The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated economies and destroyed industries all over the world. In Nepal, which went into a lockdown in March this year and is still under restrictions, the pandemic meant an end of thousands of businesses. For some, there might be a chance of a revival but for many others, their doors may have shut forever. Among businesses that do not see any hope of a comeback in the near future, wedding photography—albeit fairly new as an organized industry in Nepal—might soon be a dying art.
When you type ‘Wedding photography in Nepal’ in any search engine or social media, you’ll find a couple of dozen names pop up as suggestions within the first few pages. And then a more thorough search will lead you to at least a 100 or so companies providing wedding photography services, with most of them fully dedicated to clicking weddings.
Such was not the case even a decade ago. It was mostly your local studio photographer covering weddings with a single camera, a photojournalist doing part time-work at weddings, or a family friend with a camera doing the honors. But the concept of having a whole team of photographers dedicated to creating photos and videos of different events within a wedding came only around 10 years ago, say photographers APEX talked to—with companies like Wedding Diary Nepal and Foto Pasal among a few others taking charge. Mixing art and creativity with commerce, the wedding photography companies not only started giving best services to their clients, but also created opportunities for budding photographers and helped them gain financial independence.
Shahnawaz Mohammad, the founder of Wedding Diary Nepal, worked in the Nepali media industry for 12 years before opening his company in 2010.
“First of its kind for photography services in Nepal” is how Wedding Diary Nepal’s introduction reads on its Facebook page, and Mohammad reiterates that the company was indeed one of the frontrunners in wedding photography. With a team of 16 professional photographers, Wedding Diary had built good enough reputation to keep it busy all year, especially during the wedding seasons, before the pandemic took over the world.
“We were looking forward to another busy wedding season this year when the pandemic spoiled all our plans. Everything got cancelled,” Mohammad says. “As we are purely a wedding photography-based company, we have now been out of work for over six months.” Although a pioneer of the business in Nepal, Wedding Diary had already been facing challenges from freelancers, with growing competition in prices, even before the pandemic. The current situation has forced Mohammad to reevaluate the company’s business structure.
“We might now have to start taking small private events and couple shoots as well,” he says. “If that doesn’t work, I am thinking of getting into some other profession. It’s not that I will forfeit this business for good; but this alone may not sustain my livelihood.”
In better days, the 16-member crew of Wedding Diary with their individual gear worth Rs 800,000 to Rs 1 million each were earning enough not only to sustain their lives, but also to make some savings. The savings are still providing for them, Mohammad informs, and the only major loss so far has been having to relocate their office due to rent issues. “We have been fortunate enough to have some savings to tide us over these hard times,” he says. “I think compared to freelancers, it is especially difficult for business owners.”
Pritam Chhetri, owner of Kathmandu Wedding Studio, has not been as fortunate. Originally from Pokhara, Chhetri is a former employee of APEX who quit his photojournalism job in early 2019 to make a full-time career in wedding and event photography. His company, established as a part-time business in March 2018, was barely two-year-old when the pandemic hit Nepal. Starting from ground zero, Chhetri had invested in assets worth millions and created a 14-member team by the start of 2020.
“Now the team has broken up after so many months of being without work. Some have joined other professions or taken up new jobs,” Chhetri says. “Some of my team members even had to sell their equipment to cover their living expenses.”
Kathmandu Wedding Studio was also training a female photographer, a rarity in Nepal, who is now back at her home in Butwal, Chhetri informs.
Chhetri himself had to forfeit his office space and move all equipment to his small rented flat. As the situation gets worse and prospects of getting back to normal appear slim for his business, Chhetri has been trying to extend his portfolio by working in product photography as well as creating presets and plugins for photo-editing softwares.
While many photographers into Events and Wedding photography have started looking for alternatives to the profession, it is not an option for Indian national Param Narain who has been running Wedding Sutra Nepal for three years. Originally from Chandigarh, India, Narain comes from a family of photographers and is the fourth generation in the family to continue the profession. “My family has moved to Mumbai now and my brother and his children are established photographers there,” Narain says.
Narain himself had a successful run in India, also taking professional photos of Bollywood celebrities, before coming to Nepal to start Wedding Sutra. Married to a Nepali, Narain co-owns the company with his local partner Anil Shrestha. Despite the complete disruption in business for over half a year, he is determined not to give up. “Quitting is not an option for me as this is family legacy, and also the only thing I know,” Narain says. “I will wait out the pandemic and I am positive that once it is gone, we will go back to our normal lives.”