How Has COVID-19 Affected You as a Photographer?

How Has COVID-19 Affected You as a Photographer?

2020 is the most unusual year most of us have gone through, and its effects have been far-reaching. The question is, how has it impacted you as a photographer? Whether you're professional, amateur, or somewhere in between, we want to know how you have been affected.

If you thought time moved at a constant speed, you probably don't anymore. January feels so far back I reminisce about it in somber moments. Many of the ways it has affected people has ranged from the uncomfortable and mentally taxing, but ultimately tolerable, through to terrifying chaos; in many ways, it has been both for me. Rather than recount all of the myriad ways my life has changed during 2020, I recently found myself again discussing with other photographers how it had changed their photography. If they are professionals, how has their business weathered the storm? If they are amateurs, have they still been shooting? And to both groups, the question of how it has altered creativity and drive is an interesting (albeit often sad) one.

So, I want to know how the pandemic has affected you as a photographer. Share your stories and what the worst (and best if you have any) parts of it have been on your photography. To start things off, I'll go through the effects of COVID-19 on me and my business, as well as the other photographers I've spoken to.

Professionally

In terms of how the pandemic has affected businesses, I only feel comfortable talking about my own, though what has happened to me is neither singular nor the worst example of it. I am based in the U.K., which has been hit particularly hard by the virus. In January this year, everything was going better than ever, my business was growing steadily, and I was looking forward to an exciting 2020; I had been to Costa Rica for work, shot multiple magazine editorials, had new clients as well as consistent work for staple clients, and I had a host of trips and projects in the planning phase. It was only January. As the calendar flipped over to March, everything began to fall away. With lockdown in full flow, shoots were off the table completely, which means everything I was scheduled to do was either canceled or delayed indefinitely. All trips were also canceled, and several new projects were put on hold for the time being. It was a sudden and worrying change.

However, some of my work can be completed in my home studio — in particular, my commercial work for watch brands — but most brands in all industries were in the same panic mode I was. Purse strings were tightened, sales were tanking, and no one wanted to overextend budgets, so my usual rate of acquiring new clients dropped tenfold. From March to September, I had to pivot away from photography as much as possible to keep my business alive, but many weren't as lucky. I have spoken to multiple full-time photographers who saw the bulk of their year wiped out. Wedding photographers, for example, seemed to have been hit the hardest as not only were they not getting new bookings while everyone waited to see what happened next, but they had to give refunds on the work they had secured for most of the year, and it's still ongoing. I spoke to a wedding photographer just last week who hasn't worked for months and is still having to give refunds as we spoke. I didn't probe into how that has left him, but I imagine it's untenable.

Artistically

This is perhaps the most undiscussed side effect of COVID-19 to my eye and yet one of the most prevalent. Creativity can be difficult at the best of times, with many citing travel as a primary source of inspiration. So, when you are confined to your house or immediate area for months on end, you're bound to hit some creative blocks. Artistically, I don't think I suffered too badly with regards to idea generation for photography I could do around the house and studio space, but my motivation to shoot outside of paid work plummeted. I'm usually taking macro shots of insects as a way to relax (bizarre, I know), and that dried up mostly. If it hadn't been for Laowa wanting me to try their macro lenses, I might not have done as much as I did.

Creativity and motivation have certainly been difficult for many photographers I've spoken to, which can — and likely will — stunt growth. Have you managed to stay creative during this period?

Mentally

I've written on mental health a fair amount recently, and it's a topic that has only swelled in gravitas for the majority of 2020. While it's not a direct part of COVID-19's impact on photographers, in many ways, both business and artistic welfare answer to mental health, with any changes in mental health directly affecting life as a photographer. For me, it has undoubtedly had a role in my general malaise. During the lockdown, I lived alone and didn't see another person for 12 weeks. That sort of sharp change was inevitably going to alter my mental health and wellbeing, which contributed to my lack of motivation to use my camera. Similarly, I grew completely disillusioned with social media during this time, and so, I posted less. Whether this had a genuine impact on my business is hard to gauge, and I'd be tempted to say it didn't, but equally, I wouldn't rule it out. New clients often find me through social media, and a reduced number of posts in turn reduces my exposure to potential clients.

How Have You Been Affected?

