What started out as just a hobby turned into a successful business for youthpreneur Mohd Lutfi Hj Abdul Majid, founder and creative director of TheLM.co, previously known as PhotobyLutfi.
Covering weddings, events and portraiture photography, the company started small, working hard to make the brand a household name.
Thanks to perseverance, continuous support and years of sweat and tears, the brand now has a following of more than 6,700 users on Instagram (@the_lm.co) and is one of the most sought-after wedding photographers in the country.
From humble beginnings to winning moments
Mohd Lutfi started his journey sometime before 2010 with street photography which then expanded to landscape stills and later, wedding shoots.
“As time passed, I started to mingle around experienced photographers; telling them that I wanted to learn (more of) the basics. Since then, I learned so much and gained a lot more skills.”
With a better grasp of things and growing confidence, the 31 year old created PhotobyLutfi and actively worked in the wedding industry under one of the top photography companies in Brunei, White Room Studio.
After consistently building his portfolio, the idea then occurred to him to turn the hobby into a living and with the right nudge from a fellow photographer, opening his own company was in the works.
Mohd Lutfi started humble, covering smaller event shoots such as engagements, graduations, family portraits, and corporate gatherings.
“From these events I started to gain more knowledge of getting involved in larger events while communicating and managing clients, ensuring to produce exceptional work for them.”
“Ofcourse, there were ups and downs. But I took them in a positive manner, it was all a learning process,” he added.
From worker to boss
Early 2016 proved to be a turning point in his career, taking the first step towards building his own brand with his partner, Mohd Safwan Saiful Sopian.
The duo focused solely on providing photography services during the early stages, but once their popularity rose, videography services were introduced as an added value, headed by Mohd Safwan.
“Since then, our company consistently grew and we are very grateful to provide employment opportunities to fellow photographers and videographers alike,” said Mohd Lutfi.
“I believe this is in line with what His Majesty has encouraged over the years – perseverance to fight for a better future for ourselves and simultaneously for the future generation.”
Determination to continue
Years in the business inevitably came with ups and downs which affected him to the point of surrender.
Exhaustion proceeded with continuous events lined up throughout the years, leaving little to no rest for Mohd Lutfi and his team.
“I felt like giving it all up, but after careful consideration and remembering that I have a family to feed, bills and staff to pay, I had to persevere.”
“At the end of the day, the exhaustion is worth it knowing my clients are satisfied with our work. All I needed to do was manage my time better between work, rest, and spending time with my family.”
Mohd Lutfi shared that their schedules get so hectic with most events occurring every weekend, occasionally during weekdays with only one to two relaxing months in a year.
“That’s the time where we recharge, rest and finish any backlog editing. Other days, I would manage my time between work and leisure, encouraging my staff to do the same.”
Hundreds of photographs and video shoots also leave the team drained of inspiration.
“We are essentially shooting the same thing and to ensure our creative juices are always flowing, we look to other photographers for inspiration. Personally, I mostly take inspiration from regional photographers from Malaysia and Indonesia as well as the local community.”
Covid woes to silver linings
When Covid first hit the nation, many were affected by the challenges of adapting to new rules, regulations, movement limitations, and halted social events.
The wedding industry, in particular, experienced momentous change with canceled events and an unexpected halt of operations.
Thankfully TheLM.co team acted swiftly and sought advice from other wedding vendors.
“Initially we had no idea what to do but thanks to a few consultations within our community and numerous discussions, we had a solid plan in place.”
“No matter how hard the situation was, we tried to avoid cancellations and provided our clients alternatives. For unavoidable circumstances, we could only offer partial refunds as we too, needed to make a living,” adding that he was thankful their clients understood.
Photobook prints which the company sources from neighbouring country, Malaysia, were also affected by shipping delays.
“When restrictions were eased and weddings were allowed in very small groups, we were thankful that business could resume but also felt its challenges.”
Mohd Lutfi said that instead of a team of four, only two from each photography and videography division were allowed per event.
“Our team members had to be careful not to catch the virus and if any of them were required to isolate, we had to make sure there were people on standby to replace them.”
“At the same time, we felt an immense pressure lifted as shoot times were cut down to more than half and as venues were smaller, we focused only on the important shots – work was faster and therefore safer for both our clients and the team,” he added.
Despite the tough situation, Mohd Lutfi was thankful for the great teamwork and knew that if they could get past that, they could get through any other challenges that might come their way.
“All of us got to rest and take it easy, finishing pending workload and just spending more time
with our family. All in all, it turned into a rewarding experience.”
From two to twelve
TheLM.co started with only two members consisting of the founder Mohd Lutfi and partner Mohd Safwan and has since grown to a 12-member team including part-timers.
“Once things started to pick up, we knew it was time to expand,” shared Mohd Lutfi, offering job opportunities to youths of various ages and backgrounds.
“It was a goal since the beginning and I’m glad we were able to make it happen knowing how hard it is to find a job nowadays.”
Voices behind the lens
As the founder’s right-hand man, videographer, and editor, Mohd Safwan was there from the beginning, experiencing first-hand the ups and downs of the business.
Despite the challenges, he stayed on, pursuing his passion in videography, sharing that his favourite moment is capturing emotions and moments between loved ones.
“I was initially into photography and delved into various photography genres such as street and news but it was people’s emotions that I wanted to capture most and thought wedding videography was the perfect fit,” said Mohd Safwan.
Like Mohd Lutfi, he started with an interest in street photography that evolved into wedding shoots, which is where the two first met – working under the same company, White Room Studio.
After joining TheLM.co and moving on to videography, the 25 year old, who also heads the video division, spends up to two to five hours editing short to full-length videos.
