The pandemic has been one of the most impactful events in the lifetimes of most that are alive today. It has been singular and brutal, affecting people, businesses, and infrastructure. Whether you're a professional photographer or a hobbyist, it undoubtedly changed the status quo for you, but how?
One conversation has prompted two long-form articles from me, and you're reading one of them. This conversation was with an acquaintance who was curious how my business survived COVID-19. This wasn't explicitly what they said, but I suspect that was what was driving the questions and I don't blame them for wondering: I wonder how many small and medium-sized businesses survived such a sharp and unexpected loss of business.
Photographers were affected more than most, unfortunately. Varies studies and questionnaires reported that as high as 99% of photographers surveyed had been negatively impacted, some ceasing work altogether, such as newborn photographers. This downturn was reflected in the camera industry, with leading manufacturers recognizing "extraordinary losses," and mirrorless camera sales taking a hit of up to 75% at its worst. Whether you're a hobbyist enjoying creating portraits of friends and family, or one of the biggest camera manufacturers in the world, nobody escaped unscathed. I want to focus on the photographers, however.
As much as the pandemic has been a test of a business's preparedness for disaster (to really an unrealistic degree), it was also a forced period of reflection in which many of us had to reassess our positions and our craft. In this article, I'm going to go over how the pandemic affected my approach to photography as a business, but also as a craft I enjoy.
The Impact on My Photography Business
There is no way of skirting around the fact that my business suffered severely. How could it not? The problem was twofold: firstly, I couldn't conduct most shoots due to lockdown and restrictions. Secondly, most businesses were affected adversely and could not afford to prioritize photography. For most businesses, photography isn't a necessity, and in times of crisis or lowered income, it will drop the bottom of the priority list.
So, what actually happened? Getting new clients into a so much as a conversation became markedly more difficult, and so, my pipeline became more sparse. What was already in my pipeline put the work on the back burner for the foreseeable future, save for a handful that continued with the work as before. (The latter group was hiring me for shoots that could be done in my home studio.) Finally, my regular clients — the ones where I would shoot for on location — had to keep pushing the scheduled date back by 4-6 weeks until it was feasible. This continued for a year. Direct income from photography diminished significantly and suddenly, and to make matters worse — even if just psychologically — it happened off the back of a period of high growth. Fortunately for me — very fortunately — I had always been interested in developing multiple revenue streams for peace of mind as much as anything, and this helped.
So, how did it change my approach to my photography business? The most expected way is that I knew I had to cultivate multiple revenue streams. While a global disaster is difficult to prepare for, a personal disaster is far more likely and can result in many of the same effects. The less expected way is that I changed my approach to which clients I work with. I no longer take any and all jobs that come near my rates, and I don't take on clients that are clearly going to be difficult. Most importantly, I heavily prioritize clients that are a pleasure to work with and don't cause me headaches with invoice payments or moving goalposts.
The Impact on My Photography
In all honesty, I didn't expect much of an impact on my photography, by which I mean my craft. I didn't imagine that multiple lockdowns, travel restrictions, and a change in financial circumstances would reflect in how or what I shoot, but it did. I'm not certain I fully understand why I have changed my approach to photography, but there are a few key ways I have.
The first and most impactful change has been my interest in shooting whatever the hell I like. I had spent a long time attempting to narrow my focus and specialize in areas, despite having a broad love for photography and its many genres. In a working capacity, there is no doubt that's a smart move, but outside your portfolio, I'm not so sure. Perhaps it was the advent of a drone to my arsenal that made me realize I love taking all sorts of photographs and should lean into it more. Whatever the case, since the pandemic and not being able to shoot my usual subjects, I have resumed the widest possible scope of subjects.
Conversely, I have also stopped taking my camera absolutely everywhere. I used to ensure I had it with me even on trips I knew it wouldn't leave my bad and this became a tiresome relationship. I felt compelled to lug my camera around "just in case," and then, I would resent the fact I hadn't taken any shots. Or, I would force myself to take shots during uninspiring days out, just to try to improve at my craft, and I'm not sure the returns were worth it. So, rather unexpectedly, I now only take my camera with me when I want to shoot something. Make of that what you will.
What Impact Has the Pandemic Had on Your Photography or Business?
I have heard a whole host of ways in which the last few years have changed photographers, their photography, and their businesses. Some gained the time to pour more effort into their craft and now shoot far more frequently, particularly as hobbyists. Some, unfortunately, shuttered their businesses and had to seek other ways to make ends meet. For many, it's somewhere in between, and whether you're a professional, semi-professional, or a hobbyist, I want to hear how the pandemic has changed the photography side of your life. Share your experience in the comment section below.
Lead image by Alena Darmel via Pexels.