How Do You Think COVID-19 Will Change Photography? Here Are My Guesses

How Do You Think COVID-19 Will Change Photography? Here Are My Guesses

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. 

Retail

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. 

Film Labs

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. 

Self-Employed Photographers

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. 

Conclusion

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.
 

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23 Comments

Michael Dougherty's picture

This really is a huge issue, and not particularly good. For sports photographers, most sporting events are delayed and may not be back for a year or two and this represents really expensive equipment. For wedding and social event photographers, smart phones will make further headway. I've even heard advertising is down which will affect food and similar types of photography. People that use image content, are stuck at home and may just discover cheaper suppliers of content elsewhere. Older advanced amateurs like myself can no longer go on bucket list trips and spend a bunch of money on trips and equipment until Covig-19 is sorted out. At 70, I'm a little upset because I only have about 10 years of active life left and am in the process of wasting 2 of them. As the older photographers age-out, this is going to become an ever bigger problem for the photographic industry.

In short, I think things will change a lot more than people realize. I hope I'm wrong.

James Madison's picture

I didn't even think of sports photographers - I don't know any either. I bet they've been hit quite hard. Do you really think smart phones will make any more headway in weddings? I would think that just as soon as weddings start back up again, the photographers will be there in just the same way as before.

VINICIUS YUZO ZUCARELI's picture

I think people will be more reluctant to spend as much on weddings. In general people will have less money and even those who do have may opt to make bigger savings, spending less in non-essential services like photography.

So, not iPhone photography but probably cheaper photographer or simpler packages.

James Madison's picture

Perhaps. I only know one couple planning a wedding and it isn't for months so they are still in their contract with the photographer they booked last year.

Given the wedding industry in the US, I doubt spending significantly less on a wedding is much of an option. Perhaps someone could go with a less expensive photographer to save some money but that's just one dimension.

Marcus Joyce's picture

This could go two ways. Even though it's a global thing a recession could be brutal or it could just turn back on as it was. If companies can cut costs and can have some forgiveness. Example if you have a restaurant in a $10,000/month rental, how would it make sense that you would be evicted? Who has the money to take over the property? Who has a business plan to use a retail unit when people are not allowed to travel?

Camera companies could just write off large projects with the stroke of a pen to stop the money. The prosumer DSL is dead. No holidays no school sports no recitals nothing. No reason to buy a better camera.

Michael I know it's tough. But have you thought of what else you could take photos of locally? Maybe expand to printing them on a relatively low cost printer? Photography for me has become more important. Proper high quality imaging. When in 20-40 years time people look back and will know what happened and how it happened. But they won't know what people did our how they coped what their routine was (yes there's deeply edited 4k YouTube videos so far from the truth) so on and so forth.

Sports. Wedding(and baptism and other religious activities). Events. Travel. All decimated.

Car sales in Ireland we sold 280 cars. It's down 94%.

Gardening and DIY up through the roof. As is food stores.

Clothing if you didn't move online - dead.

Michael Dougherty's picture

James Madison ..... Two months ago (just before Covig-19) I went to a 250 person, formal wedding in the hills above Orange County ($$$$$) at an outdoor wedding venue including 2 pro photographers and a lot of alcohol. Their images were very professional and I'm sure the parents and immediate family will cherish them forever. But all the attendees also dragged out their iPhones and were shooting everything in sight, serious and fun/stupid. Guess which images were posted on social media immediately and talked about the most? Answer ... fun/stupid. Guess what images people are still talking about? Answer ... fun/stupid. (I understand that the highest tier of society will take the pro photography more seriously.)

Unfortunately, many people will "give away" their work for fear of running out of money. However, I think that you can deal with a lot of publicity on social media and be more active than ever. I work in Weddings and now I will dedicate myself to the commercial segment to make videos and photographs. The future is not encouraging but you do not have to duck your head, those with a calm mind and strong character will survive these moments, it is not good to despair. The Streaming business can be an ally, you have to try several alternatives and see the opportunity to enter another business without hindering your activities. Greetings from Bolivia!

James Madison's picture

I could see that. I've definitely noticed an uptick in the social media posts from some of the full time photographers I follow. Some of whom are expanding or pivoting what they do into something more viable through these trying times.

Daniel Medley's picture

Our local brick and mortar has remained open, but enforcing pretty strict 6 foot distancing, and offering curbside pickup. Long ago, they embraced and developed an online presence so have always been able to compete with the B&Hs and Adoramas. They actively adapted to the marketplace.

