Shutterstock spoke to ten photographers about the lessons they learned through the coronavirus pandemic and how their businesses shifted.
It’s been eleven months since the lockdown began. Cities all over the world imposed their own rules and quarantine guidelines. Open streets that used to showcase modernization’s hustle and bustle, the tourist spots that used to be full of people—it’s all empty. And now, even when the lockdowns and quarantines have eased out, there’s no going back to our normal lives.
Instead, there’s a need to pivot, to embrace change, and to think outside the box so we can continue building. Here’s invaluable advice from ten photographers about the lessons they learned through the coronavirus pandemic.
For over three years, Konstantin Pelikh has been building his company SeventyFour Images. Last year, he started a footage production. Based in Russia, Pelikh focuses on lifestyle images and tries to create images relevant to today’s pandemic plight. And, it’s taught him and the company so much in terms of preparation and always looking ahead.
“The COVID-19 outbreak hasn’t affected us dramatically, as we started preparing for it well ahead of the lockdown—just as first cases of the coronavirus were announced around the globe. Adapting to the new normal, we’ve started producing healthcare-related content in our studio and shooting models wearing masks and using sanitizers. We planned relevant shoots on hot and timely subjects to be taken in the studio excluding large groups of models.’
“From March 2020 onward, we’ve found it challenging to negotiate with some major locations. We were bound to put shoots in functioning clinics and medical centers on hold, as they had to focus on their primary activity.’
“While it may seem that everyone is sick and tired of masks, it is the most trendy accessory in 2020, so we’ve purchased a large variety of masks matching any color palette and style of a shoot. The most valuable business takeaway is that any crisis can open up new horizons if you are brave enough to employ offbeat solutions. It’s vital to be able to adapt to new circumstances.”
Girts Ragelis is a portrait and commercial photographer based in Riga, Latvia. Five years ago, he made the decision to turn his love for photography into a full-time job and, a year ago, explored the world of stock photography.
“When COVID-19 pandemic started, all local assignments stopped and I had time for more photo shoots for stock. I was lucky, a few of my self-portrait photos shot during the lockdown went viral as it opened new options for me. The pandemic taught and showed me how the world is connected. We have global problems and all businesses are suffering. But, at the same time, it is a new opportunity. I can make photos from home and sell them without borders. Thousands of opportunities are everywhere, but the pandemic helped me to see them better.’
“For now, I will keep working for local assignments and, at the same time, will keep doing stock photography. This time is also a good reminder to keep some money savings for unexpected changes.”
It all started in college for Jody Horton. But, after many years of exploring different avenues in the world of photography, film, and other creative fields, he found himself in a situation where he needed to ask the question, “If you want to actually be successful as a photographer, what would you do?”
This is what helped Horton frame things better. In 2009, he began shooting things he truly cared about and, after many years, it led him to become an award-winning commercial and editorial photographer. Specializing in food, lifestyle, and travel, Horton may already have stable client contacts in big magazines and businesses in the food industry, but he still felt the effects of COVID-19 on his career.
“April was dead, but then things picked up in May. More of our work has gone in the studio with the exception of working on farms and ranches and a few location shoots with talent. Talent shoots are definitely less stressful, but also less frequent. Luckily for us, our studio is a big, unconventional space with a lot of different looks. So, we can make a production here feel like it’s in several locations. Crews are smaller and, often, clients are not present.’
“Frankly, I prefer working with a little more freedom and have always preferred smaller crews, so that’s welcome. Also, we have seen a higher percentage of spirit work and mail-order food work—both businesses that I think are benefiting from the pandemic.’
“Business continues and images are still needed. Remote art direction and client involvement is possible and effective, if a little less fun. Creatively, it’s been good for me to slow down a little and be able to look ahead more to what I hope to accomplish in the next ten years, rather than what I have to finish before EOD.”
Six years ago, Olga Levien started photography as a career. Today, she shoots family and weddings in Auckland and around. Two years ago, she became an educator with her photography ebook Tales of the Moment, and online workshops such as “Love, Light, and Laughter,” which aims to help amateur photographers create powerful images by working with their visualization and intuition.
