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how I am surviving COVID19 in my photography business



To be completely frank, before all this #covid19 crisis came about I had decided to take a month to two months off and had enrolled in a design course that I thought would help take my business to a different level. So psychologically speaking, I was more prepared than others when the shit actually hit the fan.


Firstly why was I willing to take a month or two off? Well I work in Hong Kong (yes quite close to the center of it all and also a city that is still troubled by the spread of the virus.), and being in China, the CNY (#chinesenewyear) is usually quite quiet and so its a really good time to either take some time off for a vacation or if you wanted to do some job-training, which I did.


A couple of posts back I mentioned to readers that I didn't see how photography could last in the future as it has in the last 10/15. In fact, for many of the old timers who lived through film, and then the transition from film to digital, the changes have been quite drastic in terms of the workflow and the working environments of a full time photographer.


In these articles, I recommended that photographers, especially those that are new and young, should really think about incorporating design (#adobeillustrator), video (#finalcutpro #davinciresolve) and possibly even a bit of #blender 3D rendering work into their business. Photography is getting more and more technical as it has even been and the industry is speeding up whether you like it or not. Many of our techniques involve post editing manipulation and clients sometimes just don't have that time for you to get things right in camera/on location and not to mention that they prefer to get things all done by a particular company/person then to have to send things out to a separate vendor to have it completed.


I started about 3 years ago, to incorporate design work and bit of 3D rendering work for my clients and although I consider myself quite a novice at it even now, I a sure glad I made this move. Having design services offered to my clients definitely saved my ass during these times. I haven't shot a a thing since January 26th but I have made about 50k since then just doing design work from home.


Below are a few points I want to share which I think is quite important for those that are struggling in this crisis.


1. Opportunities always exist, so don't be discouraged.

I don't believe that things are all that bad. In a down market, certain businesses actually do well compare to others. For example, I disagree with people that #facebook will do poorly during COVID19 due to the lack of #facebookadvertising . Most of my clients have approached me because they wanted to increase spending on their #facebookadvertising during these times. Many told me, they felt people had more time on their hands staying at home and was on facebook more often. In Hong Kong, delivery services for food have been busier than ever. Many restaurants had to change strategy because government imposed strict dine in regulations and so all of a sudden a lot of online advertising (food photography/design work) was required for delivery apps and #facebookadvertising and online marketing in general.


2. Don't approach a client with a pitch for a sale. Be sympathetic and let them know you are around if they need any free help.


Don't worry, people remember these things and you will be repaid. It's not a good idea to bring up a sale to certain clients during these times. Asking a potential client "hey you want to pay me to do something." when people are struggling and facing issues like defaulting or not meeting payroll or even bankruptcy is like asking someone at a funeral if they'd be interested to invest their inheritance in your hedge fund. Be sympathetic if you are like me that is lucky enough to be doing ok, try to share that luck with those that have been either feeding you cheques throughout the years or even to a fellow photographers that may just need a an odd job here and there. Don't take, give.


3. If you are in a position where things are completely dead (lets say you work in Milan, and there is absolutely no mood in the city to even talk about possible opportunities for your business), consider taking this time to learn something that can give your business a boost when everything goes back to "normal," because this will end.


I know this is tough advise to swallow for those in the center of the disease spread, but what else can you do?


4. A while back I had an article about being frugal in your business and this is why. Don't expect things will be cheery all the time.


I have worked through 4 financial crisis since the tech bubble in 2000 (for me there was also the #sars pandemic in Asia in 2003), and since these experience I always plan for the worse. How long can I last without work? what are the strategies for my business if all of a sudden the markets crash? etc... This is why I never bought the GFX100 a couple months back because if I had I'd be stuck with a very expensive camera that is depreciating as we speak while not getting any photography work during COVID19. Let's be honest, most of the time we think we need a new camera or expensive lens is not really because a client or a job requires us to, but really because our inner GAS is tempting us to buy. If some of you are really having a tough time with money. It's a good time to reflect on all the additional toys you have bought for you business that were not essential. It's not a good time to sell them now but its a good reminder next time #fstoppers introduce you to something new that you remind yourself you are doing well without it and maybe you can wait on that purchase.


5. If you are not skilled in #illustrator or #fcpx or #blender, learn it.


Many businesses are still up and running and require online advertising or marketing work done. I know a lot of photographers are intimidated by #adobeillustrator, but really it's just like photoshop and if you are quite experienced with photoshop, I think in about a couple weeks time you can start be selling logo designs and poster designs to companies and make a little money to survive this crisis. I have brought up this topic many times and it always ends up in a heated debate, but photography is changing and more and more client need less of a photographer but a designer that can shoot.


If you are a photographer now that is constantly light painting, or layer blending and doing sky replacements, in theory you are designing already. Mind you the controversy behind this is lies whether you want to build yourself as a solid business or a solid artist. Clients really don't care how the process is done, they just want results. For example in product photography, majority of the clients prefer it done with mockups rather than to have their products actually shot. It's more flexible with changes made in the design, it's less time consuming and it requires less logistical labor or attention for the client (if you are shooting the actual product the client does need to assign a particular staff(s) to arrange things for you to have it shot, which is cost). So from my experience, majority of product photography will be dead in about 5 years time. There is no actual benefit of shooting product photography only unless you are not skilled enough to either create a realistic 3D mockup for a client (but of course you can always just buy them online nowadays).


As a practise, I have made myself learn something online daily just so I know during this crisis, I am at least picking up something and not just refreshing the John Hopkins COVID19 site (man that would be really miserable). Hang in there, it will all be over. Maybe not as quick as your president says but it will eventually be over and things will get back to the norm. God Bless America!

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