The COVID-19 Pandemic Is Shutting Down the Photography Industry on Every Scale

The 2019 novel Corona virus has been hitting industries hard, and it is not sparing creative industries. 

2020 has been off to quite a bad start, and this pandemic is taking over entire industries. First, it hit tourism, of course, especially China and neighboring countries. It expanded to shipping, which basically affects every other industry automatically. In recent weeks, we've seen a lot of photography events and trade shows get canceled, including CP+, NAB show, The Photography Show, and many more. This has affected brand releases and marketing efforts, and obviously, though it affects us, that's the least of our concerns right now.

Wuhan sits at the heart of mainland China and is a hub for transportation and export from nearby provinces. (Screen cap from Google Maps)

COVID19 was first reported in Wuhan, China at the end of 2019, and it didn't seem as big of a concern for the rest of the world at the time, but epidemiologists clearly sent out warnings of how far this transmission can go. Wuhan is/was a hub for international travel from many peripheral Chinese provinces, and the repercussions of that fact is that the growth of transmission has been virus very fast.

Shipping and Manufacturing

One of the ways this situation affects the photography industry on a massive scale is how it is now beginning to affect sales of camera gear. Nikon just announced delays in the Nikon D6, and many more are expected to follow. Now, this might not be as significant to many of us since we can all survive the year without upgrading to the next mirrorless monster, but definitely, with all the factories shutting down, people who make a living out of selling these will run out of things to sell, because shipping has been delayed or because the factory itself was shut down. That's already an entire segment affected by this virus without even being in contact with anyone infected. 

Tours and Workshops

Obviously, another way that the virus is affecting the industry is through cancellation of workshops and tours. As advised by the World Health Organization (WHO), we should all avoid any public gatherings that aren’t really necessary. This simply reduces the chances of transmission of the virus by mere proximity.

Photo by Glenn Santiago

Respected photographer Elia Locardi has already canceled all of his events until the month of April and said that things might be pushed back even further if things continue to get worse. Read about his side of this story on his blog. It would not be any surprise if many more photographers and event organizers follow this trend, and though it might be unfortunate not just to them but to their attendees, practicing caution and prevention will definitely help all of us get through this.

The Microscopic Level

The biggest and probably worst way that this global phenomenon is affecting the industry would have to be how all the cancellations are affecting freelance photographers. This is a developing situation in Asia in particular, but we can expect this happening on the other side of the world as well if things do not improve in the next couple of months.

Advertising and commercial projects may or may not be affected at this level depending on how big the involved production team may be and how they see the situation, but one way or another, some projects will get delayed at the very least, and it will become at least an inconvenience to the people involved.

Photojournalists are probably the ones, as usual, who are most at risk, and this time, that is even more amplified. Photojournalists go where the news is happening, and obviously, where the news is happening is where the people are. The bigger conundrum in this situation is the fact that most of the news pieces are related to COVID19, and there lies the dilemma that they have to choose between protecting themselves and making a living. It comes to a point where that becomes a black or white choice. Probably second to all the healthcare professionals, the brave photojournalists are at the front lines of this situation not just because they are literally where the news is, but also because the spread of information (accurately) to the public is ultimately vital. So, it would be in the best interest of photojournalists to protect themselves with masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). More importantly, loading up on vitamins, getting good sleep, and proper nutrition will protect them more than anything. (Forgive me for showing my healthcare professional side on this one.)

Street photographer and photojournalist Lyndon Aguila captured this photo of the Philippines capital of Manila, with people wearing masks on their daily commute.

Probably those most affected are the event and wedding photographers, simply because they are those whose schedules are affected by the trends of the general public. And because the general public is already taking preventive precautions, almost all events, whether personal, family, or corporate are being canceled or at least postponed.

Birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, religious events, concerts, weddings, product launches, and corporate events are being canceled, and in all of those, the photographers and videographers are all affected.

Through a personal survey on social media, I asked photographer friends about how badly they have been affected by this just for the entire month of March. This perspective comes from the Philippines, which had very minimal number of cases of COVID until this week, so imagine how bad it might be for countries that are affected more significantly, like Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and the like.

