It’s scary times. We don’t have answers, but we have some ideas to bolster your business and your spirits. How to survive as a photographer in the Covid-19 outbreak.
Friends, this is frustrating. And frightening. The Covid-19 pandemic is bringing the world to a standstill and photography businesses are but some of the casualties. Weddings and sports are canceled. Hospitals are prohibiting birth and Fresh 48 sessions. Clients are canceling sessions themselves as a precaution. This is income we rely on and now it’s delayed at best or gone for this year at worst. So what can you do to survive as a photographer in the Covid-19 outbreak? We have some ideas to help. They can’t bring those jobs back, but maybe, just maybe, they can help you hit the ground running when the world is ready for photo sessions again.
First, stop arguing. Please.
I know there are a lot of people out there who still believe the Covid-19 pandemic is overblown. And there are folks who have told me this is a sign of the end of the world.
I personally don’t care what you think or believe. At this point, our own personal beliefs on the issue don’t matter. The rest of the world is scared, worried, hunkering down and canceling their photography sessions. For them, it is real.
The only thing arguing on social media about the validity of these precautions does is waste your time and emotional energy. You aren’t going to convince your neighbors to take this seriously. Nor will you convince the guys in your flash Facebook group that this is all media fear-mongering. At this point, we’ve all got our opinions and trying to sway someone to your side isn’t going to happen.
So please stop. It won’t help. Your efforts are better spent in just about any other way you can imagine.
Take some time to grieve
This is a devasting time for photographers right now. In fact, thousands of small business owners and self-employed folks are struggling. It’s perfectly okay to be mad, frustrated, scared or sad. Acknowledge those feelings and let them wash over you so you can process them and begin to come to terms with them.
It can be tempting to tell yourself “But so many people have it worse. I’m selfish for feeling this way when it’s so much worse for so many other people.”
You might even hear that from family and friends. I know I have. And I call bullshit.
Your fear or frustration are valid. Just because others ‘have it worse” does not take away from your feelings. Allowing yourself to be mad or sad or scared doesn’t make you ungrateful for what you have; it simply makes you human. You can also be grateful for other things in your life and still experience suffering and pain. Feelings aren’t mutually exclusive.
Your frustration, your fear, your pain…it’s real. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for grieving the loss of this season and what it means for YOUR business.
If all of this is too overwhelming, please seek professional help. It’s just as important to protect your mental health through this crisis as it is your physical health.
Know you aren’t alone.
This isn’t just your business. The entire industry has been turned on its ear. Literally every photographer I know has spring self-implode on them. Every type of photography is suffering, all the world over. So please don’t feel like this is just you or your clients. This is literally happening all over the world. And it sucks.
If it helps to talk with others facing your situation, consider joining some FB groups of photographers. Cole’s Classroom has a group just for photographers to support one another right now.
The industry will recover.
This will pass. We will come out of this on the other side. Will the industry look the same as it did even a week ago? Probably not. But people will want and need photography once again when these restrictions are lifted and we start defining what “normal life” is again.
Your concerns about the short-term are warranted. But I really don’t believe the need for photographers ends right now. The industry will survive.
So what can you do?
Focus on the short-term first.
Get in touch with clients you have on the books for the next few weeks and discuss how to proceed. Start the discussion yourself and focus on postponing or rescheduling sessions. Weddings will still take place. Families will still want family photos (maybe more so later on!) The class of 2021 will want senior pictures.
True, some of your sessions can’t be rescheduled. Birth photographers, for example, are locked into a specific moment in time. But can you still serve that client even if you can’t be at their birth? Can you provide them with milestone sessions? A lifestyle session documenting a day in their life? Think creatively about how you can still serve your clients!
Consult an attorney about your contracts
I’m seeing a lot of information passed around about what to do with deposits. Are they refundable? Can I keep them if the client cancels for this but I was willing to shoot?
I’m a photographer with a background in public relations and economics. I’m not an attorney. Neither is Karen in your sports photography group (although Mark in my favorite flash group IS an attorney, but I digress). And these are unchartered waters, friend. No one knows how these will be viewed by the courts because we’ve never had to navigate this situation. This isn’t the bride gets cold feet, it’s a public health crisis. The point is, you might be getting some really bad, and incorrect, advice.
If you want to know what part of your contract is enforceable, contact an attorney. They’ll need to see your contract and get the specifics to give you good solid advice. As much as Karen wants to hold herself out as the expert here, she’s not.
