Sleepless Nights and an Uncertain Future: How Covid-19 is Impacting the Photo Industry

As of today, the novel Coronavirus and Covid-19 are affecting 170 countries with over 200,000 confirmed cases across the world. We are quarantined, sheltering in place, and, when possible, trying to work. How is the pandemic affecting the photo industry, which relies so heavily on freelance photographers?

Luupe photographer and Rocket Science Magazine founder Pauline Magnenat spoke with several photographers and photo editors to find out how the outbreak is impacting their work and life – and how they try to stay busy and positive. We’ve also compiled a list of resources for creative professionals at the end of this feature. 

Peyton Fulford © Ross-Landenberger

“I started receiving emails regarding postponed shoots on March 11th,” says Peyton Fulford. “I did not realize it was going to impact me so substantially from the beginning but it escalated quickly.” The Atlanta-based photographer had three editorial assignments and a wedding shoot scheduled and all got postponed. She lost around $6,000 and expects it will greatly impact her income for April and May, if not considerably longer. 

“I will have to be creative about how to make money during this crisis,” she says, “such as finding ways to photograph more landscapes and still lifes versus my usual portraiture.” 

Japan -40 Days © Ana Cuba

In early February, Ana Cuba first heard of a shoot delayed because of the virus. “The company factories in China were not able to produce the products in time for the shoot, because of the outbreak of Covid-19. The shoot, for a European client, has now been delayed to May.”

The London-based photographer was scheduled to work on a job in Spain for one of her main commercial clients mid-March. Against company advice, she reluctantly initially agreed to travel to Spain but the shoot was later moved to London and is now indefinitely postponed. 

Ana Cuba

“Overall, I had a good start of the year work-wise, but things have definitely slowed down in the last month or so. I was meant to be shooting an editorial portrait for a magazine yesterday that got canceled over the weekend also due to Covid-19.” 

Now, Cuba finds herself emailing clients she recently turned down because she feels she can’t afford to be picky about jobs. “Their rates were not industry standards but there is no certainty of how long this situation will last. I’m lucky to have some savings to get by for a couple of months, but my father had to close down his business and doesn’t know how he’ll manage to pay his employees.”

The photo editors:

Jacqueline Bates, photography director of The California Sunday Magazine‘s main concern lies with keeping her photographers and writers and their subjects safe. “Luckily, we were done photographing our April issue by the time Covid-19 was in the U.S. We sent it to the printer last week.”

“Along with my photo editor Paloma Shutes,” Bates adds, “we will be coming up with a set of best practices to keep them safe. Since we began the magazine, we have always tried to hire photographers where the stories take place – as opposed to flying someone in – and we’ll continue that practice as we move into production on the next issue.” 

The next issue of California Sunday will be published June 7, and Bates feels grateful she’ll be able to commission several photographers for it when freelancers have lost most if not all of their jobs for the next month – but she’s fully aware that “it will be essential to take extra steps to ensure everyone’s safety.”

 

Jackie Bates © Taylor Kay Johnson

Financial Times’ Photo Director Emma Bowkett is working from home, making sure photographers are getting paid. “Most of my commissions have been postponed – or canceled. We are working local while we can, and looking globally for preexisting stories as we always do. I am paying kill fees to support our freelancers and the in-house staff will be paid for days they were booked in to work.” Nonetheless, Bowkett feels optimistic about what the future holds. “We will think of creative ways to work – virtual galleries and visual conversations,”she adds. 

“I actually turned down an editorial shoot today because I’m juggling my son’s online schooling and adjusting to our new homebound life and didn’t feel comfortable being out and about at the moment,” says Elizabeth Weinberg. The LA photographer had several editorial and commercial shoots scheduled that all got postponed indefinitely. For now, she’s staying at home and keeps herself busy updating her books, contact lists and working on a printed promo.

© Elizabeth Weinberg

“This work will pay for itself down the road”, adds Weinberg, “so it is a worthwhile investment of my time even if I am not shooting. In some ways, this forced slowdown will help adjust my priorities and hopefully make me a more efficient business owner.”

Another angle:

Ashleigh Kane, the Arts and Culture Editor of Dazed is optimistic. “Perhaps given the fact a lot of freelance jobs are getting canceled for people – mine included – and people are being told to work from home, which isn’t possible for everyone’s work, of course, people are reaching out with more enthusiasm than I’ve seen for a while.”