Much of the discussion found in the comment section of Fstoppers is argumentative over everything from gear to politics and beyond. This isn't exclusive to Fstoppers — it's a common feature of any site where discussion is possible — but I want to step away from that in this case. How have you been affected as a photographer during the pandemic? Are you struggling, financially, creatively, mentally? Are there knock-on effects of the coronavirus that I have missed? I can't promise to talk about it in our comment section will help, but it likely won't do any harm.

As a final note, after my last article on mental health and photography went live, a lot of people reached out to me directly via my website, email, or social media. You're more than welcome to do that if you wish to discuss the issue privately. Again, I'm not sure how much it will help, but I'm more than happy to see if it will!

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26 Comments

Tony Clark's picture

I moved back to Nashville just before Christmas and was contacted by an Ad Agency about a rebranding of a large Restaurant Group in the first week. There were many menu rewrites and other delays then they asked about availability over the next five weeks. I stayed in touch but nothing happened for two months.

We had a major tornado come through in March and then the pandemic hit. There has been very little work besides smaller projects that I never would have considered before. No one knows what will happen next but I am thinking that it will be busy once clients feel comfortable with shooting again. All you can do is try to stay busy, create your own projects and be prepared when the call comes.

Dominic Deacon's picture

In Victoria Australia I haven't been able to work for the last 7 months. We've been in a hard lockdown for almost the entire period. Still are. Right now my clients would have to be within 5 kilometres and be wearing a facemask and even then I'm not sure I'd be allowed to charge them for my services. Fortunately my governrment has been giving $1500 a fortnight to employees of businesses that have been shut down as a result of Covid.

At first I was going to take this time to skill up and come back stronger. In actuality I've only touched a camera briefly to take a few snaps of my niece. I've realised I really am just not into it. I always knew it wasn't a major passion but I would have thought after 7 months I would have felt a burning desire to get back into considering I'm usually doing it hours a day. But nothing!

So I've let my website lapse. I need to find a new way to make money... If things open up again soon I may need to ply my trade again briefly but I think it's time to find something that actually interests me rather than trying to force myself to enjoy this.

Edgar Pereira's picture

It's fucked me over big time

Deleted Account's picture

I was going to spend two weeks snow camping in the back country creating minimalist landscapes. Yeah, apparently I didn't want to do that.

I've managed to do a lot of city and urban stuff, so not a total loss, but it doesn't make my heart sing like nature.

Fred Teifeld's picture

Very little work and due to my 95 year old mother (Whom I visit frequently) being pretty much in the bullseye of "at risk" I have been keeping my interaction with people to a minimum, including not allowing anybody in my studio that I do not have a history with. Of course that alone has affected my business but I refuse to be the one responsible for my mother "leaving" anytime soon.

My product work has also suffered due to budgets and the general business climate so I've been working mainly on my artwork. I'm set up to survive well through next year in the hopes that things get better. In the meantime, I'm just keeping busy with art, concepts and general goofing around to keep my attitude (mostly) positive.

Steve Powell's picture

I am in the same boat. I am a caregiver for my 101 yr old mom. I have only done 4 photo shoots since March(with strict social distancing), and occasionally get out for some landscape photography.

Bruce Grant's picture

Not quite pro yet so the pandemic has not affected me as much as those who rely on photography for their livelihoods, and my heart goes out to you.

I was asked to do some shoots in June but I wasn't ready and turned them down. I had an engagement shoot scheduled in March and the weekend it was supposed to happen I got a call from the venue that it had to be rescheduled due to COVID. Next date I was able to get was July. I made sure I had hand sanitizer and tried getting used to wearing a mask for when I became ready to shoot more.

My most recent was for a hair stylist rebranding her website. Like Fred mentioned I've been trying to limit jobs to people I know and have worked with before, but doing so is helping to prepare me to book jobs with new clients.

I'm a homebody so being inside all the time is mostly fine, but I'd be lying if I said I havent been emotional at times. Projects around the house have been keeping me busy, I've been trying to hone my skills and learn my new EOS RP.

Just me's picture

I would preferer to hear the one that Covid-19 did NOT affect their job and give us advice and tips how to do so ...

