What Would You Do If You Were Unable to Work?

What Would You Do If You Were Unable to Work?

Have you ever wondered what would happen to your business if you were unable to work? I talked to one such photographer about his experience with a near catastrophic injury, and the fallout surrounding it in regards to his business.

Professional Organization

It took me over a year to apply for a Licentiateship with the Irish Professional Photographers and Videographers Association (IPPVA). Because I was so green in the business, I was hesitant to dive in at first, but an excellent article by Fstoppers’ Tommy Feisel back in June gave me the little nudge that I needed. I was awarded my Licentiateship in late July of this year, and the experience so far has been nothing but positive, and, at times, heart-warming. When I started my business I didn’t really know any photographers. I knew one or two at the same level as I, but if I needed advice on more complex matters I felt a little bit lost. My, at times, extreme introversion made it difficult for me to make initial steps to get to know other pros in my area. This all changed when I joined the IPPVA. It opened me up a little and the camaraderie within is amazing, even though, at this stage, I had not yet met any of them in the flesh.

Before the start of this college year, I had a sudden panic come over me with regard to up-skilling. I figured that in order to be where I wanted, I should take some formal education. After wracking my brain for a while, I tentatively put the question to the organization’s Facebook group. I was a little overwhelmed by the response. Everyone was very kind and generous in their advice. Also, it was a resounding “No”. I went with the advice of my peers, and I’m delighted that I did. If it were not for that, I wouldn’t be writing this from the South African bush. Not only that, but one of the senior members, Neil Warner; a Master Qualified European Photographer and a gentleman to boot, offered himself as a mentor to me.  

Then, in October last, I had the opportunity to see some of my peers in the flesh at a meet-up. It was a short affair with some general discussions and a few photo critiques. What really grabbed my attention, though, was the story of the member who was giving his advice and critiques to the crowd.

A Cautionary Tale

commercial image of a coffee shop taken in an airport

Commercial image for Lavazza by Corin Bishop.

Corin Bishop runs a successful commercial, portrait, and wedding photography business from the west of Ireland. He’s involved in the running of the IPPVA and his expertise and advice is highly regarded among the organization’s members. However, Bishop’s attendance at this meet-up was not a foregone conclusion because, as he explained to us, several weeks beforehand, while playing with his kids in the local skate park — and being a big kid, himself — he decided to make a maneuver that maybe wasn’t in his wheelhouse. He fell flat on his back. In his own words: he felt, and left, a crack. Thankfully, he could feel all his limbs, and after a visit to the emergency department, he was diagnosed with a fractured shoulder. But, despite his best efforts to get the doctors to examine his spine more closely, he was sent home in a sling. A week and a half later he went back to the A & E, this time walking out of there in a back brace; he had, in fact, fractured his spine.

He was told not to work and to come back again for a consultation in seven days. But even though this happened just after peak wedding season, what followed was an anxiety ridden week because what lay ahead for him was covered in a shroud uncertainty. Many worrisome questions entered his head. What if he couldn’t work again? Will his business go under? Will he get any assistance from the government? How will his family cope? I can’t imagine the torment that this brought, and my heart goes out to anyone in this situation.

Photograph of a bride and groom in a forest.

Wedding photography by Corin Bishop.

After he notified his photographer friends — including members of the IPPVA — he was swamped with messages of support and offers to help out with any upcoming weddings. On the advice of some of his peers, he notified his insurance company of his situation. They explained to him that if his doctor said that he couldn’t work, then they could not cover him. He was shocked. After a brief but significant panic about his weddings at the end of the month, he remember his other insurance policies. Surely something would cover him. Then came another shock to the system: none of his policies could cover him; not life insurance, critical illness, house insurance, or professional insurance. He thought that this couldn’t be right. There must be a policy that covers income if one is unable to work through injury. As he found out, there is one, but at roughly $280 dollars per month, at the cheapest — bear in mind that this is on top of all his other policies — it just would not be option for him — or most people, for that matter.

Finally, after a weeks wait, his consultant informed him that his fracture would heal and that there would be no long term issues. The feeling of relief must have been overwhelming. In just 6-12 weeks he would be out of the brace. And, after 6 weeks, if he felt strong enough, he could return to driving and, more importantly, he could get back to work.

