll of film together, which Okaro has still never seen, but from that point on, she was hooked. After pestering her father to buy her a camera of her own, Okaro stumbled across some old ones left behind at the family home in Enugu State, Nigeria. Eventually, in the early 2000s, her father bought her a digital camera, but prior to that, Okaro shot film on these left-behind artifacts, more in love with the act of shooting than the images themselves.

“I never actually developed them,” she says of the film images she shot. “I just kept on taking and taking and taking and taking pictures. I just really enjoyed it.” Okaro was fascinated by the act of capturing moments in the everyday, from cooking in the kitchen, to family gatherings, to her father getting ready for work, and her mother putting on lipstick, or fetching water for the house.

This attention to daily life honed Okaro’s knack for finding quiet, everyday images, which have produced a portfolio centered around real-life portraiture that shows people in their element. That sensitivity to visual authenticity and intimacy has helped Okaro grow an in-demand portfolio as a commercial and stock photographer, with hundreds of images available on Adobe Stock. In 2021, she applied and was selected for the first-ever Adobe Stock Artist Development Fund, a creative commission program aimed at promoting and supporting the production of diverse visuals from global creators. Specifically, the fund supports self-identifying artists from groups and communities they also depict in their work.

Collage of images taken by Adaeze Okaro of subjects laughing and embracing.


Credits (Clockwise from top left): Adobe Stock / Adaeze Okaro, Adobe Stock / Adaeze Okaro, Adobe Stock / Adaeze Okaro.

How she finds beauty in candid moments

Until recently, she preferred to take photos with her iPhone, but in December of 2018, she landed the gig that launched her photography career into a more professional sphere. It was Project #ShowUs, a campaign by Dove brand soap, in partnership with a stock image site and Girlgaze, inviting women and nonbinary individuals to present their own conception of beauty through images to be used in advertising. Using the campaign as an opportunity to purchase a professional-grade DSLR camera, Okaro continued to build on her success with Project #ShowUs, and in late 2021, made the jump to photography full time.

Okaro keeps a journal with running notes on photoshoot concepts, locations, outfits, and makeup designs. She generally serves as her own stylist and can draw inspiration from something as simple as a colorway or certain type of fabric. Her process is generally loose, with strict shot lists almost never in play, but an emphasis on setting a scene and capturing candid images within it. The results are reminiscent of Mikalene Thomas whose portraits of striking African women, glowing with confidence, bedecked in bright colors, have become iconic in pop culture.

For her Artist Development Fund commission project in 2021, Okaro took inspiration from several Adobe Stock creative briefs including Celebration of Self and Joyful Rhythm. Her series focuses on photographs of people in their personal spaces and homes.

“I took a long look at myself and the people around me, where I come from, the people who have grown with me and the people I’ve created amazing work with,” she said in a recent interview for It’s Nice That. “When I had this moment, I just knew I wanted people to see more and feel more from what I was going to create with my diverse range of beautiful photography subjects.”

While much of the work Okaro did at Adobe Stock for the Artist Development Fund was meticulously planned, to work under COVID-19 conditions, she also waxes romantic about her more spontaneous photoshoots, and the energy they capture.

“I did a shoot in 2017 of this really beautiful dark-skinned girl. Her name is Grace,” says Okaro. “I was at work and I say, ‘Yo, what are you doing later? Do you have any green pants or green blazer and a green shirt? Like, let's go and shoot something today. I'm off from work by four. Are you ready?’ And she was ready.” The pair met up at the National Stadium in Abuja, a soccer field and public facility that is one of Okaro’s go-to locations.

“It has so many beautiful places that you can shoot, and it is so massive,” says Okaro. “I think most of my shoots have been shot in that stadium.”

Collage of images taken by Adaeze Okaro of women walking, sitting and combing their hair.


Credits (Clockwise from top left): Adobe Stock / Adaeze Okaro, Adobe Stock / Adaeze Okaro, Adobe Stock / Adaeze Okaro.

Cinematic realism

Okaro is working to develop the skills needed to continue to widen her perspective, whether that involves overcoming shyness in talking to potential models or personally overcoming gender bias she experienced early in her local photography scene. She draws inspiration in this from documentary photographer Yagazie Emezi, whose work she describes as beautiful and “so intentional.”

“It's not forced,” says Okaro, “you can tell that's just who she is, and that's really what I want to be. I love her photo subjects, she captures everyone and everything in an amazing way that is actually very inclusive.” While Okaro claims to draw mostly from her own imagination when seeking source material, she confesses to a love of vintage Nollywood aesthetics, including one of her favorites, “Rip Off” (2005).

“I really like vintage Nollywood,” she says, “everything from the way the ladies dressed, to the hairstyles and makeup, the skirts, the glittery tops and the heels — everything was so cool and vintage. Nollywood was fantastic.”

Okaro loves movies, and draws a lot of inspiration from them, hoping to increasingly evoke a cinematic vibe with her image-making. The photographer also has dreams of doing more travel for work — at the top of her list are two uniquely distinct places: Cuba and Switzerland. Traveling to these unique destinations is part of Okaro’s vision to photograph as many kinds of people and cultures as possible.

“I think how different we are is really what makes us even more beautiful or more unique, and makes it so I want to capture every kind of person there is — just in the moment, in their own space.” It’s an idea of stock imagery that seeks to cover as much as possible — that imagery being diverse is not simply to check a box, but to create a lot of options.

See more of Adaeze Okaro’s portfolio on Adobe Stock. Explore the Adobe Stock Advocates program to learn more about commissioned artists and opportunities to apply for the Artist Development Fund.