With the outlook of the coronavirus finally starting to look a little less ominous, people are beginning to think about life in a post-coronavirus world and reflect on how this time has impacted the world of photography.
At the time of writing, the one week moving average of new cases has been slowly trending downward globally and in the United States. Given that the decline has been much less steep than the increase in cases, I would doubt very seriously that the world is “back to normal” any time soon, but that remains to be seen. Regardless of whether or not the United States is going to see all states or just some of them force reopening, much of the world is ready to at least have some sense of normalcy return to their lives. For me, I will feel like things are normal enough when the parks I like to hike in have reopened and/or Ohio State Medical Center orders us to return to campus for work. Until then, it will continue to feel like the world is at a standstill. With that said though, it seems like many aspects of the photography world have changed a lot and some don’t seem to have changed at all.
To preface my guesses for how the photography world is going to change, I would like to state that my scope is obviously pretty limited. I am a hobbyist photographer with photographer friends that represent a fair range of photographer types. In talking to them, I think I have a decent pulse of what things will look like big picture. That said, I suspect that for others in different parts of the world, things look much different. If so, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
The one thing that every photographer, be them film or digital photographers, professional wedding photographers, hobbyist landscape photographers, or literally any other type have in common is the need for retail businesses. That is, we all need a place to buy our cameras, lenses, accessories, film, etc. Places like B&H and Adorama will still be standing when all of this is properly said and done but local shops may be a different story entirely.
Here in Columbus, OH, the local camera shop I prefer has closed up for all in-person sales but still has an online store front and are still shipping. The other camera shop in town that I don’t much care for is for some reason still open as though nothing is going on. Truth be told, I’m not sure if they could get in trouble for still being open. Since I don’t own a shop nor do I have a close friend who owns a small retail business, I have no idea what the stimulus package will look like for them and if it will help get through what is undoubtedly a rough time. My hope is that most all, if not all, camera shops are open when the smoke clears but part of me believes that is a naive expectation. Indeed, small shops like my local used camera shop that has continued to stay open through everything may not truly recover from the damage done and they may well not even be open for that much longer. An event such as the COVID-19 pandemic has further distanced the “big guys” who have had a strong online presence and operating warehouses from the “little guys” who rely on local business to get by.
Much like retail stores, there are some big players like the Darkroom Lab, the Find Lab, Camacita Lab, etc. that are still open and processing film at a close to normal clip. Other film labs around the country are generally smaller and without the infrastructure to operate through the pandemic via online or mail business. I acknowledge that most people on Fstoppers are not typically shooting film but it’s there are a fair amount that are.
I am furthest from this world, only knowing a few people that have made a living out of this photography exclusively so I’m the least confident in these guesses. As such, I’m borrowing heavily from friends and their guesses. I could see this going one of two ways, business will either be worse or better – not going back to the way it was. To paraphrase Damian, business may be better when the lesser experienced photographers did not have the customer base to rebound as well, leaving more business available to the more experienced photographers. Business could, however, get a good deal worse if the lesser experienced photographers become more desperate for business and willing to charge way below any their competition just to secure work – ultimately undermining industry pricing to compensate for work which is less competitive on merit.
While the pandemic is still going on and I, and others like me, remain under a stay at home order, some portrait photographers have a more difficult time finding people to work with. At least one person I can think of has pivoted to selling prints in favor of in-person portrait sessions. I’m not sure just how many portrait and wedding photographers have pivoted to other outlets to drum up business but I must say that it quite inspiring.
There are very few events in this world that leave such a strong imprint in our lives. For me and my friends that grew up in and around the Atlanta, GA area in 1996, the Olympics remains a major reference point for who is our age or older and who is young. On a much larger scale, 9-11 was a moment in time that everyone in the United States who is old enough remembers (I don’t think I’ve ever felt so aged as I did when I realized that almost all of my students in college class weren’t even a year old when it happened). Now, with people around the globe affected by COVID-19, we as a people will never forget the indelible impact this virus has had on the world. For me, I’ve undertaken a few projects on my house and a couple photography projects. Namely, I’ve got my RB out of the house and have taken on our walks around neighborhood with the dog. Before it’s all over, I hope to have a couple major projects for Fstoppers completed.
If you have any predictions for how things will pan out, I'd love to hear what you think. If photography is how you make a living, I wish you all the best during these hard times and in rebounding after things settle out.