 

Converse for Dazed. Photo: Rajaa Bouchab

Kane says she and her team have been commissioning as normal. “There’s a lot to write about and react to in a time where people are spending a lot more time thinking, making connections, reading, writing, watching, or having meaningful conversations.” For the most part, the Dazed team is going on as normal. Kane has been working on a few stories such as the recently published “Digital art show you don’t have to leave the house for”, which is a spin on her usual “Art shows to leave the house for”, which felt most appropriate given the current situation. 

Ashleigh Kane © Sem Langendijk

“Art is a great escape and for many people reading the articles on Dazed, it’s a place to learn and explore an artist, movement or historical moment they might not have known otherwise”, says Kane. Many writers are pitching articles at the intersection of art history, social media trends, and the changes the virus is making everyone makes, such as isolation. “I hope this won’t be a consistent, ongoing subject, but for right now I think there’s space for these, as long as they aren’t overwhelming or negative.”

Grace and Emmett © Peyton Fulford

Occupying the time and some optimistic solutions:

What will Peyton Fulford do with a lot of free time on her hands?

“I will be isolating myself as long as needed. I think social distancing is the best practice during this time if you are able to.” While she’s not working, she’ll be organizing her film archive and she’s been thinking of ways to create a new project involving self-isolation, with participation from other photographers.

“As photographers, we must use this time to challenge our own notions of creating pictures.” Fulford feels fortunate to have social media and other digital platforms to connect, check-in and support fellow photographers by making donations, buying prints or photo books.

For Ana Cuba, there’s a lot of tidy-up and cleaning on the horizon. “Last night, I spoke to a friend who lives in Spain and they’re getting to know their neighbors through their balconies. Maybe we should take this as an opportunity to finally find out more about the person living next to you, especially in a city like London. I feel very silly and awfully privileged to say this, but this is the first time in my career that I have nothing to do, work-wise, and I can’t feel guilty about it.”

Cuba says she’ll use her free time to connect and take care of loved ones. “This is about being sensible, staying at home to flatten the curve, checking on our elders, not panic-buying, and helping our most vulnerable communities as much as we can.”

A recent feature story in California Sunday. Photo: Alessandra Sanguinetti

“Everything will return to normal eventually—but it’s going to take time.” Jacqueline Bates shares Fulford and Cuba’s opinions on the importance of community in these trying times. “I’d encourage photographers to reach out to their editors to let them know how they are doing, what they’ve been spending their time researching or shooting—maybe it’s FaceTime portraits of family and friends or neighborhood street scenes. We are all in this together and promoting a sense of community is going to get us through these unprecedented times.”

“Now is really a time to experiment and to rebuild the only ways of working that we have ever known as a generation.” Ashleigh Kane is already finding new ways to reach out to her readers. She’s been busy gathering advice from artists and creatives to offer the community and feels that a key thing is to stay connected and curious. 

“Share people’s work on your own channels. I did this the other day and there was a collective total of 3,000 plus click-throughs to the 20 or so profiles I shared. That showed me that people still want to discover and look at art and photographs, and feed their imaginations – maybe more than ever.” Of course, now is a good time to work on admin, archiving and the usual not-so-fun chores that come with being a photographer. 

“Check your images’ usages and make sure no one is exploiting you outside of your contracts and check in with clients to see if you can renew some contracts – especially if companies won’t be commissioning new work for a while.” But Kane is adamant there’s a world outside of everyone’s practice – and now might be the perfect time to explore it. 

“Start a personal project and make the mood board from images you find online. Start a book club with your community. Make a film one too. Find new recipes to keep yourself healthy and happy. Go for a walk or a run. Log on to an online workout class. FaceTime your friends and family.” But, most importantly, don’t lose hope. “Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I have a feeling that by doing this and digging down, we might find more efficient, equal, and exciting processes to use in the future.”

Resources to help creative freelancers. We’ll continue adding to this when possible. 

Photoshelter’s (Covid19) Resources for Photographers

Sound The Alarm: Lenscratch’s response and advice for photographers

Authority Collective’s Coronavirus Resources

Leveler’s peer to peer tool for salaried workers to distribute funds to freelancers

Creative Capital’s list of arts resources to utilize during the pandemic.

Artist Trust Covid-19 resource list

Health and safety procedures for workers