Answers from my contacts ranged from 4 to up to 12 event cancellations just for the month of March. That may not be too significant by number since there are 31 days in the month, but if you consider the fact that some of these events take 2 to 3 days and that the majority of events, especially weddings and family gatherings, are held on weekends, that could mean that many photographers will have almost no income for the entire month. What’s worse is that clients have also been canceling events up to May or June. Some have even resorted to selling their gear to have something to pay the bills with. Just imagine the financial strain this could be putting on photographers. 

What Can We Do?

This particular situation isn’t something we could have prevented, but its impacts on the lives of everyone can be suppressed. We can help the community minimize any further complications by following all preventive measures mandated by credible health agencies. We can help minimize the mass hysteria by using our networks to battle misinformation and fake news and providing compelling images as visual aids. Lastly, we can help one another by sharing resources, projects, and opportunities, especially those who are hit worse by the impacts of COVID19. As humans, as artists and creatives, as photographers with any form of social influence, we can play a role to help our industry and society in general.

Lead image by John Denry Salazar. All photos shared with permission.

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53 Comments

Mark Wyatt's picture

I am still taking pictures (film and digital), consuming film and getting processing done.

Bernie Bros's picture

Who cares, are you going to use photo paper in the bathroom? Priorities my man! Get out and find some toilet paper!

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

LOL well said

Mark Wyatt's picture

I may have to. No toilet paper in the stores. Situation is developing.

T Van's picture

Another issue I didn't see mentioned is quarantines. Pretty big obstacle to continuing to work as normal much longer. Missouri family violated a self quarantine and are now under house arrest effectively. There are potential fines as well.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

You're right. Even if you don't get infected, the 14 day self-quaratine already means a lot of loss.

mike shelby's picture

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Indy Thomas's picture

Events and associated jobs that go along with them are being cancelled nationwide. Weddings, anniversaries, corporate meetings, conventions etc.
These are businesses of the self employed or micro businesses with two or three employees. There is no idea how to help small businesses like this as the government is focused on "small businesses" of 50-500 people and groups with political power.

Sanctimony about having reserves of 6 months revenue or income is a fantasy that even large corporations do not adhere to.

The sad fact is that the party in the WH is the same party that made it their mission to blame the housing collapse on people "Who should not have been buying houses". As the business model they embrace is one of personal responsibility and victim blaming we can expect scant help from them.
So those in small businesses who already know how hard it is will be getting a dose of what others in small businesses went through in previous downturns.
Wall St. got paid. Main St. got screwed.

Bernie Bros's picture

The community reinvestment act forced banks to make loans that otherwise wouldn’t qualify to people in areas with high minority populations. The banks figured out how to offload that risk.

It always seems the ideologue, typically with a simpleton’s knowledge of an issue, manages to summon the greatest “virtue signaling” outrage.

Erpillar Bendy's picture

^ Witness the political troll with the wilfully deceptive political name sowing racist resentment on the Internet. This is definitely no "Bernie Bro[s]" — singular or plural — or anything to do with Bernie.

T Scarb's picture

You are also a political troll... so watch where you point that hypocrite finger of yours...

Erpillar Bendy's picture

Hmmm ... why do you call me a political troll / hypocrite? Evidence?

Alex Yakimov's picture

Thanks Nicco. You’ve mentioned:
“So, it would be in the best interest of photojournalists to protect themselves with masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). More importantly, loading up on vitamins, getting good sleep, and proper nutrition will protect them more than anything. (Forgive me for showing my healthcare professional side on this one.)“
I am in the same med business as well, mate.
I have to agree on nutrition and sleep. Wash hands fo 20-30 sec thoroughly. I have no evidence that masks are crucial (only to stop the spread if you are sick) and vitamins isa whole different story...

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Masks aren't required in private places but if you are exposed to crowds then masks are a must not just to prevent inhalation of respiratory droplets but also to keep us from touching our faces with our fomite-exposed hands.
Vitamins boost our immunity. That's a scientifically proven fact.

Kate Hallberg's picture

Masks don’t help. People wear and dispose of them incorrectly. The majority of masks people wear aren’t the level necessary to do more than look dumb and make them rebreathe their exhalations so everything smells bad. The virus may live a long time on surfaces so they may be lulled into false complacency by a mask and be at greater risk.