“Coronavirus pandemic affected the wedding photography industry in a big way, as so many weddings have been rescheduled/postponed and some are cancelled. The amount of income dropped significantly. But, I learned to enjoy the downtime during lockdowns. I spent more time with my family and, work-wise, I decided to shift my focus on online photography education and also started offering more branding and lifestyle shoots. Wedding inquiries recently started to pick up again, but I truly enjoy the variety of different genres that allow me to switch perspective and atmosphere, and to refresh.’
“One of my most valuable lessons I learned through the coronavirus pandemic is that there’s no need to lock yourself in a box. Be open to different opportunities that come your way and stay positive. That is, keep working hard to get where you want to be or take a break and refresh your vision. Also, you need to have a safety pillow. Secure yourself. Have some savings and financial security, and also, special conditions in your contract to protect yourself from any unforeseeable situation—such as a global pandemic. Stay calm and carry on!”
From headshots to single day fashion shoots to weddings, Julian Walter has done it all. He has been in the field working as a photographer for about seven years now. He spent the first five focused on assisting in New York, and the next two years transitioning to full-time. “I had a great eCommerce freelance shooting position that allowed me to step away from assisting,” he shares. “Then, I’ve worked my way up to shooting larger, multi-day commercial jobs and travel editorials.”
“This year’s pandemic has affected my work quite a bit. I had jobs cancelled or postponed indefinitely, which was to be expected. But, in my case, my personal projects usually involve traveling or at least interacting closely with my subjects, so I found myself really unable to engage with them. The pandemic has affected everyone’s overall mood and has made it feel not quite right to partake in such activities.”
“The most valuable lesson I learned was to always save for a rainy day. I had luckily been quite financially responsible in my last few years, but had this happened in my twenties when I first started, I most likely would have had to move back in with my parents.’
“Creatively, I’ve learned how to climb out of unmotivated moods. I’m not always perfect about it, but in the end, there’s no excuse and you need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and figure out a way to get to work. Leave small tasks for the morning, so that you can easily achieve them and get the ball rolling to build your momentum.’
“And, last but not least, exercise. Do it almost every day. Besides feeling physically better, it’ll keep your mind clearer and active in a way that will help you tremendously. Like everyone else, I’m very much looking forward to things returning to normal at some point, so we can enjoy being around new people and feel good about creating together in this manner.”
Muna Nazak is a photographer based in Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a lifestyle and travel photographer, Nazak loves to capture with natural light, showcasing emotions even in the smallest detail. Nazak has been in the photography business for about ten years now, and it has exposed her to so many obstacles and successes. But, COVID-19 is different and new.
“In this extraordinary time, I feel I did not lose my inspiration, but I feel different as a person. As a wedding photographer, I didn’t have the opportunity to photograph the emotional moments for my clients. Weddings are social events full of joy and happiness but, this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, weddings became much different. In terms of artistic expression, however, I don’t think I suffered too much. I have my camera with me all the time. I still take photos and work on personal projects.”
“I learned that nothing should be taken for granted. Creativity is in our thoughts and in ourselves. We may be limited in terms of movement this year, but we need to create every day. This world is left to us to leave our mark.”
Dragan Radojevic and Mina Stefanovic
Dragan and Mina have been working together, building their business Diem Photography. Radojevic and Stefanovic met in 2013 while collaborating with Stefanovic as the model. Radojevic says he had “no clue that she was a photographer and that she finished Academy of Fine Art.” Later on, the two became a couple and started working together in photo shoots and in their own studio in the heart of Belgrade.
“At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, we were scared and so were the models. We remember when the hotel called us and canceled the room we had booked for the shoot. After two months of the pandemic, we asked two models to pose for us in a safe distance with face masks and everything that our government required and suggested. The shoot was bad and we knew clients didn’t want sports photos with models wearing protective masks. The pandemic made a huge hit. We are no longer asking strangers on the street if they are interested in a photo shoot. We try to hire models instead.’
