Thursday, July 25, 2024
ArtPicture perfect

Picture perfect

Inside Ethiopia’s high-end wedding photo shoots

It was a gloomy, rainy season in the Bole neighbourhood of Addis Ababa, and the whirring sound of camera shutters punctuated the air. At his studio Ipic, Mohammed Elias was in his element, meticulously setting up lights and arranging flower bouquets to capture the essence of true love through his lens.

For most people in Ethiopia, wedding photography is just another service to commemorate their special day. However, for Mohammed, it was an artistic passion that allowed him to express beauty in a whole new way. Over the past four years since opening Ipic, he had established himself as one of the premiere wedding photographers in the city.

Couples flocked to his studio, drawn in not just by his reasonable prices but by his unique flair and vision. He didn’t just take photos – he created works of art, turning weddings into elaborate studio productions. For him, wedding photography was far more than just a business – it was a true art form.

The wedding photography industry has undergone significant changes in recent years. In the past, many couples would go to generic photo studios on main streets to get portraits taken on their wedding day. However, the market has become more specialized.

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Today, successful wedding photographers focus exclusively on wedding and wedding-related events. While some may also photograph birthday parties or other celebrations, their primary expertise is in wedding photography. They understand the unique logistical and creative challenges of photographing a wedding from start to finish.

For many years, wedding photography in Ethiopia relied heavily on the use of green screen backdrops in studio settings. Photographers would bring couples into their storefront studios to take posed portraits in front of the green screen. These would then be composited onto different simulated backgrounds.

While green screen allowed for flexibility and multiple backdrop options, it also created a detachment from the actual wedding environment. Couples stood isolated in the studio rather than amidst the decor, venue, and events of their special day. The shots lacked candid authenticity and a sense of real atmosphere.

As tastes evolved, brides and grooms began demanding photography that better reflected the experience and memories they wanted documented. They valued shots captured amidst the actual celebrations rather than isolated portrait sessions. This shift pushed photographers on location to weddings and receptions.

Emerging wedding traditions like baby showers, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, and groomsmen events have also created new opportunities for wedding photographers. As couples seek to commemorate all parts of their wedding experience, not just the ceremony and reception, specialized wedding photographers are on hand to capture these moments as well.

The demand reflects how important personalized photography has become for celebrating life milestones. Where photography was once simply a service to document the event, it is now seen as a key part of the experience. Wedding photographers play a creative role in helping couples craft their wedding “story” and preserve these memories indefinitely through high-quality portraits and albums. The same is true for Timinit Tsigabu, who married recently.

She has paid 40,000 birr for the wedding photographs and she said that is unforgettable memory for her.

“I used to say wedding photography does not require a specialized skill. I was wrong,” said Timinit.

The boom in wedding photography in Ethiopia’s capital has given rise to higher expectations among couples looking to preserve their special day. But veteran industry players say staying on top amid fast-paced changes brings both opportunities and challenges.

Mekonnen Kassahun, owner of 15-year-old Ambassel Studio, has seen the market transform drastically. “Technology is evolving quicker than ever before, forcing photographers to constantly innovating if they want to compete,” he says.

Yet competition has not lowered prices as one might expect. “Our packages have quadrupled in the last five years alone,” Mekonnen reveals. Where a basic shoot once cost under 50,000 birr, couples now pay up to 200,000 birr for full-day coverage plus a video highlight reel.

The higher rates reflect evolving customer demands as photography assumes a starring role at weddings, according to analysts. But maintaining world-class service requires heavy capital investments. While import duties on cameras were reduced to encourage growth, Mekonnen says shortages remain a hindrance.

“I may be allowed one camera, but running this business means always having backup gear – and upgrading equipment annually as tech changes. On this budget, it’s simply not feasible,” he notes.

However, Mohammed notes another challenge – Ethiopia’s ongoing ban on civilian drone use. “Aerial photography is a huge trend globally and drones allow stunning wedding shots. Not being able to legally import or operate them puts us at a disadvantage.”

He is advocating for regulations that balance safety with opportunities for creative industries.

Yet the disconnect highlights gaps that must be addressed for Ethiopia’s blossoming wedding industry to achieve its full potential – and for pioneers like Mekonnen to stay ahead of the very curve they helped create.

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