Business + Marketing

Photographers’ Creative Motivation Flourishes in Isolation

June 18, 2020

By Jacqueline Tobin

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year and brought our way of life to a screeching halt, people hunkered down and tried to adapt as best they could. In the photo industry, all jobs were postponed or cancelled, and photographers suddenly had no income coming in and didn’t know when it would pick back up again. Through the chaos and fear, though, photographers remained a resilient bunch, and Rangefinder began reporting on the scores of photo projects brought on by a flourish of creative motivation, as well as new ideas for bringing in income and second revenue streams that could be be worked on from a safe distance.

When we reached out to the Rangefinder + WPPI community in April and May to find out specifically how photographers have been meeting the challenges of the pandemic, one of the questions we asked was on creative motivation: “How are you motivating your creative side while physically isolating?” It was refreshing to see how many people were staying active and inspired while stuck inside.

[To read the responses to our other survey questions, including what photographers (re)discovered—from a piece of gear to an artistic technique or marketings strategy—visit the Rangefinder + WPPI community survey homepage.]

Expanding Skillsets

While many photographers remained at home with their families for months, it didn’t mean they stopped learning and creating. When asked what respondents did to motivate and get their creative juices flowing during the pandemic, almost 50 percent rose to the challenge and used their time wisely, developing new skills for when they got back to work and refining old ones they never had time for in the past.

“I typically shoot portraiture in studio,” wrote one photographer. “During this time, I did a little bit of shooting outdoors with my daughter, tried some creative food photography, started to learn to play guitar and finished a knitting project I was holding onto forever!” Another was working on building a pet photography website, “something I’ve never done before.”

Others used the time to explore things they thought they couldn’t do on their own, like having webcam sessions with clients, experimenting with self-portraits and exploring different ways to edit their existing work.

“I’ve been brushing up my Photoshop skills,” a participant shared, “making digital composites, enhancing images with presets, changing backdrops in portraits…”

Life may have been put on hold temporarily, but creativity and motivation was emerging like never before. And while the temptation to binge-watch Netflix and wallow in despair may have floated in the air like a dark cloud in the beginning of the pandemic, 55 of the photographers surveyed spent their time watching instructional videos to help hone their craft, editing and retouching images that were tucked away in a folder on their hard drive, and tackling new projects and building updated or new websites that they could market immediately.

“The approach I’ve used so far is to tackle projects and to dive into more education to improve my photography skills,” said one respondent. “I’ve been watching a couple hours of educational videos from Photoshop, Nikon and Canon every single day.”

Reimagining Old Work

For the last three months, many of us have spent more time than ever confined within a set number of walls and set up behind a computer screen. It seems that most of us, at on point or another, have lamented over lack of time to do the things we want to do or revisit old projects that got shoved away into drawers or filed in folders on our desktops.

When asked, almost 12 percent of surveyed respondents here said they were grateful to finally have the time to go back and finalize work or re-edit images they weren’t initially satisfied with.

“Been going back through a decade of images and using the latest in editing software to re-image the gems,” said one photographer. Another began “digging out [photos] I never processed from the 20 trips I made in the last two years.” And perhaps this person phrased it best when writing that, “I’ve been editing the pictures of us I’ve been taking at home right away instead of just taking them and leaving them in a folder forever.”

Isolation it turns out, stopped procrastinators in their tracks and turned forgotten photos into newly discovered family treasures.

Exercising Body and Brain

Gyms were among the first businesses to close as states starting restricting large groups and gatherings, but that didn’t stop people from working out. They just had to change their location. Respondents may have had to physically isolate, but their physical workouts remained intact.

“Doing exercise during mornings is one of the greatest motivations,” one respondent said. “I try to shake off all the energy during that time.” That seemed to be the consensus for 9 percent of respondents. This included walking, biking, doing yoga and other creative workouts. “It has helped so much to KEEP MOVING,” another respondent said. “I go on bike rides and it seriously helps get everything flowing and puts me in such a great creative space.”

Equally important to photographers surveyed were keeping their minds strengthened. “Artistically there’s no better place to be,” someone wrote. “Being forced to adapt to new parameters and ways of thinking is amazing exercise for the creative mind. So for me, it’s been fun to look at what I have around the house and try and be creative. It has definitely led to a few amazing results.”

Client Connection and Collaboration

When the pandemic hit, photographers may have had their scheduled shoots evaporate overnight, but client connection remained intact, as well as self-exploration. Nearly 20 percent of photographers surveyed embarked on creative self-portraits, pandemic-related images and socially-distanced photos and sessions, many of them emerging as “Porchtraits” and “Doortraits,” where families would stay on their porches and in their door frames while photographers photographed them with long lenses. Some charged nominal fees; others donated any proceeds to charity.

“I’ve been doing fun passion projects including creative self-portrait sessions, and cultivating an education-based community with some of my close photographer friends,” answered one respondent. “We are offering a lot of free resources and education for image-makers, and it’s quickly flourishing.”

Another wrote: “I’ve been working on the back end of my business and client experience. I created a new guide for my motherhood inquiries, with great visuals and detailed information about sessions with me. I’m also working on a client closet, so I’ve been taking pictures of my wardrobe props on mannequins so my clients can see what I have to offer without having them in my home studio when I am able to shoot again. And lastly, I’m working on a self-portrait and hand-painting my own backdrops for it.”

Overall, the consensus has been that this time, while not ideal, has been a time for learning, re-evaluating old ways and looking towards the future and getting back to work. Perhaps this person summed it up best:

“First of all, I make sure to give myself grace. This isn’t a vacation, and I while being creative can be an outlet for some, for people like us it is also our work. So after taking a few days off to just be present with family or enjoy the sunshine on our balcony, I tried creating new headpieces for a whimsical series of shoots I can do when I am able to return to work. I tried a few with my daughter, and it was fun. I also taught a small seminar to local makers on how to use their phone camera and readily available light—like a south- or north-facing window or a diffuser I made out of white translucent trash bags—to get creative in using something white as a reflector to bounce light back. This way they could take better photos with their phone of the products they make so they could sell them online. I have also have had several client consultations over Zoom even if the date to have their session remains tentative. The biggest motivation is to keep keeping on and coming back stronger than ever.”

Click here to read more about how photographers are meeting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

About this survey: In April and May we emailed members of the Rangefinder + WPPI community to ask how they are responding to the pandemic. We also shared the survey in our weekly email newsletter, via our social media channels, and on the Rangefinder and WPPI websites. The goal was to create space to share ideas, insights and resources. One-hundred-ninety people answered at least one of the five questions we asked. Special thanks go to all of the members of the community who participated.