As a photographer, I am bombarded by people’s experiences of how they have been affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. It doesn’t seem to matter where I look it’s everywhere. My Facebook feed is full of questions being asked by a host of photographers, along with the usual questions about what to do when you have lost your ‘Mo-Jo’.
Instagram is full of images of times when things were different, old images used to make people look like they are still busy (don’t let them fool you, everyone is in lockdown so photographers are not busy at the moment). Even my email is full of different people who are giving advice on what you should be doing (along with ways that I could spend the income I don’t have with them).
To keep from becoming overwhelmed by the constant advice, requests for advice, and individual opinions, I decided to set myself the challenge to find out the overall opinion on how photographers are affected by the war against COVID-19.
The aim of this report isn’t to spread doom and gloom but to help each and every photographer know that they are not alone. This is a battle that we are all facing. This is a time where we should be coming together as photographers to help each other. It’s not a time for the photographers who are doing okay in the circumstances to add stories of success and scaremongering with the view of demoralizing fellow photographers (yes it is happening).
The Spread Of Photographers Taking Part
In the world of professional photography, it would seem that you can’t just call someone a photographer. There is so much more to it than someone who holds a box in front of their face and makes it goes click. There are specialist in many areas from the wedding photographers, family photographers, newborn photographers to some genres that I haven’t even heard of (I’m sorry if you are the one who complained that I didn’t include kinetic photography in my list).
For this report, I wanted to capture the photography industry as a whole, including those who have photography as their full or part-time income. The majority of participants though were full-time photographers making up 66.5% of participants.
The participants came from a range of different genres with wedding photographers topping the list with 34.5%. Overall the majority of participants were wedding, newborn, and family photographer, in total making up for over 80% of all participants.
The other factor we will look at later is how long the photographers have been in business. Is it the ones who are in their first year who are hardest hit or is it spread as far as those who have been in business for over 10 years?
Has COVID-19 Affected The Photography Industry?
Reading the blog posts and reports on social media everyone has an opinion on how the coronavirus has affected the photography industry. Some were saying that COVID-19 would mean the end of photography as we know it, while others were saying that you would not be affected if you subscribed to them and followed what they said.
All the information out there was beginning to send me a bit nuts. That was when my first question hit me. “Has COVID-19 affected the photography business?”
I guess that this must be the obvious question and the answer not surprisingly shows that 99% of the photographers who responded have said that they have been affected by COVID-19.
Of the 1% who said that they were not affected one of them did contact me to say that they were a stock photographer. They hadn’t yet been affected directly however they would reach the point where they didn’t have any new contact to upload. Another factor to the stock photography industry is that although the photographers’ ability to work is not affected, the budgets of the clients are affected which would then also mean a reduction in the number of images being used.
I started my photography business as a stock photographer and still gain income from my image portfolio after not using them for 4 years. The ones that I have used include Shutterstock, Adobe, Dreamstime & Alamy.
What Has The Impact On Photographers Been?
As humans, most of us don’t like change, most of all when that change is imposed on us and we can’t do anything about it. It’s that feeling of being vulnerable and unable to do anything. The uncertainty about the situation, especially when it happens as fast as the spread of the coronavirus.
With the country, along with most of the world, going into lockdown it is these first few months that have seen photographers hardest hit. Most photographers have reported that during April and May between 80-100% of their bookings were affected.
Newborn photographers hit the top of the list with 98% of photographers reporting that 80-100% of their bookings during April and May had been affected. Photographers in other genres averaged 89% in this metric. Understandably, it was the product photographers who saw the smallest change with 50% of them saying that they had not been affected. Quite understandable when the retail sector is now becoming increasingly under pressure to produce a way of selling their products online.
It would also appear that both the full-time and part-time photographers have both seen 80-100% of their booking affected by an average of around 90%.
Just to show that COVID-19 does not have any preference over who it attacks, it does not matter how long a photographer has been in business. There was hardly any difference between a photographer who had just opened and a photographer with over 10 years of experience.
For most of us, thanks to the lockdown, we have had time to settle and review where we are. The first few weeks of uncertainty has begun to calm down and we are in a position to begin to evaluate our position as a photographer. There are still some things that are out of our control and we find ourselves either watching or listening to the news for any updates on what is going to happen next.
It would seem that for most of us June is still a bit of a mystery as to whether or not the lockdown will have been lifted. If you are like me you are still watching the news every day for any information on this. Given the uncertainty of June, I decided to take my next question into July and August. My aim was to find out how photographers would see their businesses impacted as the COVID-19 lockdown was gradually released.
For photographers coming out of the social distancing restrictions did they feel that there would still be an impact on bookings for their photography business?
Looking at these results, you can see that the expectations for photographers after the lockdown is released are positive. Many are hoping to see the number of bookings affected by the continuing social distancing will be reduced.
Photographers expecting over 50% of their bookings to be affected see a drop of 17.2%. The main drop or most of their bookings to be affected as this drop by 41.2%, from 90.5% to 49.3%.
Seeing these results it gives us a positive sign that photographers, on the whole, are expecting the photography industry to start to recover almost straight away.
Although it was newborn photographers that reported being the hardest hit during April and May, they also expect to come out of this the quickest. 27% of newborn photographers expect 80-100% of their bookings to be affected by a drop of 71%.
Wedding photographers though feel that they will be the ones taking the longest to recover after the lockdown is relaxed. 68% of wedding photographers feel that 80-100% of their booking will continue to be affected during July and August.
Both full and part-time photographers expect to see the situation improve in the next few months with figures of those expecting 80-100% of bookings affected dropping from 90% to 51% on average.