(My apologies to all of you named Karen. I’m sure you’re all quite lovely.)
I know the last thing you want to spend money on is an attorney. But a small fee right now might save you big down the road if you’re considering enforcing your retainers or deposits.
Take a break from social media.
I read a post last night and called someone whom I love dearly a giant irresponsible dumbass that’s going to endanger lives. I didn’t actually type that, but I did say it out loud.
It was at that point that I realized I might need a break from social media.
If all the stories and fighting and incorrect information are causing you stress, walk away from them. Answer questions through your business accounts but stop your feed. I installed this “Kill News Feed” Google Extension that blocks my feed so I could be more productive. But it’s also really helpful for when you need to take a break from it all. Keeping your spirits and morale intact will help you survive as a photographer in the Covic-19 outbreak as much as anything.
Don’t stress what you don’t know.
Just like fighting about this on social media now won’t help, panicking about what the fall looks like isn’t going to help either. Focus on the here and now. You can worry about August and September soon enough if it comes to it. Take things one week at a time. Or one day at a time if that’s all you have in your right now. It’s much more manageable that way.
I realize this is so much easier said than done. Lord knows I’m a worst-case scenario girl. But it bears repeating. Don’t borrow trouble right now.
Should I take on small sessions? Outdoor sessions? What’s okay to shoot right now?
Honestly? I don’t know. I can only tell you what’s right for ME right now. And that might not be right for You.
The first step is to educate yourself about health risks and your social responsibilities. Educate yourself from reputable sources. See what your local health department is saying about continuing to conduct business. Then make your decisions. Don’t consult your local photog FB group because they really won’t be any help. You’ll get the gamut of answers from “Sure, it’s no big deal” to “You’re going to Kill Us All.”
Again, consult the experts and make the decisions based on their guidance and what’s best for YOUR business.
A few ideas for income include:
- Sell gift certificates for future sessions. Offer an incentive to buy and pay for them now, such as buy one get one get one free or a buy one get a free canvas, etc. Anything to get some income coming in now, when you need it most.
- Open up old galleries and invite customers to see their photos and purchase ones they didn’t before. Again, a great deal or incentive might help them move off-center.
- Shoot for stock photography sites. This won’t generate huge income right away but it will give you something to do and hopefully grow a passive income stream you can use in the future.
- Use your related skills to generate some income. See if you can pick up some freelance writing jobs, website design, marketing consulting, etc.
No sessions? How to stay busy and survive as a photographer in the Covid-19 outbreak.
I’m not going to give you advice on if you should or shouldn’t continue to host sessions or complete shoots. I’m not a medical professional nor an expert in infectious diseases. I can only make decisions for me and my clients based on what I know to be true. Instead, I’d encourage you to consult your local health department to answer those questions for you.
Instead, I’ll give you some ideas on what you could do with this time to survive as a photographer in the Covid-19 outbreak.
Focus on growing your virtual community
We will ALL be using social media more and more in the coming weeks as we look to stay connected to one another. Not only can you stay in touch with your existing clients, but this might also be a prime opportunity to connect, virtually, with new clients. So use this time to focusing on connecting and serving a virtual community.
Offer some virtual services to your community.
If you can’t get out to finish sessions, what can you do to serve your community, virtually, right now? We’ve got technology on our side, friends. This is the time to use it and be creative. Host a Facebook live on choosing outfits for a photo session. Put together a virtual class via Zoom on using your camera. Write a series of blog posts teaching moms how to use their cameras. Write a lesson plan moms can use with elementary school This is the time stand out from your peers by being part of the solution!
Catch your blog up with client sessions or share photography related content. Or, and I know this sounds crazy, get ahead on your blogging! Write enough content to post for the next six weeks to six months and really crush it!
Work on your social media feeds.
People will appreciate seeing “normal” posts. In fact, we are so inundated with Covid-19 posts and shares right now that your posts will probably stand out even more. Get to work planning your social media posts for the next several weeks. Block out a few hours right now to plan your content through the end of April. What can you share if you aren’t shooting new sessions? Share different images from old sessions. Photography tips. Funny memes. Uplifting stories. Share old blog posts. You still have content to share, even if you don’t have clients right now!
Update your marketing material
This might not be the time to advertise or market your services. But you can definitely get all your material in place for when the time is right. That welcome guide you’ve been putting off? Build it! Need to overhaul your pricing sheet? Do it now! This is a great opportunity to work on things like: price sheets, welcome guides, what’s next cards, referral program material, what to wear guides, where to shoot guides, FAQs, magazines, brochures, rack cards, business cards, etc.