Dan Crowther's picture

Become a macro insect photographer? I was going to suggest switching to landscapes (like I'm learning to do) but the Adirondacks are so packed with people seeking COVID escape that even landscape photographers must be impacted too.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

It's been okay for me. Lost a couple jobs that I get twice a year, but gained odd jobs that I may not have taken including a wedding at the beach. I don’t normally take wedding. I have regular accounts that need my work in cycles. One is in manufacturing and their product has been in demand. They have been able to produce without interruption since late April, but they also changed to adapt to the specifics of the current demand. Others in that industry relied on more suppliers and that slowed them down for many months. Another client in retail has lost a lot of business, but they have been through a lot in a 100+ years and have advertising experience. They have a strategy in place to restart when business starts picking up again. They have been kipping me busy weekly for that project.
One point of advice I would like to mention, over the years (16) is get ready ahead of random crisis. I have equipped myself with a wide variety of reliable lights from powerful power packs to battery powered very flexible monolights and while lights are not always needed, right now I feel comfortable that I can accept almost any random job coming at me without hesitation. I have inventory so I can work both at the studio and on location same day without slowing myself down. My work is mostly on location now, but the studio is still important even for location clients. One example, I can take parts with me and shoot over the weekend when they are closed and need things Monday. Soon or late the need for a dedicated space arise for any client. Reliability is key to maintain accounts.

Barry Strawbridges's picture

This would have been a good year for me. I had planned to do some medium budget fashion shoots every other month. I had the opportunity to shoot in Italy earlier this year before COVID to unfold there. I was also supposed to go to Barcelona in the Summer. However, this was not meant to be. I'm fortunate to have a day job. I've spent most of the this year working from home, making my retouching skills more robust, and getting rid of gear I know I'll never use. I did have my first outdoor shoot since most of the US lockdown started last month. It felt good to be back behind the camera, but I tried to make sure everyone on the shoot stayed safe. Even though it was a successful shoot, I don't want to have a false sense of security. I see the way things are trending.

Deleted Account's picture

Professionally, it's pretty much destroyed several years' worth of progress and knocked me back pretty close to square one. Obviously, I'm not starting entirely over since I do still have the skill set that I've developed, but the vast majority of my clients have effectively gone out of business so business and referrals have more or less dried up. Even as things open up, people have just been really cagey about spending money on stuff like photography because nobody knows what the hell is going to happen because cases can flare up and things can shut down again anytime.

Personally, it's been a very unproductive year and whatever photographs I do take for personal purposes are dark like the abyss that is my soul at this point... I've given serious thought over the past few months to just quitting entirely because I really don't know if I can put myself through all of the bullshit required to crawl back from this abortion of a year.

Lee Christiansen's picture

My work stopping in mid March and a couple of large contracts disappeared. My events work stopped of course, but so did my studio headshot stuff and even product work because companies were tightening down on any expenditure. And because there was very little good news, PR and editorial work stopped too.

My TV work stopped, (I work more in corporate), but also my broadcast work with foreign clients ceased because they couldn't fly over here.

And although the UK government claims it had 6 months of finance support, they found a few few loopholes to avoid giving me any realistic payouts... (and we have a crazy system here where higher earners get more financial support than lower earners... gotta love the Tory leadership we have - not).

I'm now back to nearly 50% productivity and one of my contracts has come good - which is most of that 50% so phew...! A tiny bit of studio work is returning and even a little product work, but people are nervous to spend money when jobs are disappearing everywhere.

I spent some of lockdown time teaching myself DaVinci Resolve (editing). I'm used to FCP-7 so not too much of a curve, but the grading thing was fun to learn - a bit like Raw grading but I found it waaaay simpler. The upside is that an editor showed my efforts to a well known director and I ended up regrading part of his big budget BBC documentary.

I managed to secure a project for a series of video teaching shorts, where I connected, directed, shot and edited. And that grading experience really paid off because of the nature of the tutorials. I had a quiet photo studio which became my video product studio. Alas although the videos were brilliant, the client was a d**k, so I decided never to work with them again - but profitable though... (Sometimes money just isn't enough - ha).

Again with TV, I was a useful service for one documentary maker because they needed DigiBeta material digitising, and with the big Soho facilities offline for the most part, I was able to be super flexible and help them out. It all adds up.

But otherwise it has been very frustrating - not just because Netflix became my best friend but because there was no one to call to get work from. Not having work is bad, but an inability to source work makes it worse.