As with those affected through COVID-19 during April and May the age of the business does not seem to have any sway on how quickly photographers believe they will begin to recover.
What Has The Real Impact Been?
One of the aspects of reading individual stories was that they all said what the photographer had on their minds at that moment. There were so many stories as things started to go quiet, no bookings coming through, clients canceling or postponing their bookings.
If I was to read each and every story would have been enough for me to simply hide in a corner, sell my camera equipment, and give up to become a hermit. Even with all these stories of woe is it possible to get some positive aspects of this time together? Is it time to read between the lines?
After almost a couple of months in lockdown, we have had the opportunity to evaluate where we are and what has been happening for the last few weeks. In the short-term, yes, it has been a shock to our systems but what is the real picture.
With over 90% of photographers reporting that 80-100% their bookings had been affected during those first couple of months of the lockdown, it would be easy for us to assume the worst. In reality, though, that income is still there.
Only 34.2% of photographers said that their 80-100% of bookings had been canceled as a result of the coronavirus. 47.3% of photographers said that below 50% of their booking had been canceled, the rest of the bookings had either rescheduled or postponed.
To illustrate the point of not having enough information this is where I could have gone into more detail with my questions. This is where, when reading, listening to, or watching anything there are times where you need to read between the lines to see the information that isn’t there.
52.8% of photographers showed that over half of their bookings had been canceled. What isn’t said though is how many of these bookings were from long-standing clients who will book their sessions again at a later date? How many were for something where the client has been affected and will, therefore, need the session at a later time?
The answer to both of these questions, plus the postponed sessions, doesn’t reveal a loss of earnings. They relate to deferred earnings, earning that will simply now come at a later time.
The only conclusion that we can get from this data is that there has been a short-term impact on the photography business and that the photographer’s services will still be required at a later stage.
Thankfully there is some support out there in the short-term to help photographers, however, this support does not apply to all photographers. The lack of funding applicable to photographers is apparent when you look at the number of photographers who have applied for government funding.
What Are Photographers Doing?
Social media, websites, blogs, and magazines are full of articles that will give you advice on what you could or should be doing. Many websites and organizations are also offering free webinars giving advice on the subject.
With so much information around what are photographers actually doing to protect their businesses post the COVID-19 lockdown?
With some areas of photography being hit harder than others, there is no wonder that some photographers are looking at changing their business to cover a different genre of photography.
Even though it would appear that it will be the wedding photographers who potentially take the longest to recover only 30% of wedding photographers are considering a change of genre. The newborn photographer is the least likely to move away from what they do with only 27% considering a change. Family photographers though hit the top spot here with 40% of them saying that they are considering changing to a different type of photography.
Looking around social media you could be forgiven for thinking that every photographer and their dog has decided to offer online workshops (at least that appears to be the case if you look at my Facebook feed).
Surprisingly though this isn’t the top choice for photographers, in fact only almost 10% have opted for adding photography workshops to their services. Right or wrong the top choice here appears to stick to be, “Stick to what you know” with over 40% keeping their business as it is.
With the photography business being hit so hard (like many other jobs) it is understandable that people would want some or all of the security of a paid job. For many, the news of employed staff being furloughed on 80% of their wage was a hard blow to take, especially for those of us who are still waiting to find out if we are able to get anything from the self-employed scheme that was launched.
For some having nothing coming in for weeks or even months, waiting for that possible paycheck, while others still get the majority of their wages is too much to take. The business bills still need to be paid and there is only so much you can cut back on.
As a result of this 51.2% of photographers have considered turning to, or have taken, a second job to bolster their income, even if it is just for the short-term.
Throwing In The Towel
Sadly for some photographers coronavirus has come at the wrong time. It’s the straw that broke the donkey’s back.
With any situation like this, there will undoubtedly be some casualties and this is the reality that has hit our photography industry. For some this will come as sad news as it highlights the struggles that we all face, others though will welcome the news as it would mean less competition for them (yes, there are people out there that think that way).
With over 20% of photographers considering giving up on their business and their dream, we can see the dangerous situation that our photography businesses are in. The longer the lockdown and social distancing rules carry on it can only mean that this result will increase.
On a personal note for those in that 20%, please do not see this as failure. The only way that you can fail is by not trying at all, anything else is experience. For me, I have the confidence through experience that no matter what happens now I can do this again. I started my business just over 5 years ago with nothing, I have the equipment and experience now so I know it can be done.
There Is Hope
When I started to run this survey it was done as a challenge for myself to find out the truth behind all of the different reports that I had seen or heard about how people were being affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. My email and social media feeds almost reminiscent of the days where you would see the man stood of a street corner with a sign hung around his neck. The message was simple, “The End Of The World Is Nigh”.
Doing this report though has done one major thing for me and is the reason that I just had to share the results. As creatives, we live a very solitary life. In the main, we work and struggle alone. It does seem now though that we are now beginning to come together more and work as an industry and not independent photographers.
If you get just one message from reading this report I hope it is this, “Whatever you are going through you are NOT alone”.
Do not be ashamed or overwhelmed by the struggles that you face. Share those struggles and you will find many other photographers facing the self-same challenges. Take this as an opportunity to work alongside each other and form new ways to work together.
It will be a struggle in the short-term however the belief that is out there is that photography is not going away. It has been around for years and it will come bouncing back. Use this time to learn and find new opportunities, get yourself prepared, and come bouncing back not on your own but as an industry that has strength in its numbers.
About the author: Christopher James Hall is a professional wedding, family, commercial, and lifestyle photographer based in Buckinghamshire. You can find more of his work and words on his website or by following him on Facebook. This post was also published here.