When I saw someone in their car alone wearing a mask I knew I was surrounded by idiots . Or misinformation.

Lawrence S's picture

Masks have more use for people working with patients during 18hr shifts or people working in the food industry who can't stop working either. Most people wearring the mask are ignoring the advice from the Health Department and virologists so they contaminate themselves anyway by not thinking it through all the way - I've heard of people taking the mask off and putting the same one on their child. My country is asking the public to bring in all their masks. And they do. Some have a couple lying around, others donates their whole professional supply - like a medium sized painting business did. Women are sewing new masks together at a 1000 a day per person. A gin brewery has adapted their machines to produce pure alcohol to be used in the hospitals as sanitizers. The difference in the people who go by "f*ck everybody else, I'm buying all the toilet paper and tomato sauce I can get my hands on" vs the people doing whatever they can to prevent more damage to the people and the country is huge. The cynical part is that that small group of ***holes will make everything worse for everybody and make the pandemic last longer.

Deleted Account's picture

"What can we do?"

Let the whole monstrosity collapse.

Ed Mulholland's picture

Very tough right now, as a freelance sports photographer covering professional sports, I've in effect lost 100% of my work for the foreseeable future...

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

hang in there, man.

Arthur q's picture

Enjoy the holiday.
Avoid crowds, wash your hands, don't touch your face.

Your government is not responsible for your personal safety, you are.

Become a landscape photographer and sell panoramas.

Timothy Roper's picture

You mean I won't be able to buy a new camera and get on a plane to go take exotic pictures? What will I do? How will I survive? I guess maybe I could drive--again--to the Grand Canyon. But who wants pictures of that place?

David Pavlich's picture

I'll still take pictures, but it has had an affect on my shooting. I was supposed to shoot a Culture Day event at a local Jr. High, but classes have been cancelled for the next couple of weeks, so the Culture Day has been cancelled as well. :-(

Julien Jarry's picture

Every industry.....

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

true

Robert Feliciano's picture

If you're mid-tier in your field and clients are hoping to save money, it could be a good time to pick up clients. Don't lower your prices, but raise your level of jobs/clients.

James Lane's picture

Hasn't affected us film and wet plate photographers and printers as much. We had all stocked up anyway before January due to Kodak announcing a price increase due to investing in more production capacity. And Ilford, Adox, Rollei, Foma and Fuji film factories are still open. Also we either develop our film ourselves or send in the post to a lab.

Most analogue photographers have only been hit by the cancelled workshops. Otherwise we're happily retreating into our darkrooms to catch up on lots of printing and developing to be done!

Arthur q's picture

Masks do not protect you unless used correctly with the other protective devises needed.

Social isolation, wash our hands, and carry on.

Did I mention "do not touch your face"?

Erpillar Bendy's picture

Saying they "do not protect you" is false. They do provide some protection. Of course it is imperfect, and is made better with other protective devices, such as gloves.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Yes!

Barry Strawbridges's picture

Wearing gloves must be said again and repeated by everyone!

Arthur q's picture

Masks must be worn correctly and with the correct ancillary equipment or they are useless, especially N95 or higher masks. The inspired air moves around the outside of the filter because of the resistance to flow through the filter. If eye protection is not worn or is substandard the droplets land on the eye and the virus can be taken up.
Untrained people usually fiddle with masks and touch their faces with filthy hands, increasing the danger of infection.
There is a moderate beneficial effect if an infected person wears a mask since many of the coughed droplets will be collected by the filter, with a badly fitted N95 mask being no better than a simple surgical mask. Flat paper masks redirect the flow of droplets away from the area straight ahead.

Erpillar Bendy's picture

Masks are helpful. Obviously nothing is perfect. You're making lots of assumptions ... like that a person has to have every piece of correct ancillary equipment and use every item absolutely correctly in order to have any benefit at all. And if they don't do all of that, then they are making things worse because droplets will go in the eyes, etc. That is nonsense. Masks are helpful and thus in demand all over the world. There are lots of people wearing masks in places where they have dramatically slowed or stopped the spread of the virus. Talk about "untrained people" with "filthy hands" is besides the point when anybody can — wash their hands — and go online and get detailed instructions and thus become self-trained. Seriously, it is very strange to go online with an anti-mask agenda, discouraging people from using masks because "they do not protect you" unless used correctly. Yeah, seatbelts don't protect you unless used correctly. A parachute doesn't protect you unless used correctly. A helmet doesn't protect you unless used correctly. And yet we use all of those things and they generally do work.