He shared that the hours are committed to matching clips to moments and ensuring smooth transitions which takes patience and an eye for detail.
When exhaustion creeps in from putting in long hours during the week, Mohd Safwan and his team of editors make sure to take breaks in between each project.
“It gets tiring ofcourse, especially when we are taking videos of the same event flow each time and we want to make it unique for each client as it is their special day.”
“This is where our creativity on the field and during the editing process comes in,” he said, ensuring that the team takes inspiration of different styles from videographers worldwide.
However, individual style comes into play when it comes to pre-wedding or post-wedding shoots, which usually revolve around themes and therefore definitely vary for each client.
“When Covid restrictions were in place, our team found it challenging to edit with so much missing content from the usual wedding flow, cutting down full-length videos from the usual five to seven minutes to just three minutes.”
“While it was faster for us to finish filming, we felt the gap, and to make it up to clients, we would offer pre-wedding or post-wedding shoots, which most gladly take. This was our way to ensure the best memories are created for their special union.”
Mohd Safwan shares that during consultation or prior to events, clients are advised about the choices of venue to establish appropriate lighting for shoots, producing the best videos and additionally, photos.
The team would also bring additional lighting on the occasion where it is needed, adding that venues with natural lighting are usually preferred such as The Garden’s Veranda Banquet Hall & Restaurant.
“It’s been a fun journey over the years and my advice to those who want to give it a try is to start. Start with family events and from there you’ll develop your own style.”
Meanwhile for the sole female photographer and editor at TheLM.co, Siti Azirah Hj Ariffin, the journey has been nothing short of amazing.
“I honestly started doing freelance photography gigs with the intention of gaining side income while studying,” said the 25 year old, who joined the company full-time just last year.
“I was new and eager to learn even when I didn’t have any of my friends around and there weren’t many female wedding photographers at the time.”
Covering wedding events since 2016, she first joined a photography company under one of her teachers.
As she gradually built her skills and gained more confidence, her thirst for knowledge sparked, which turned her side income into passion.
“In every job, every shoot, there is always something new to learn,” said Siti Azira, who officially joined TheLM.co as a part-timer in late 2019.
“I was still studying then under Universiti Brunei Darussalam’s Discovery Year Incubation programme which was when I took the opportunity to join Lutfi as a photographer – I saw him as one of the big players in the wedding industry.”
Also an editor at TheLM.co, working in a male-dominated industry was nerve-wracking at first but the worries melted away as she was met with a positive environment.
“The community was so welcoming, offering advice on how to improve and giving constant feedback – this kept me going and is one of the reasons why I love the job.”
“Other than that, I love the different styles of photography, following and learning the trends which is actually challenging and takes time to learn but it is what keeps the work interesting,” she said, adding that wedding portraiture is often what she looks forward to during events.
She also credits her colleagues for the good teamwork and discussions to ensure optimal photographs, citing Mulia Hotel as her favourite venue with a clean background and ample lighting.
Siti Azira hopes more female photographers will join the industry, advising those interested to give it a try.
“You never know until you try; if you like it then continue shooting and learning to find your style. But if you don’t, it is alright, the point is to try.”
For photographer and editor, Abdul Azim Hj Hassan, joining the wedding industry was a dream and matched his love for social interaction.
“I love seeing the interaction between people and wanted to capture it while gaining different perspectives from the new people I meet, from our clients.”
The 25 year old was approached by the founder himself in April 2019, and inspired by renowned Canadian photographer Peter McKinnon, he accepted the offer to join TheLM.co full time.
“I started photography as a hobby in 2014, taking pictures with my phone and iPod but it was only in 2016 when I used my sister’s camera that I started seriously, first taking photographs of family events and later joining my friend’s company, covering wedding events.”
Once his experience grew, Abdul Azim went solo in 2017, with a list of his own clients, covering events part-time and sometimes assisting other photographers, until meeting Lutfi in 2019.
“It was a great decision and I love my job, the flexibility, the people I meet, the styles I get to try. Even when it gets tiring, I make sure to rest and recuperate, go to the gym or spend time with friends before getting back to work with a fresh mindset.”
Encouraging more youth to join the industry, Abdul Azim hopes to see the company grow further and produce stunning photographs for our clients.
“If I had any advice for new photographers, I would say that: it is okay to take bad photos, nobody becomes good in a short amount of time, take your time, slow and steady.”
To an even brighter future
While the journey wasn’t easy and required patience and effort, the founder doesn’t regret starting the business.
“Looking back, I also invested money to ensure my brand would be known; joining numerous wedding fairs for exposure and boosting our social media platforms.”
He added that support from his parents and family members as well as advice from his mentors and fellow experienced photographers played a huge part in the company’s success.
“Initially my parents weren’t too keen on me delving into this business but after explaining to them how it works and how this would be an opportunity to provide employment for others, they understood my vision and I’m very thankful for their prayers.”
With the rising popularity of his brand and growing team, Mohd Lutfi encourages others to join the industry, advising aspiring photographers to start.
“I know and understand how hard it is but I believe that as long as we’re sincere in our work and do our best for the clients, we can grow to become the best and who knows, you can also build your own company.”
“Remember, don’t be arrogant, you never know who is going to support you when things go wrong. Always believe that there are opportunities (rezeki) out there for you.”
Mohd Lutfi hopes to expand his company further while growing with the team to turn wedding dreams into reality and gift clients with memories that last a lifetime.
For any enquiries, interested customers can visit their Instagram page @the_lm.co.
This article was first published on 16 July 2022 in our Weekly Epaper issue 202 | More stories here
THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN