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.
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.
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?