Spy Black's picture

Why is everyone so bent out of shape about this? It's merely a Democratic hoax to make Trump look bad!

No worries. Keep touching your face. It will be good for humanity...

Kate Hallberg's picture

It’s so much of a hoax the #MAGACult want him to have his usual rallies and they plan to huddle together, or so their Tweets say. I encourage that behavior among those who believe that. Why not? Only those who willingly drink the Kool-aid should, no one should be forced.*

*Turns out most of them were forced in the original

Timothy Roper's picture

The thing I don't understand is, how does Italy being locked down make Trump look bad? And how did Democrats pull that off in the first place?

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Just like trump, they think the whole world revolves around the US

stuartcarver's picture

Well done for assuming the world ends at the base of the Hudson river. No wonder you lot all think the Earth is flat.

Michelle Maani's picture

I guess his sarcasm went way over your head.

stuartcarver's picture

I’ve seen his previous comments, there is a distinct possibility that no humour was involved in that post.

Vaidotas Darulis's picture

Yup, sadly all of my upcoming interior/architectural photoshoots have been cancelled or postponed until sometime in the future. Not only because of quarantine measures in my country, but also because most of the clients are now cutting off unnecessary expenses in marketing, cancelling publications, stopping ads', preparing for recession. I can only hope that the buffer accumulated from my previous shoots will be enough until this thing calms down.

Melissa Helmick's picture

Dong forget us birth and fresh 48 photographers who can no longer access hospitals.

Bernardo d'Alte's picture

I there, I'm from Portugal, all industry's are shutting down.
Can we gather our creativity and explore ideas and opportunities in photography and videography?

Alex Yakimov's picture

I hear you. Yes we can! Could you, contact me directly, mate? I know one fellow photographer from Rome who is locked in Lisbon, I presume and in need of local advise.

Chris Hood's picture

Im seeing it first hand. I had a 10 day work trip to New Zealand planned for Friday with some personal days on both ends to get some new landscape shots get canceled. I shoot a lot of trip/events as well as advertising, the trips/events are gonna be on hold for a while I think. Thinking it might be a good time for a road trip to go create and work on some personal stuff though.

Matt Neder's picture

I'm a teacher at a technical high school, and we've moved to online (virtual) learning just like basically the rest of the US. The good news for me is that I teach video production, broadcasting and filmmaking, which makes the transition easier. My first 'lockdown lesson' incorporated some high production-value B-Roll, intro content, match and fill-frame transitions, and other effects. All of this in an effort to make the lessons more engaging for the students, and honestly I've been having a blast making these. I'm hearing all of these stories about schools literally sending students home for six weeks with just a packet of 'work' to do, just so they can get these days to count towards the school year. I'd rather put in the extra effort in an attempt to keep my students engaged during these unprecedented times. Good luck to everyone out there who is struggling. If you find your client jobs cancelled, film (still or moving) content for yourself. Do something creative. At the very least, it will help get your mind off of everything else for a bit. Stay safe all.

Ian Goss's picture

“ … on Every Scale.” What does this mean? It’s opaque to me.

T Scarb's picture

... the world will not even notice.

Graham Taylor's picture

Commercial shoots in the UK dont seem to be affected as I write this, my staffed (fashion) job is still business as usual and all my freelance (automotive) jobs are still booked in. We're awaiting the inevitable cancellation of model shoots though in the immediate future largely because they are all coming in from large population centres overseas.

Barry Strawbridges's picture

I think it might be soon. Considering how Italy and other European nations are getting hit, anything the UK can do containment wise is immensely beneficial. A lot of countries refused to lock down or quarantine due to protecting their economies. This virus is more than "just wash your hands, 80% of people will be fine."

Graham Taylor's picture

Everyone is just acting accordingly at the moment, social distancing, lots of hygiene etc. I think everyone appreciates the situation is fluid at the moment but most of us can continue working sensibly in the short term at least.

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