Business + Marketing

Photographers Pivot to Virtual Photo Sessions

June 18, 2020

By Jacqueline Tobin

At the turn of the New Year, no one would have thought that photographers everywhere would be coming up with ways to conduct photo sessions over FaceTime or Zoom (did anyone even know what Zoom was back then?), especially out of necessity. But creative people are not only creative—they’re resilient. And productive. With all this newfound downtime came plenty of opportunity to work on the roots of business and potentially pivot focus.

[Visit our COVID-19 resource guide for more articles and information for photographers about the pandemic]

When we reached out to the Rangefinder + WPPI community in April and May to find out how photographers are meeting the challenges of the pandemic, we asked, “What are you doing to rebrand or pivot your business to adhere to social distancing rules?”

It interested us to find out that while some photographers were making modifications that they’d surely discontinue once social-distancing measures eased, there were some aspects to virtual business that might just stick around.

[To read the responses to questions on other topics, including how photographers are finding creative motivation and what resources they’re turning to for inspiration, visit the Rangefinder + WPPI community survey homepage.]

Expanding Business vs. Staying the Course

Of the 180 respondents who answered this question, the majority said that they are, indeed, actively pivoting their business to make up for the societal changes caused by COVID-19. Forty-two people said they were making efforts to abide by social-distancing in their current photo business, and 26 reported that they were expanding to new areas of photography, focusing on genres such as landscape and architecture, fashion, product and aerial photography, as well as personal work.

“I’m pregnant with twins and planning to pivot more to lifestyle blogging and photography education in the coming year,” one respondent said. “This pandemic was just the push I needed to let go of my studio and refocus on the right fit for my current situation.”

Indeed, 17 people reported that they were focusing on education as a result of the pandemic, whether supplementing income as an educator teaching others (including speaking at virtual conferences) or as a participant, seeking education from other photographers and reaching out to the community for support.

Roughly 10 percent of the respondents emphasized that they were selling products like albums, prints, photo books and other retail items to clients in order to make up for lost income. Some said that holding sales consultations over Zoom was working for them, and others mentioned that selling gift cards for their services was cushioning the blow to revenue in the interim.

About a quarter of the respondents said they weren’t doing anything to pivot or adhere to social-distancing rules. They were more or less staying the course and waiting out the pandemic, either because they didn’t know what to do to pivot, or because the nature of their work didn’t require them to make much of a change. Specifically, event photographers found that they could properly distance and do their work, as did outdoor, architecture and still-life photographers.

The Benefits to Changing Online Presence

About 20 percent of those who participated in this survey reported that they viewed changing their online presence as a worthwhile pursuit during this time.

Ten people mentioned that they were increasing the frequency of their posts on social media in order to stay top of mind, and that even if they couldn’t share client work, they were sharing personal work. A handful of the participants said they found value in getting their work out there via other means: getting photos published by magazines and blogs, writing articles for their own sites and submitting images to photo contests.

Over half of the participants that mentioned changing their online presence emphasized a focus on updating their sites and branding, changing their marketing efforts with social-distancing messaging, or going back to old work and re-editing. One respondent said that they updated their materials to “showcase a freshly painted, spacious studio with a private entrance” to make clients more comfortable.

How Photographers are Social-Distancing in Business

Those that ensured they were making efforts to abide by social-distancing measures said that they were doing so (or planning to do so) by photographing portraits at a distance and/or outdoors, conducting safe step-and-repeat photography and virtual sessions, as well as shooting micro-weddings, elopements and pop-up ceremonies.

“We are making sure we can have the same amount of clients but instead of working two 12-hour days, we are spacing people out so we have one client per day, and switching both the consultation and the sales process into a Zoom meeting,” one respondent claimed.

Several photographers found that conducting matters virtually was a boon at this time—and maybe in the future, in some respects.

“I have implemented more virtual meetings with people,” one respondent said, explaining that “this will be helpful for follow-up appointments, saving both me and my client time in having to meet in person on minor design or follow-up orders. These virtual meetings will probably overtake in-person meetings with wedding couples.”

Another participant was even able to conduct her newborn business virtually: “I guide my clients from how to set up their cameras, wrap the baby, pose them in simple poses, and then I edited those images into digital backgrounds cohesive with my brand.”

Go 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.