Ironically I had potential work during the last couple of months, but I'd just hurt my foot and could do it - when it rains, it pours...

I'm fortunate in that I have few major expenses. House is paid off, no dependants to fund, no loans to repay... Early retirement beckons on 18 months (hopefully) so I can go into cruise mode to get me through the last stretch. I fear for many others who have families and homes to fund, and a work life that will continue for many more years. My heart goes out to you.

But I have found over the years that diversifying my skill base has helped through lean times. I'm fortunate to have 15+ years in commercial photography, but 25+ years in TV as a DoP (with additional directing and editing credits). Adding post production facilities helped, (even though when I started that side, an edit suite set me back £20,000+)

Being multi-skilled means so much more than finding the video button on our DSLRs. We need to really excel to make these extra skills work for us. But I've found when the photography side dips, I pull in extra from TV and when TV work falls flat, my photography seems to bring in the bacon. That little studio I have has more than earned its keep and the post side of things rounds off my offerings nicely.

Alas I fear that the finale may still be waiting to bite many of us, with jobs collapsing here in the UK as government support fades - and that has a knock on effect for our service which is essentially a luxury add-on for both the domestic and commercial market.

I think the biggest challenge is just to keep motivated in pressing forward. If ever there was a need for a good friend or two, it would be now. Fortunately I've had an amazing friend who has been there for me throughout this mess. I hope everyone else finds someone to scream to as well - it certainly helped me. :)

Deleted Account's picture

Yeah, the widespread failure of small and medium size business are predicted; as you would expect from the fact that people simply are not spending money.

Ewan Burger's picture

Something funny happened with me during this period of uncertainty. I shoot, what I like to think, a very specific style of street photography. It is subject driven and usually the subjects faces are concealed in one way or the other. A year or so ago, I would rejoice when I see a subject wearing a facemask as, if done right, it made for an interesting shot compared to what I could obtain when in the western world (where until recently, masks were pretty uncommon in daily life). Now, I purposefully don't go out shooting as I view the masks as a hindrance to the overall image! I guess my reason for not wanting / needing to go out stems from a deeper reason...

The one good thing that came from all of this for me was that I finally had time (due to reduced work hours) to fully focus on editing my back catalogue of images. I culled through hundreds of images and ended up with a series of about 10 images that I am extremely proud of. If anything this weird year has afforded me the time to really dig into these images on a more personal level than what I would have done before.

So all said and done, I have at least gotten something out of it that I truly value

Chaz Foote's picture

I generally spent a lot of time on the coast, about a 40 mile drive to one area, about 75 to another. I photograph seabirds, shorebirds, migrating birds but my preference is whales watching, mid-March to late September. In normal times I didn't have to plan ahead; I simply could call in the morning to ask for space and the two companies I sailed with found room but this year a trip's passenger capacity has been greatly diminished and they sell out almost immediately, so I've been shut out. Parking along the seacoast in my state was closed for a quite a while and parking at state beaches requires a reservation made in advance.

Also this year, baseball trips to Pittsburg, Oklahoma City, and the Arizona Fall League have been cancelled.

Malcolm Wright's picture

I'm an amateur photographer and 2020 started badly as I was made redundant on the 31st of December 2019, not for the first time in my life either. I ended up trying a self employed face to face sales job in the street, but quickly knocked that on the head and went into telesales for a telecoms company before the end of January. Luckily I was taken on just in time to qualify for the UK government furlough scheme so when I was furloughed on the 1st of April I received 80% of my pay.
The weather in the UK was brilliant for the whole of April, May and June, so I spent almost all day out in my garden photographing flowers, insects, the dogs and fortunately one of my neighbours keeps pigeons, so I was able to practice photographing birds in flight. I was using my Canon 7D mk2 with a 55mm to 250mm lens.
One of the pictures I'm most proud of is a pin sharp tracking in flight shot of a hover fly as it flew about 6 feet away from me completely in the open with a brown shed giving a wonderful out of focus background.