Update your website.
I am awful about keeping my website fresh and current. Now I have no excuses. Add new images (following best SEO practices of course). Frehsne up your about me page. Add new backlinks to existing content. Or completlely redesign it, if that’s been on your to-do list.
Work on/Start your email marketing list
If you haven’t already started an e-mail marketing list, this is a great time to do so! If you have a marketing list, set aside some time to make new content for it!
Create/revise client templates
I use templates to speed up my workflow when communicating with clients. If you don’t use templates, make some now. If you have templates, review them. Do they still meet your needs? Feel like you? Communicate your brand?
Brainstorm and plan
If you didn’t take some time to plan out your year in December or January, now is the time. The next few weeks are still very much uncertain. But it won’t hurt to sketch out a plan for summer, fall and winter. What would you WANT your schedule to look like then? Do you want to offer a new type of session? Go after new clients? Get new accounts? Start planning for that now and work on your supporting material.
Reach out to other small businesses or the self-employed
Have you ever wanted to collaborate with a vendor but you weren’t sure how? Reach out now and have some virtual meetings! Other small business owners stuck on the sidelines are probably every bit as frustrated as you are. Put your heads together to come up with some cool co-projects or co-marketing strategies to implement when we get the all-clear.
I have a page in my planner dedicated to all the things I want to learn or improve on. Frequency separation. Posing. Painterly edits. Improving my work flow. Now is the time to dust off that list!
Take some photography online courses
There are so many online resources available right now to help you grow as a photographer. I recommend joining Cole’s Classroom because, hello!, it’s awesome. Your monthly membership or annual membership gets you immediate access to dozens of courses and what we call Back Stage Pass episodes where you see a session unfold before your eyes, including posing, settings and the final images. It’s really one of the best values for your money when it comes to photography education.
There’s also a host of other paid and free resources. I love learning Photoshop editing techniques with the guys over at Phlearn and Piximperfect. And you can’t beat a Lindsay Adler posing class via Creative Live.
So make a list of what you want to get better at, then find and take some courses that will help you accomplish that!
Start working your way down through your “I should read this” list. If you don’t already own the book, see what’s available through your local library’s e-book collection. I also really love Scribd. It’s an app offering both audio and e-books and has some great business and fiction titles. Your first 30 days are free, after that it’s $8.95 a month. Audible is another option if you prefer audiobooks.
Want some book ideas? Here’s 20+ to get you started. (In no particular order)
Big Magic:Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller
Good to Great by Jim Collins
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
You are a Bad Ass by Jen Sincero
10 percent Happier by Dan Harris
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brene Brown
Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porass
Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
The Thank You Economy by Gary Vanyerchuck
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu$k by Mark Manson (this book obviously uses the f-word. A lot. But the message is interesting and actually sort of refreshing. If you can’t handle even a little profanity, skip this book.)
Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradburry
You Are a Bad Ass at Making Money by Jen Sincero
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
The Go Giver: A Little Story about a Powerful Business Idea by Bob Burg and John David Mann
168 Hours: You Have More Time than you Think by Laura Vanderkam
And one more…
The Cole Dish:A Longmire Mystery by Craig Johnson. This isn’t a business book and won’t teach you about photography. But he’s my favorite fiction author and it’s a shameless plug for my state. 😊
Take an online college course
There’s a really cool concept called “Massive Open Online Courses,” which is a library of college courses open to the public. There are literally hundres of courses available on everything from Computer Science to Engineering. So why not take a free college course to help grow your business? Data Structures and Software Design from the University of Pennsylvania might not interest you. But how about Introduction to Marketing? Introduction to Financial Accounting? Entrepreneurship 2: Launching your Start Up?
These types of courses can help you think about your business in different ways. They might also help hone your critical thinking skills and spark some creativity in other aspects of your business.
Learn a quasi-related business skill
Why not have a little fun while you are at it? So it might not be totally business-related, but it will still keep you active and engaged. Try some hand-lettering or calligraphy. Flat lay styling. Crafting. Food styling. Web page design. Videography. Watercolors. Anything to keep your mind engaged and optimistic!
Catch up on mundane tasks
This is the time to catch up on all those little chores we need to do but don’t because we’re up to our eyeballs in sessions and editing and don’t have time.
