May 1, 2020

The Power of Photography in the Midst of a Pandemic

There’s no denying that the photography industry has faced many hurdles since the spread of COVID-19. With gatherings banned across the country, cancellations are at an all-time high, and people may be hesitant to sign new contracts without a clear timeline of the virus. Across the industry, from birthday parties to Nikon’s latest equipment releases, postponements or cancellations have left the market in an obvious decline. It has left us all questioning the importance of photo-driven marketing, documentation, and investments, business owners, and photographers alike. Pared down, as the industry grapples with COVID-19, it begs two questions:

  1. For photographers: how do we respond to this rapidly changing and unpredictable environment? Preserve ourselves and encourage our audience(s)?
  2. For business owners and companies: do we even need photography in the face of a pandemic? A visual presence?

When we look at our image-driven society and the way history’s greatest moments have been told through photographs, it’s clear that photography is too powerful to neglect in the face of trouble. At the same time, photographers and others alike are feeling the different strains of this unpredictable time. Our first response should always be wisdom. This is in no way an effort to neglect the recommendations of the CDC, but I would argue that social distancing doesn’t have to mean we stop pursuing photography and documentation. In fact, I would say that this season is the perfect opportunity to capture, inspire, educate, and empower our audiences in unique ways that otherwise would have never come to pass.

“Innovation is not born from the dream. Innovation is born from the struggle.”

To Businesses

Leverage the Expertise of a Professional Photographer.

As a photographer myself, I can positively say that the best photographers are serving the community more than simply photographing it. We’re people-oriented people. Although our service often looks like photography, we love sharing our knowledge, engaging in creative problem-solving, and going the extra mile to produce imagery for others that’s novel, timely, and inspiring. If we can’t be there in person, we’ll be there digitally to answer questions, offer direction, or even innovate a few fun ways to take some pictures that communicate to your audience “we’re still here for you.”

Don’t be Afraid to Pick Up the Camera and Give It a Try.

People right now are looking for authenticity and someone to trust in the middle of the chaos. Your audience now spends much more time in front of a screen, and they want to see a familiar face. Now is the time to have an online visual presence, and it’s not about the quality of your image. This season is one that begs for businesses to humanize themselves; to connect with their audiences as people. Over-curated content can’t do this. Be simple, be genuine, and don’t be afraid to share your company’s experiences; it’s powerful. Humanizing your business in such a way ultimately builds a stronger sense of trust between you and your audience than there would have been otherwise.

One example of this is something we did internally here at PHOS. In a recent Instagram post, we had our team members send in some photos of their remote work setups. They’re not the best quality photographs, but they say something about our dedication to each other, our clients, and our communities as we practice social distancing. Quality is not what it’s about right now – it can’t be. Use photography to tell your clients you’re still here, you’re for them, and that you’re all in this together.

To Photographers

We can’t deny that the virus has, and will continue to change the photography industry. When the virus subsides, it’s already clear that our field of work will return with a new normal. As people adjust to new customs and means of interaction, everything from the distance at which we shoot, to the way we pose our clients, could change. The desirability of photography in the home or office could change. Though we may continue to see changes in societal norms, this is not the time to burrow into anxiety playing the “what if” game; it is the time to equip ourselves for what lies on the other side of this season. Let’s use this season to:

Understand the Power You Have and Use It.

Everyone, every piece of history, is looking to you. Every image taken in this season serves as a lens for society; it will be imagery that contextualizes the way the world sees COVID-19 today, tomorrow, and in history books 100 years from now. I had a friend put it this way: “Your Instagram post today will be your child or grandchild’s primary source 30 years from now.” That said, as photographers of all kinds, we have to take the responsibility to tell these stories and ask ourselves how we can use imagery to inspire our circles of influence in this season of uncertainty. Now is not the time to put the camera down. That said, though your goal may not be to make the history books, it’s clear that even right now, the way you choose to share this story and the images you share, contextualize your businesses, clients, and personal lives.

In the same way, businesses should be encouraged to “give it a try” and share their experiences. We, as photographers, should use our talents to communicate hope and humanity to and through our clients. Can we embrace the platform we have to inspire others, demonstrate genuineness, and therefore move our clients and audiences into a deeper level of trust with us?

Get Creative.

To reiterate, this is in no way an effort to neglect the CDC’s recommendations or the city/state laws that may be in place. My suggestion is to embrace our limitations in pursuit of novel ideas, community collaboration, and a new level of industry unification. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Take a full hour to do nothing but brainstorm ideas. This concept comes from IDEO’s design process, and though we’re not engineers, we are in a season that begs us to be innovators. The key to a good brainstorm is that everything goes. You’re not allowed to discount any idea for any reason. The most creative ideas don’t always start with plausible concepts; it takes overdoing it to know how far you can go.
  2. Know how you work best and lean into it. Not everyone enjoys innovating new ideas, and that’s okay. Start by talking with other photographers and learn what they’re doing in their communities; let this season produce unification within the photo industry. A great example of this is the wave of “Front Porch Projects” being done all over the country or this project by a National Geographic photographer. Do some research, video call a friend or two, and then ask questions: “How can we do this as an agency?” “How could I adapt this to serve a client or my community?” “How can it be adjusted to fit my style of shooting?” “What if –?” Then use your community to simplify crazy ideas into more timely and attainable ones, combining key concepts to create a plan-of-action.
  3. Don’t be afraid to try and fail and, whatever you do, don’t stop shooting. In times as uncertain as these, it’s hard to know what will inspire others, communicate genuineness, and build trust; but your business, your craft, and your clients are worth the try. Be transparent about your efforts and open to suggestions from your community. Remember, you have the power of influence and the keys to how this whole season of society will be contextualized. Embrace it.

Become an Expert in Your Process.

Now is the time to sharpen all of the tools you don’t normally have the time to sharpen; the opportunity to step away from your processes and look at them with a critical eye.

At PHOS, we call this the IDS process, a concept taken from the EOS system, and one of our favorite books, Traction, by Gino Wickman. The process consists of three steps:

To All: Let’s be Prepared

An anthem at PHOS these past few weeks has been, from Simon Sinek, “these are not unprecedented times.” Sudden and unexpected situations that make certain industries difficult to work in and cause others to thrive are not new. We need to be careful not to pursue “How will we do what we do?” alone, but, instead, What will we do in this world that looks so different than it did before?” Not just How will we have a visual presence?” or How will I take photographs?” but What do my photographs and visual presence need to be for our society right now?”

We need imagery right now. Imagery will define the way our society reflects on and contextualizes this season’s unpredictable landscape. Businesses and photographers alike have the opportunity to build trust with and inspire our community. We can do this by being willing to reject old forms of photography and learning how to be visually present in this season regardless of limitations.

Becca Maguire

Becca Maguire

With a deep-seated love for documentation and storytelling, Rebecca seeks to equip and empower clients with the photography, videography, and other creative media they need to effectively share their own stories.