I walked my 3 dogs a minimum of 5 kilometres every day and lost 10 kilos in weight, taking 3 inches of my waist line, walking the 3 dogs and carrying the 7D mk2 didn't really work out so I bought a secondhand EOS D250 but I yearned for some extra reach beyond the 250mm. The fact that I had no commuting costs and the shops were shut meant that I found myself saving money even on 80% pay. Then I spotted that another hobby of mine growing and showing a 'Florist' plant was being turned to profit on Ebay by other growers (I actually took up photography to record flower shows) so I put some up for sale and raised enough to buy a 150mm to 600mm lens.
However, I ended up with an Olympus EM 10 mk3 2 kit lenses and a 75-300mm lens (eqivalent to 150mm-600mm full frame).
I managed to get a weeks holiday in Wales between the first lock down and the second wave of the virus and got some lovely pictures of Red Kites.
All in I've taken around 7,000 to 8,000 photographs, covering macro, still life, landscape, panorama, street, architecture and wild life including bird in flight. I bought Affinity Pro and taught myself to work from RAW files.
The telesales job came to an end on the 18th of September and I'm now working on a temporary contract for a well known internet sales site picking stock for their customers, walking the equivalent of a marathon each of the 4 days I work there. I'm being paid to get fit and am losing around 1.5 kg (3lbs) per week so far.
As for the future I'm thinking of uploading some videos to Youtube covering the growing of the Florist flowers and photographing flowers. In any case I expect to be out of paid work again in the new year, but think it's time I created my own business for the future.
I'm optimistic for the future and I now have 3 days off per week to sort it out.

Studio 403's picture

Need I say more

zave smith's picture

My billings are down 90% from 2019 and if my income was fully dependent on photography, I would be screwed. Luckily four years ago I diversified and became a partner in a design firm whose billings have stayed steady. Creatively this time as been great. I have been working on a new business concept and I shot a new body of work called, "Back to Work", https://zavesmith.com/Commercial/Back-To-Work/1, which has put me in touch with street photography again.

CINDY M BROWN's picture

Half of my business was corporate and university events. That half dropped off completely. Thankfully, weddings haven't dried up completely. I've had three downsize and others postponed. And recently, I've seen a wedding leads starting to dribble in again. I got my first corporate event lead since February earlier this week, for a gathering of 25. I don't think I'll see the corporate work really pick back up before 2022.

Nick Straub's picture

I held a wedding for a couple in my front yard (built an arch, painted it, decorated it, and placed it next to a lovely garden/natural area decorated by the couple themselves) otherwise they would not have been able to hold a ceremony for themselves and their family to attend until next year due to Covid restrictions in our state.

Mark Harris's picture

I had my eggs in too few baskets, with most of my income from events and conferences, and having the airport as a major client. So I earned nothing from March to September, and had to live off my pension savings. Luckily I have very low overheads. Now things are picking up again, and I have a new basket recording videos for people who would normally give live talks.

David Laymon's picture

2020 was going to be the year that I was going to break the shackles and position myself to be ready to go full time in 2021. But my business came to a screeching halt not due to lack of customers, but because I have a parent with Dementia and was kicked out of the assisted living facility. Now my photography business is on ice, and my wife and I have assumed full time care giving duties. We shall see if my photography ever gets re-kindled or if it's dead for good.

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

I've only lost $40k from commercial events but like every time I'm come across hardships, it's motivated me to come up with other ways to take advantage of the current market. And in doing so, I'm leaving some of the compition in the dust.

Blake B's picture

I live in California and experienced a complete stoppage of work for the first month and very little for the ensuing few weeks. Since then things have been fairly normal, with of course new safety precautions. Total loss of work in some industries (like tourism), but a slight uptick in real estate (seeing a boom here). Shooting lifestyle and product has continued, with much of it utilizing given resources and talent (ie my family and our houses, yards). For a couple good clients, I even strap my phone to my chest and shoot with several of them remote on zoom/Webex. It makes our level of art direction still possible with everyone working from home.

Thomas Semesky's picture

I'm semi-retired. I have been shooting sports action shots for our local college, Purdue-Northwest. With the pandemic, the spring sports season was called off. Over the summer it was announced that the rest of the sports in the fall & winter would also be cancelled. This consists of volleyball, basketball, cross-county, tennis, hockey, soccer and golf. They are hoping for a January 21-22, 2021 restart. We will see!

From what I understand if the January restart does take place, every sport will be played during this time period including baseball and softball until May when the school year ends. The arenas will be busy. It will go from famine to feast!

Purdue-Northwest is a NCAA Division II school and is in the GLIAC conference.