The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented crisis, and its consequences are rippling through the business world.
Though the virus does not discriminate, the economic fallout of this health emergency is affecting some more severely than others. As the founder of a software company that provides workflow tools to photographers, I have seen the wedding industry provide freelance photographers with the ability to earn a dignified living while using their talents. Unfortunately, the current hard times for the industry are cascading out in every direction, affecting individuals whose living depends on people coming together.
With more and more cities and states issuing stay-at-home orders, the events that allow wedding and portrait photographers to make the bulk of their income have vanished, nearly overnight.
State-wide lockdowns, bans on nonmedical personnel in delivery rooms, and prohibitive measures on travel, social, and business gatherings have meant canceled wedding after canceled wedding and lost booking after lost booking. The end result leaves photographers with only a small deposit in the best cases, and zero income in the worst.
According to a recent survey I conducted with 200 photographers, the environment is devastating. Eighty percent of those who use my startup’s editing and photography publishing software said they have lost 100 percent of their work. Just a few weeks into this crisis, a staggering 87 percent of photographers are worried about their financial future, and 44 percent report they are on the brink of quitting photography to seek other forms of employment.
As we sit in our homes and apartments, it takes some imagination to grasp the breadth of the human cost of this pandemic. Think of all the people and businesses in our lives, before this, that we took for granted. From the mom-and-pop shop down the road to the domestic workers who can’t feed their families while sheltering in place. Close to my heart are the photographers who touch our lives, making their living off the personal moments that bring people together—a wedding, the birth of a child, an engagement, a graduation. Needless to say, the consequences are real.
Freelance workers such as photographers are one segment of the 57 million people in the U.S. who work for themselves, making up the so-called “gig” or micro-business economy. This entire segment of earners is largely overlooked by our social safety nets, and up until now, they did not qualify for unemployment insurance or other benefits that traditional employees can access.
There is talk that this will change with COVID-19, in that gig workers and small business owners will be included in emergency bills about to pass Congress. Even if this happens, the compensation will likely be a fraction of what is required for a person to pay the most basic bills.
So how can those of us who are less affected financially by this crisis help photographers or other contract workers who have been decimated in this way?
If you have financial means, the ethical thing to do is pay them anyway. If this isn’t an option, let these workers keep their initial deposits. Reschedule your wedding rather than cancel it. If you are opting for an elopement or a private ceremony in your home during this crisis, book your photographer now for wedding photos later—and remember to pay them upfront. Undoubtedly, you will still fit into your wedding dress or tuxedo in a few months, if you don’t stress-eat.
Keep in mind that even a small donation can go a long way. If you hired a photographer for a wedding years ago, do you still cherish the photos to this day? Now is the time to support these individuals by placing an anniversary order. Another option is buying a gift card for a future session.
If you are in financial difficulty yourself, there are still things you can do. Take the time to leave a review on Google or Facebook. This could lead to more work for photographers when the crisis passes.
Two weeks into social distancing, it’s difficult to comprehend there was a time when we could attend a wedding or other celebration without thought to our health or the health of others. I am confident that time will come again. Our most enjoyable moments will mean even more than before, when everyone is finally together again. However, we must make sure that we don’t forget the people who have been there documenting our lives and loves on all these occasions.
Memories are precious and time is fleeting. The photographs that remind us of these realities will endure long after COVID-19 is forgotten. Let’s make sure the photographers do too.
James Broadbent is an internationally renowned photographer and the CEO of Narrative. Based out of New Zealand, his company provides software to help tens of thousands of photographers worldwide save time in publishing and marketing their work.