Know Thy Market (Or Being a Wedding Photographer In a Shi***** Country)

Know Thy Market (Or Being a Wedding Photographer In a Shi***** Country)

It's 6 AM, and I find myself gazing through my kitchen window at the dawn breaking over the city, trying to shake off the remnants of sleep. The socialist architecture outside casts a gloomy gray hue.

As the coffee brews, I attempt some stretches and exercises, but after about 10 minutes, the tempting allure of YouTube lures me in. I switch on the TV, eager to explore the latest content — thanks to YouTube's algorithm, or so I hope.

My viewing routine, oscillating on and off for the past 2-3 years, revolves mainly around photography topics. Gear reviews, photography business tips, posing ideas, lighting techniques – you name it. Lately, though, I've found myself increasingly bothered by something. What's the issue? Well, it dawned on me (pun intended) that almost all the advice on growing a photography business, pricing strategies, and gear recommendations simply don't cut it for my country, or any other small third-world country, for that matter.

Sure, it might make sense if you're living in the lap of luxury, what they call the First World, or at least in a place with a more sizable population. But for those of us from "shithole countries," as some like to call them, the online wisdom doesn't always translate. Let me give you a snapshot: I'm a wedding photographer based in Eastern Europe, in a country with less than 2 million people and an average monthly salary of about 650 USD. After tax.

Let's get back to the crux of the matter. I'm about to dissect three business propositions from well-established wedding photographers on how to grow your business.

1. Online Presence

The advice often goes: "Post online what you like to shoot." Well, sure, that makes sense, to an extent. Post images that resonate with potential clients, but also reflect your own creative vision. So, I started showcasing what I love, hoping that my unique style would attract clients willing to pay a premium for my distinct vision. Reality check: it almost put me out of business. The sheer number of weddings in a small market, combined with limited budgets, made it nearly impossible to pinpoint those few couples who appreciated my style. The solution? Striking a balance between appealing to a broader audience, while occasionally showcasing my more distinctive work.

2. Pricing

Ah, pricing — a real pet peeve of mine. The standard advice? "Charge as much as you think you're worth. Or a bit more." Or the classic, "Raise your prices by 10% after every 10 booked weddings." In a small country, this is a slippery slope. Word travels fast, and recommendations play a crucial role. Adjusting prices mid-season leads to uncomfortable questions and potential client dissatisfaction. Stick to the expected price range. Deviate even slightly, and you risk losing clients.

Yes, there are some situations where you can actually charge a premium, but it comes with a caveat, or was it a catch? I can say this for now: you will need a team of people (four people at least — two for photo and two for video). And everything you can think of that makes you look like you know what you are doing. I think it is a specific of the market, so I need a separate text just for the culture of weddings and wedding photography in Macedonia.

3. Specialization

The mantra of "specialize" echoes through the photography community. "Focus on one type of photography and master it," they say. Well, in some markets, that just doesn't work. With technology making photography more accessible, everyone and their neighbor seems to be a wedding photographer, often as a side hustle. In small markets, survival means diversification. Turning down opportunities like corporate profiles, conferences, parties, and birthdays is not just about staying focused; it's a road to disaster. Most successful photographers I know here juggle 2-3 types of photography, and some even venture into videography. In a market where opportunities are scarce, turning down gigs just because you don’t shoot that particular subject means passing up on connections and future opportunities. So, think twice before you say no to that family portrait session. Specialize, but in 2-3 photography niches. Or find a second job if you are not good enough to be a destination wedding photographer.

These are my three things I personally found that don’t work in my environment. Maybe they are not valid in the western world as well, but having people recommending them, it sure feels that they are something people should consider.

Have you ever took advice at face value without thinking of the market first?

Vojkan Milenkovik's picture

Vojkan is a (documentary) wedding photographer based in Skopje, Macedonia. Has been dabbling in photography since 2008. Otherwise, holds a degree in linguistics, has interest in semiotics and loves chocolate.

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Valid points.

Thanks for reading.

Understanding your local market is crucial to any business. Those of us in the so-called "first world" also have to be keenly aware of what works and doesn't work in our local area.

Very true. It took me some time before actually realizing all the mistakes I am making in the business part of being a wedding photographer. And still learning.

Well said! If you're a professional, you have to master the business side or you won't STAY in business long enought to make the art.

Yep. Take into account all variables. All possible expenses, streams of income, cultural perspective...

I'm also from a former soviet republic, where an average monthly salary is 2000 USD. I was looking for a photographer to shoot a short ceremony (1 hour). Nothing fancy, no drones, no video, no decorations, only a few shots with a camera. The average hourly rate was 400 USD. From 8 persons asked, only one agreed to 70 USD. All the surveyed photographers had no more than 30-minute drive to the spot.

One of the factors for consideration when I set a price is always the idea that if I take one job then I'm not taking another that pays more. One hour on site to shoot (really? Not there early? To ensure not POSSIBLY late, with a little scouting?), plus 2 x 30 minutes driving (really? To ensure not possibly late?) plus editing, plus working with client, almost certainly means I can't take another job, with driving, that pays more.

I would guess that one hour of shooting takes 5+ hours of my time. I don't really care if I'm taking 10 frames or 200, that's the difference between 10 minutes and 30, which just doesn't matter. In that time I'm not doing any marketing, I'm not doing inevitable business work like sending invoices, I'm not testing new gear, I'm not practicing: I'm taking only one small job. Equipment and software costs the same in Eastern Europe as it does anywhere else. For what I do I can shoot 2 or 3 jobs a week pushing a shutter, even though I spend the whole week finishing those jobs and working on my business. I can't afford to spend one of those days for $70.

So, I can't speak to these particular fees where you live, but if 7 photographers won't take the job then that suggests the job is worth more than $70 USD for a photographer who wants to stay in business. That includes taxes, health care, phone bill, insurance, gas and car maintenance, electric bills, internet, equipment replacement, and on and on. At some small fee you're just being pleasant to an amateur, not hiring someone who's good enough to stay in business.

That may be just what you want, but you can't complain about real pro's who need more. And folks with good phones might do just as well

I am from ex-Yugoslavia, but the sentiment is sort of the same (with drastically lower monthly incomes). I can't stress that enough, as Happy Walters mentioned, cameras, laptops, lights... They all cost roughly the same everywhere in the worlds. And I take that all into account when I am pricing my services.

Personally I charge double for the first two hours, just to make sure I don't feel sorry if something bigger comes along later that I will need to drop just because I am already booked.