Photograph of a man using an engineering machine.

Image for an engineering company by Corin Bishop

A few weeks after his diagnosis he was able to do a wedding with help from a colleague. Everything eventually got back on track, and, due to all his downtime, he decided start mentoring other photographers on a more formal basis than he he had previously been doing. Not only can he help other professionals improve their images and their businesses, but offering formal services like this gives him something to fall back on if something like this ever happens again.

As of now, Bishop is out of his back brace for over a week and his recovery is going well. His advice to other photographers is simple: save some money for an emergency fund, join a professional organization, and take advantage of any mentoring. 

How has being part of a professional organization helped you? 

Lead Image by Niklas Hamann via Unsplash. All other images used with permission from Corin Bishop.


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Steve White's picture

I'm an amateur photographer. In real life I'm a physician. Every doctor I know carries disability insurance as protection for this exact issue -- inability to work in one's profession due to injury or illness. The good policies are not cheap and the cheap policies are not very good. But if you make your living based on your skills and knowledge you should have some sort of disability insurance in addition to life, business, liability, etc.

Mike O'Leary's picture

Solid advice. Thanks, Steve!

aurèle brémond's picture

spending few hundreds buck every month to make sure you won't ever live in the street is always a good spending !

Louis Tinsley's picture

This is always a huge fear of mine.

Paul Scharff's picture

I found a solution: grow old! As I near retirement and begin (or at least attempt) to slow down my business, it becomes way less of an issue than it would have been 10 or 20 years ago.

Dana Goldstein's picture

Maybe you shouldn’t lead an article like this with an image from Unsplash, which is making it harder for photographers to relicense images and continue making passive income from their work at a point in life when they would rather not have to shoot constantly. Or, as in the case here, when injury or other ill-health may prevent their activity.

JetCity Ninja's picture

this. while being a bit annoying to see this opinion posted constantly in the comments sections, it's still valid and frustrating it's yet to be heeded. this is a site by and for photographers, yet some photographers blogging here either lack any relevant images in their own catalog to use, or they refuse to support their fellow photographers by using photos they've purchased the rights to.

hell, you could even go through the members catalogs on this site, or directly to a member's own site, and simply ask to use it in exchange for "exposure." yeah, it's been complained about repeatedly in blog posts here, but it's better than using unsplash. at the absolute very least, you got permission to repost photos from the subject of your blog post, but you couldn't offer the same courtesy to the photographer who created your lead-in image?

if i had something on unsplash and a website editor made the effort to ask my permission despite their being entitled to just take it, i know it'd make me feel noticed, appreciated, and most of all, respected.

sorry, but using photos from unsplash while promoting and encouraging others to support fellow photographers, or posting opinions about the declining state of the industry is pure hypocrisy. you're devaluing your own peers by contributing to unsplash's growth.

or maybe certain blogging photogs here don't care because, as far as they're concerned, "they got theirs."

Dana Goldstein's picture

Exactly. You would think with the “community” they’re trying to create here, they could put the word out, “Hey we have an article about ___ coming out and need a ___ type image. Got one? We can only pay ___ (which should be an actual amount, since they’re managing to pay the writers), but we will also feature it and credit you.” It’s not like they’re starting from scratch around here.

Kristian Walker's picture

I lost nearly six months of work to cancer; surgeries and 9 weeks of chemotherapy followed by weeks of recovery. I started back to work around March of this year and I'm still struggling to rebuild the business I lost. Get disability insurance as Steve White here counsels. You never know what's going to take you out.

Mike O'Leary's picture

Thanks for sharing your story, Kristian. Good to hear that you're back on your feet.

John McMahon's picture

Great article Mike and it was great to meet you.....please God we'll cross paths again soon.
Corin is a true Legend!

Mike O'Leary's picture

Thanks, John. It was a pleasure to meet you too! It's very comforting to see the comradery within the organisation, and being a part of it, even for just a couple of montha, has genuinely helped me. Looking forward to getting to know everyone a bit more.