A couple of weeks ago I went to this store and purchased a lens and a light stand. They told me that they've actually noticed a slight uptick in business; most of it coming from online orders and curbside pickup.

Another thing I've noticed: I rent studio space from a large studio. There are, perhaps, 50 other photographers who rent space here. There are 3 shooting rooms in this studio. For about 6 weeks, there were hardly any spaces/times reserved on the calendar. I didn't shoot there for nearly 8 weeks. I put out the word on social media that I was going to begin booking limited studio sessions beginning May 1. Within a couple of days I had all the bookings I cared to have for the month of May and booked them on the studio calendar. I'm glad I did then because just a couple days later, almost all of May was booked with shoots from various photographers.

James Madison's picture

Sounds like your area is still rolling strong throughout all of this. That's great to hear. Hopefully it stays that way as we gear up to try and return to normalcy.

Daniel Medley's picture

Sort of. Things were pretty limited until May 1. I chose to make myself more separated than many.

Nikon, Panasonic, Leica, Hasselblad will go out of business. Phase One will become a Software company.

That’s about it. Everything else are just blimps.

It has had, is having and will continue to have a MASSIVE impact on the $1trillion + global events industry and all the '000s of photographers who cover that. I run a medium size event photography agency out of Amsterdam, NL and everything has been cancelled since late February. No events to take place of any sort of size before September earliest. Conferences, trade shows, symposiums, corporate events, meetings of all sizes, gala events, dinners, parties, exhibitions, concerts, PR events, cultural & sporting events, conventions, congresses ... you name it; it is CANCELLED.

That's billions of dollars of potential revenue for photographers sucked out of our wallets which never materialises. This is money that won't ever exist and will not be spent on new equipment or accessories for the entire photographic ecosystem.

As for the future? It looks, sadly, nearly as bad for some time to come. I don't estimate any real recovery before 2022 and even then I estimate the market will be significantly down for some years to come - or at least until there's a COVID-19 vaccine and social distancing are two words we have despatched to the bad dream that was 2020.

Why? If you are an event photographer you will understand why. No client wants photos of people wearing masks. No client want photos of half empty conference halls. No clients want photos of people socially distancing. Every single brief I have received over the past 10 years says the exact opposite of this. We want full rooms, busy rooms, networking shots, people engaged with one another, happy people having a good time, business being done. When people are wary of one another and social trust is gone? Nobody wants those photos.

Get into the reluctance of people to travel for non-essential reasons, companies reluctant to finance that, massive pressures on corporate bottom lines, higher costs for travel in the future and different ways of doing business (Zoom meetings etc) and you are looking at a really grim outlook for the kind of internationally oriented events I cover 80% of the time. We are most likely looking at a period of de-globalisation for some years to come. The planet may breathe a sigh of relief. That's your silver lining.

What to do? Pivot has been my word for a while now. I am using this precious time to re-assess, re-evaluate my priorities and think about how I can get into other areas of photography and maybe even get out of it all together. I am encouraging the 12 members of my team to do the same. We are all going through tough times but we are all alive, all have roofs over our heads, all have food in our stomachs and so we are lucky.

This is not the end of the world. This is the beginning of a whole new world.

James Madison's picture

Thanks for the well thought out input! Did I understand correctly that you're considering getting out of photography all together? And encouraging your colleagues to do the same?

I am considering all options at this juncture. I am trying to encourage all my colleagues to explore all their options as well. That may include pursuing other photographic avenues out of events, may include transitioning into video or it may include getting out of the freelance world. It may also include getting out of a massively over-supplied market where it is tough - even in the best of times (such as we've had in recent years) - to make a good living. I'm lucky; I've worked hard to achieve a living for myself in photography. A living that I thought until about 10 weeks ago was sustainable. Not so much anymore.

I'm an event photographer here in Denver, USA. Focus mostly on corporate events, conventions, expos and such. I hear ya. It's going to be a long road before event work becomes available (much less a priority for budgets),,, I also do product photography (about 1/4 of my income) and had thought that at least that aspect of my business would stay strong. I figured more people shopping online, more businesses starting online presence, etc... BUT so far nothing. Even that aspect of my business had completely died for over two months now.