“This pandemic taught us a lot. Our colleagues were smart and did a lot of shoots and had a huge base of old images that they retouched and uploaded to stock sites. We never worked that way. We always do the shoot, select, edit, and upload images. Also, you can have it all and then nothing. Sales are down, but we don’t lose hope. We will get back on our feet.”
Based in Ukraine, Eugene Kukulka has been photographing for years. In 2013, he got interested in stock photography. Today, aside from contributing to stock sites, he also works as a commercial and reportage photographer. And, just like most photographers, many of his projects were cancelled as the pandemic worsened.
“During the pandemic, I paid more attention to photo stocks. I started taking portraits or scenes where there are no people. The most popular photographs during a pandemic are individual portraits. I also reviewed my views on landscape and subject photography.’
“I learned you have to be ready for anything. Photography is a work that is based on interaction with other people and it is not a product of basic necessity. So, in critical cases, the services of a photographer are refused, sometimes to save money. In this case, photo stocks are a good alternative—you work remotely. In my country, many people have started taking photos and videos on photo stocks, and I understand them perfectly. The pandemic will end, but it has already directly affected everyone and its consequences will be felt for a long time to come.”
Ijfke Ridgley has been tinkering with cameras since 2000. Fifteen years later, she turned it into a full-time job. Dividing her time between Hawaii and New York, Ridgley specializes in travel and fashion photography, but also shoots for commercial and editorial.
“The coronavirus has affected my work by keeping me in Hawaii when I usually would have left much sooner. All work stopped completely for the first three months of the lockdown, and I’m lucky I had savings and help from the government unemployment income or I would have been in quite a pickle. All of my editorial jobs disappeared, including the writing gigs, as all of the magazines I work for furloughed their entire staff, and advertising jobs stopped because they no longer had the budget, customers, or product.’
“I learned to always have savings, and to keep flexible and productive in down time. I’m lucky that I don’t rely on my clients or assignments for my creativity and usually do a lot of test shoots on a regular basis. But even that shut down when we were no longer allowed to go to beaches or public areas or have people over indoors. I came up with new projects that I thought would be creatively fulfilling and maybe one day produce some income (fine art floral still-lifes).”
Originally from New Orleans, Aaron Santos has been exploring Southeast Asia since 2007. Today, he’s based in Bangkok, Thailand, where he works as a full-time photographer. Santos has been full-time for over a decade and he traced the beginning back in Vietnam. With a knack for visual imagery, Santos worked as a photo editor for a local lifestyle magazine. This opportunity helped him develop his style and meet clients.
“The pandemic has most certainly affected things. Prior to this year, I traveled for nearly 100% of my work, and would often be away from Bangkok for weeks on end, moving between multiple countries—something that currently feels pretty cavalier and antiquated.’
“I also had the misfortune of getting stranded in the United States at the start of April. I only came back to Thailand at the start of November. Funnily enough, I am writing these words on my first day out of state quarantine.’
“I bided my time with personal projects and other artistic pursuits, but the harsh truth is probably one that many freelancers share at the moment—work is dead in the water and income is next to nothing. We’re all struggling and trying to meet these challenges with a bit of humor and humility.”
“I learned that I’m really bad at business, and don’t have a lot of skill sets outside of photography. But, I also realized that I don’t want to do anything else. I love my career, including the occasional downswings that come with this lifestyle. I haven’t doubled down on learning more editing software or buying new gear or taking fly-by-night photography workshops over Zoom.’
“Instead, I began painting more and tried learning about form and light and value through the lens of a different discipline, in the hopes that it might make me a better, more considered photographer. You could easily argue a business class or two would have been more worthwhile, but I’ll sew these holes in my shirt and duct tape my shoes back together and be just fine.”
Launch your creative career today with more insight from the pros:
- How Photographers Can Safely Capture the Coronavirus Christmas
- The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Freelance Business
- COVID and Single-Use Plastics: How Environmental Visuals Build Change
- 7 Photographers Share Tips on How to Become a Professional Photographer
- 7 Photographers Share Tips on How to Become a Professional Photographer
Cover image via SeventyFour.