The COVID-19 Virus is impacting the photography industry – What should we do about it?

COVID-19 – Coronavirus. It’s officially a pandemic and this situation is beginning to have a major impact on the photography industry at all levels, and there is no reason to think that it is not going to get worse – before it gets better.

Allow me to offer my prayers and sympathies to those who have been directly affected and to offer my wishes and hopes that all of you will be smart and remain diligent in your efforts to stay healthy until this situation is resolved.

I am not going to discuss the medical aspects of COVID-19 as I am simply not qualified and their are too many non-qualified people already discussing it in the media. I strongly suggest that you avoid the mainstream media, do your own research by referring to the CDC or the WHO and of course your local medical professionals.

How is the photography industry being impacted by COVID-19?

Like many other industries, major trade shows are being cancelled around the world. It makes national headlines when events like SXSW and Coachella get cancelled or postponed but in our industry, CP+ in Tokyo which is one of the largest photography trade shows in the world has been cancelled. The Photography Show which is the biggest photo trade show in the UK made the last minute decision to postpone this week’s show until September. The Pro Show for Promaster  retail dealers that was scheduled to begin on March 12th in Illinois has been cancelled. Late this morning (3/11) it was announced that the NAB show scheduled for next month in Las Vegas has been cancelled.  This news came after many larger vendors announced that they would not attend.

Smaller regional events like Shutterfest in St. Louis which is scheduled for next month may run into the same problem. While the organizers insist the event is happening, there is the strong possibility that by that time the Union Hotel or the City of St. Louis will say no to a gathering that large.

Even smaller photography industry events are also being cancelled. The Olympus Capturing Light Tour that I was a part of along with my fellow Visionary Peter Baumgarten has cancelled the next 4 dates. These events were being held at camera stores but because of the likelihood of having 50 or more people in one place and based on CDC recommendations, the decision was made to cancel them.

I have cancelled my own workshops planned for next month at my studio in Allentown. Not because I am afraid of the virus but because as a small business owner, I can’t afford to assume the liability of bringing people together for an event at my studio. Already there are lawsuits against the cruise lines. The lawsuits are not from people who got sick, but are being brought by people who are suing because they were on a ship with sick people.

It is worth noting that cameras, including new releases from Canon, Nikon and Fuji are being delayed due to crucial parts being manufactured or cameras being assembled in China which is believed to be the origin of the virus.

Even more importantly working photographers, most of whom are self-employed studio owners and freelancers are having assignments cancelled.  In many cases weeks’ worth of work is gone – potentially never to be made up.

I polled members of my Facebook group from around the world and already there are event shooters who have weeks’ worth of events cancelled in advance. Photo Booth entrepreneurs are losing thousands of dollars in bookings from cancelled events and trade shows. Wedding photographers are already receiving cancellations from couples who have decided to get married with only immediate family in attendance and cancel or postpone any celebrations with extended family and friends. Sporting events are being cancelled meaning lost wages for the photographers that cover them. School proms, fundraising events, campaign events… cancelled, and the list keeps growing. All of these cancellations mean lost wages for the photographers that work these events.

At a time like this even portrait photographers, family portrait photographers, newborn photographers and boudoir photographers are seeing a down turn in bookings because people in general are losing wages and these types of images are not crucial to survival and are generally not a priority for people when disposable income is limited.

Real estate is slowing down meaning less work for the real estate shooters. Photographers who handle corporate portraits and advertising work are seeing a slow down in bookings as many major companies are having employees work from home and most non-essential work is being postponed.

Some of you may be thinking that this is why a photographer’s contract should always have a cancellation or kill fee. I do agree that a photographer should always have a cancellation policy or a kill fee in their contract, but in this situation, you don’t want to lose a client over one cancellation or kill fee. Freelance photographers need to understand that long-term relationships matter. The clients you are dealing with are struggling with this virus just like you are and invoicing them over a cancellation is not going to create much good will.

So what should you be doing as a photographer?

The photography blogs and other YouTubers are spending plenty of time talking about all the things going wrong and making predictions as if they can see the future. From this point forward, I will leave the gloom and doom and irresponsible predictions to them.

Let’s begin talking about some of the positive things that should be happening in the photography industry. I’ll break it into two categories:

  • Those of you who are making money as photographers
  • Those of you who are passionate about shooting for fun

If your income relies on money made from photography, the first piece of advice I would give you is to not get caught up in the news media hype. It is safe to assume that the statements made by the CDC and WHO organization warning that the situation will get worse before it gets better – are accurate.

You should do what great photographers do instinctively – look for ways to solve problems.

My career in photography has taught me that there will always be ups and downs. When the economy is tight it just means that I have to work harder for every assignment that I get and every dollar that I earn. When the economy has been tough, I have always been willing to accept assignments that I would not normally agree to in order to make ends meet.

It is important to be flexible and nimble, be willing to adapt.

Many of you know that my wife is a college professor. Her school announced yesterday that they are closing the campus this Friday and sending all students home. They will continue classes online for at least the next month and probably the rest of the school year. Beginning next week my wife will teach her classes from right here using ZOOM rooms. It’s all about being able to adapt.

Understand that life and business will continue, it is just going to slow down and consumers of all types will be much more selective in who they work with and how they spend their dollars.

The photographers who survive this will be the ones who are willing to step up their game and go the extra mile for their clients. The photographers who survive will not feel entitled and be bitching on social media about how bad things are and how awful clients are because they won’t spend money. The photographers who survive will have their heads down and be working relationships with past clients and contacting potential new clients, because they understand that the true value in their photography has little to do with the photographs and everything to do with the experience that they provide their customers.

The photographers who survive will not only work harder and longer to keep their business afloat, but they will use any down time to practice, to challenge themselves to work towards building new skill sets that will help them survive now and help them prosper when the virus threat is over and the economy returns.

For photographers who are passionate about shooting for fun – keep doing what you are doing. Don’t slow down! If you get extra time off from work because of the virus – put it to use with your camera. If you generally shoot events with large gatherings and they are cancelled, use the time to shoot other genres of photography to expand your experience level and skill sets. Skills that you learn shooting a different genre can usually be adapted to your own work and the experience will change the way you “see” things creatively.

Whatever you do – keep practicing and keep learning.

What shouldn’t you do?

Don’t give up! Remember that you are not the only person who is experiencing these struggles. We are all in this together. Please keep the public whining to a minimum and carry on.

Don’t participate in all of the product bashing and sky is falling crap that is so prevalent here on YouTube and in the blogs.  Remember that all of the senseless bashing of camera companies and predictions of companies going out of business only serves to make the prices higher on all the cameras and equipment that we need and want.

We survive as an industry. We survive by helping each other out, by looking out for each other, by lifting each other up. We are all in this together.

Thanks for listening and may this virus be over with sooner than later.

Be sure to follow my Instagram stories and Facebook page – beginning March 12th, 2020 – I will be offering daily marketing tips for photographers as well as some simple motivational messages to help you keep your heads high and stay on tract to survive this storm.

I also discussed this topic and answered questions during TOGCHAT LIVE on Wednesday, March 11th, 2020