Now we have time. So get your groaning and eye-rolling about the sheer monotony of these tasks out of the way and then start in on them. Some ideas are below. It won’t help you generate income to survive as a photographer in the Covid-19 outbreak. But it will let you catch up and even get ahead when things get back up and running.
–Clean your equipment. Like really, really, really clean it.
-Go through your memory cards. Test their integrity, clean them all off, etc.
-Finish data-entry. I have the names, e-mails and addresses of hundreds of customers from my sports order forms that I need to log into my customer database.
-Clean out your office or studio. What can be thrown away? Donated? Sold? I have an 18-55mm kit lens just sitting around gathering dust as we speak. I’m never gonna use that thing, it needs to go.
-Clean up your computer files.
–If you don’t have a good file management system…start one now. Not just for client files, but for your own personal files. Make it simple and quick to find documents when you need them!
-Package items together to send out when needed. Anytime I send out a referral package, I build it from scratch. On my to-do list is to compile my referral program cards, referred by cards and envelope with the return address and stamp on it so that for the next six months I just have to grab the whole packet, put an address on it and mail it. There are lots of these types of processes I could speed up down the road by addressing them right now.
-Order new equipment or supplies. Refresh your supply of business cards, thank-you notes, mark your calendar cards, etc. Order new memory cards. Order that electric stapler you’ve been meaning to get but just haven’t (okay, so that last one might just apply to me.) Score some deals on those backdrops you’ve been lusting after.
–Get your backup system in place. WAAAYYYY too many photographers I know aren’t adequately prepared when it comes to protecting their digital files. Avert catastrophe now by creating a good backup system and putting it into place now.
-Prepare graphics and other templates for upcoming events or seasons. I could easily design all my fall sports templates now, so they’ll be ready to go when I need them in August/September.
-Catch up on receipts/bills/banking chores. Boring, yes. But so important. 😊
-Test new software or connect with new business partners. I’ve been considering switching up my print lab for a while now but haven’t because I’ve been too slammed to make contact and ask questions. Now’s our chance to explore these sorts of options.
-Order studio samples and start gathering material for in-person displays. Have you ever wanted to exhibit at a local gathering like a craft fair or expo? Get your booth ready now!
-Order personal photo albums. Photos of my family are usually the last to get printed, hung or put into albums. Make it a family project to select the favorites or build albums!
When I’m in the thick of a busy season, such as the fall or spring, I don’t practice. I only pick up my camera if I’m getting paid to do so. Which works great for making money, but not necessarily for growing my craft or skill level.
So carve out time to practice. Work on your flash skills. Your food photography. Product photography. If it’s safe/legal to be outside where you are, shoot some landscape or nature photography. Try astrophotography for the first time. Work on some pet photography skills. I’m totally envisioning a hamster photoshoot in our near future once I work the logistics out in my head.
Now is also a great time to practice editing. Dig up some old files and practice editing them in different ways. Research some fun presets or actions to try, like these Dark and Moody Presets from Cole’s Classroom.
It doesn’t matter if these photos end up making it into your portfolio or you ever become a dark and moody photographer. You’ll grow simply from the experience of shooting them. Seriously, when was the last time you picked up your camera or goofed off in Photoshop just for fun?
Nothing is saying you have to work on photography right now. If that doesn’t bring you comfort and joy, put it away. Or you might need to pick up other employment to make ends meet or have to focus full time on your family.
Don’t let that stress you out. All of it will still be waiting for you in a few weeks. Thousands of other photographers are going through this exact same ordeal. They aren’t shooting sessions or crushing it with bookings, either. We are all in this situation together so don’t feel as if you’ll be left behind. You won’t.
Finally, don’t forget to surround yourself with joy and comfort in other ways. Exercise. Read for fun. Listen to music. Learn to bake bread from scratch. Start a new project or hobby. Journal. Keep a gratitude journal. Marie Kondo the hell out of your clutter. Start a new show on Netflix. Call friends on the phone like it’s still 1999.
My 7-year-old daughter has a list half-a-body-long of all the things she wants to do. We’ve already made slime and started her knot quilt for 4-H, but she’s got plenty of other fun things to keep us engaged and enjoying time together as a family.
Friend, these are crazy times. I wish I had answers. I wish I could wave a wand and be on the other side of this. But all I can say is this…I’m pulling for you. I’m pulling for each and every single one of you right now to survive as a photographer in the Covid-19 outbreak. And if we work together, if we treat our fellow man with kindness and understanding, we will pull through the other side.
Stay healthy. Be safe. Stay sane.
Love to you all.