What it’s Like Being a Photographer Right Now in the Early Stages of a Pandemic

It’s been crap, honestly. 

I’m a photographer based in Toronto and the core of my work involves the congregation of many people in one place at the same time. As you can imagine, it’s been a challenging week. I’ve had four corporate shoots cancelled (including a shoot out of country) and a photography workshop and wedding postponed, all in the last few days. Most of those corporate shoots will not be rescheduled.

I completely understand that everyone across all industries have been taking significant hits, but many small businesses (especially newer ones) may not have the cash flow to keep afloat for extended periods of time. Last week, when the pandemic seemed an inconvenience but still manageable, I spoke to my Photography Business students at Seneca College about the importance of maintaining adequate cash flow. One week later, I was literally living out that lecture!

With the current COVID-19 pandemic not having any end in sight, this is likely to be a prolonged slowdown in my business. Other photographers I’ve spoken with are going through the same thing, as are other vendors such as make-up artists, event planners, and design professionals. So what can I do to make sure my business sustains itself during this time?

1) Firstly, I need to reduce my expenses as much as possible. I don’t have any full time staff to support, so I only need to watch my spending as it relates to the business. Perhaps I delay the purchase of new equipment or scrap the shared studio space I just started renting out earlier this month. 

2) I can look into diversifying my income. I started doing this last year by teaching part time and running more photography workshops focused on the business aspects of the industry. I can also expand the breadth of what I photograph, though what I already shoot is quite diverse already. 

3) I can also look into a full time job. This probably frightens me the most as I have been working independently now for about a decade. I’ve worked my butt off to make my small business thrive and in some way would feel like I’ve failed if I had to give it up. This isn’t the ideal option for me. 

4) I could sell off some assets. There’s this joke in the photography community that goes something like this: “What’s the fastest way for a photographer to make money? Sell their equipment.” It is true that photographers have pretty valuable assets that can be sold for an injection of cash and I do probably have a healthy list of equipment that isn’t essential to my business.

In general, the pandemic has forced me to look at how I can reasonably sustain my business through the next 6-18 months. I suspect it will be a challenging time for all small businesses out there and I hope we’re still standing when the worst of it is over. It isn’t time to push the panic button or to ask for charity, but it is the right time to make some smart business decisions.

Neil Ta is a Toronto-based corporate and wedding photographer who dabbles in cityscapes and documentary. You can see more of his work on his portfolio site or on Instagram.

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