On the upside: those photographers who are able to survive another 6-12 months without going out of business I think will have greatly reduce competition. So many photographers who are not 100% committed are going to go bankrupt, give up, take new career paths or simply decide this kind of unpredictable income just isn't for them.... Those of us still left in the business can then flourish with less competition (at least that's what I'm telling myself to keep spirits up). :)

Tony Clark's picture

I specialize in Food and Lifestyle images and moved from the Atlanta area back to Nashville over the holidays. A large Restaurant Group contacted me about a rebranding project but there were delays and then a tornado hit and then the virus. I know that they want a change and I seem to be the Agency’s choice.

Right after the tornado, I challenged myself and was booked for a large youth hockey tournament and the response was very good. I even had a client ask me to shoot short video which I was reluctant to do. But, after a crash course and a few experiments I was happy with the results and they mentioned it would be an ongoing gig.

I believe the Commercial Clients will want to get back to producing work but the middle class will get squeezed by the low ballers and amateur photographers. This is not an Industry for the faint of heart, if you’re not adapting you will get run out or run over.

Can I illuminate the positive here?

Maybe this is a time to go and capture things based on emptiness. Had you ever wanted to photograph a city and wish it were empty. At this very moment in time, it's possible. Emphasis on architecture.

Had I ever wondered what'd be like to take a clearer shot of the moon? I sure did. With the lack of air pollution, it's possible, right? Maybe we can call our next full moon, the COVID moon, a clarity that's only achieved once every pandemic.

Now, mind you, I am not in favor of, or hope for, pandemics. WHO would be ( all pun intended :) )? But let's take this baby out for a spin while it's here. And maybe, just maybe, you'll find something new to photograph.

Maybe this time period will afford you Nat Geo or Life Mag like photographs you always wanted to capture... Isn't now the time to expand your street photography, journalize a protest. They are abundant.

What will life be like when things get out from under the mask of fear? I am not sure frankly. Some think not so promising.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard over recent years, "The Cell Phones Are Coming! The Cell Phones Are Coming!" Why should this time period or the aftermath be any different? It's not.

Where is the industry going? I could not answer that either. But, if the need for the professional photographer changes / shrinks, that actually may be the opportunity. Personally, whilst I am not a wedding photographer, let alone have no clue how to shoot them, I cannot see too many couples abandoning the chance to use a professional photographer in trade of drunk cell phones. Wedding photos taken by cell phones are saved as backgrounds covered by icons; whereas professionally taken photos are framed and hung on walls as milestones and memories.

As for sports. They will return. And maybe it'd be different this time. That just might be a good thing. Less fans in the stands, less obstacles. I can tell you quite a few times when I sat in spots where there weren't to many patrons, I could get up closer, lean over a fence by the dugout, to capture da boyz watching the game with concern in their eyes...

I think, after this is over, our online footprint will reduce. We will be out and about more, away from social networks and on to real socialization, taking back what we lost a while back as a society, less fragmented. Let's capture that.

All I am saying is, keep an open eye and an open mind. Find the next opportunity. Because if we keep on photographing, that translates to need, and may just keep this industry afloat.

and so it goes.

Robert Herrera's picture

I'm already seeing the worse. I'm in a small town, where the only real photography market right now is with booking h.s. senior sessions. A local teacher, part time weekend warrior photographer, started offering free photo sessions to all h.s. seniors.. she devalued the local market and made it harder for other photographers to charge for their services.

somebody needs to go and have a quiet word with that weekend warrior.

I would say that is an issue. And I know what it's like. I am a programmer by trade / skill. And when most of the jobs were being sent overseas, it was practically impossible to find work, especially freelancing...

For me I suppose I was fortunate, had to look harder to find someone who would employ me at a salary I could live with. grateful that I found something.

So, I very much feel for you

Getting hit by the outsourcing bug, bit hard.

I think that 2 to 3 years from now, it'll be business as usual. Maybe even sooner.

Bruce Hargrave's picture

Perhaps the backlash to this is that potential clients will value photographs of their loved ones more highly? Many of us will have lost relatives to this virus, or know someone who has. Will people be wishing that they had a great, hi-res picture of their mother, grandmother, uncle etc. that they could get printed up, big, nicely framed and hung on the wall?

Yes, they'll probably have some candid pics on their phone that they can get printed in Wallmart, but they might visit a friend who has framed, professionally photographed wall art in their home and start to wonder 'what if?'.