Business + Marketing

How Photographers Can Book and Shoot New Sessions Now

May 19, 2020

By Brienne Walsh

© Julia Stotz

An image by Julia Stotz for Tidal Magazine. Working with her reps, Stotz created a promo to send to clients that featured a handwritten note about how she was creating at home during the pandemic. After six weeks without assignments, she landed a campaign for MailChimp.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in mid-March, many photographers lost all of their upcoming work. Weddings were cancelled, advertising and editorial shoots were put on hold, and some clients asked for deposits back despite a pandemic being outside of anyone’s control. Photographers, along with so many other workers, have been wondering when they can get back to work, how they can make money from home, and what work will look like in this new world.

In the midst of it all, some photographers have figured out creative ways to pivot their skills, showcasing themselves as photographers able to produce editorial-quality imagery from home. And in the process, these photographers have been booking new work. 

It Helps To Have Someone In Your Corner 

At the beginning of March, Los Angeles-based photo agency I Heart Reps, owned by Dani Hurt and Dara Siegel, had 22 shoots in the works for the eight portrait, commercial, editorial, fashion and lifestyle photographers that they represent. By the end of the month, every single one of those jobs had been cancelled. It was devastating, says Hurt. But they didn’t stew in panic for long. Immediately, they asked the photographers on their roster to begin to position themselves for a new reality. 

First, the reps encouraged the photographers to do basic housekeeping—updating their websites and organizing their workflow. Then, they encouraged them to test-shoot professional imagery while staying at home. 

Editorial and commercial photographer Bryan Derballa was quarantined in his house in upstate New York with a few of his friends. Hurt and Siegel asked him to experiment with outdoor hiking photos that could appeal to brands like REI and Best Made Co. 

bryan derballa i heart reps photo upstate new york quarantine at house shooting from home
© Bryan Derballa
bryan derballa i heart reps photo upstate new york quarantine with friends at house shooting from home
© Bryan Derballa
bryan derballa i heart reps photo upstate new york quarantine at house shooting from home winter scene
© Bryan Derballa

Portrait, commercial and fashion photographer Felisha Tolentino had recently bought a house in Los Angeles with a lush backyard and a vintage BMW. She test-shot editorial fashion imagery with model friends at a safe social distance. 

felisha tolentino social distancing photography fashion in car
© Felisha Tolentino
photographing a model at social distance fashion photography felisha tolentino
© Felisha Tolentino
social distancing photography fashion editorial felisha tolentino
© Felisha Tolentino
photographing model during covid-19 pandemic in person at social distance felisha tolentino
© Felisha Tolentino

In early April, I Heart Reps sent out an email to their clients with a PDF of images from each of their photographers that showcased the type of work they were making—or could make—at home. The email, with the subject line “I heart wtf,” paired images with a handwritten note from each photographer that outlined how they were staying positive in the midst of the crisis. 

bryan derballa i heart reps photography promo pandemic
Bryan Derballa’s photos and accompanying letter to clients, published in a promo from I Heart Reps.

The response from clients was overwhelmingly positive. “People loved seeing the human element of the handwritten note,” said Hurt. “It transmitted the message that we’re all in this together.”   

felisha tolentino i heart reps photography promo pandemic
Felisha Tolentino’s photos and accompanying letter to clients, published in a promo from I Heart Reps.

Whether as a result of the promo or not, work has begun to pick up. The agency is receiving a lot of requests from food and beauty brands to arrange still-life and product shoots from home. Pre-pandemic, the agency received one or two re-licensing images a month, but now they are receiving them daily from major national brands, including Hershey’s. They’ve even received requests for FaceTime beauty portraits from home, where a model takes photographs with their own phone while the photographer directs them remotely.   

“They’re all super hungry right now,” says Hurt of the photographers on her roster. “If what the client asks is not possible, the photographers are doing a great job of making it possible.” 

julia stotz i heart reps photography promo pandemic
Julia Stotz’s photos and accompanying letter to clients, published in a promo from I Heart Reps.

Making the Impossible Possible 

Editorial and commercial photographer Julia Stotz, who specializes in food, still-life and high-concept product imagery, was having the best year of her career when the pandemic hit. For the first six weeks of isolation, she didn’t work at all. Then, Hurt called with a job from MailChimp, who wanted to work with photography duos to shoot a national advertising campaign. 

Stotz, whose clients include Sweetgreen, Uber Eats, Goop and The New York Times, fortunately lives with another photographer—her husband. They had never worked together before, but there was no better time than the present to change that. Uniquely positioned for success, Stotz already works from home; the kitchen she uses to make her own food is also her workspace, and the front of her house is an old storefront where she meets clients.  

julia stotz food photography editorial shot from home
© Julia Stotz, for Nectarine Magazine
Prop stylist: Amy Taylor
Food stylist: Maya Bookbinder
julia stotz still life photography during quarantine
© Julia Stotz, for Broccoli
Prop stylist: Samantha Margherita
Food stylist: Casey Dobbins
julia stotz prop styling food photography in quarantine
© Julia Stotz, for Tidal Magazine
Prop stylist: Amy Taylor
Food stylist: Maya Bookbinder

But Stotz isn’t one to work without her team. She has become accustomed to collaborating with an array of other professionals, including a digital tech and a prop stylist. Working on the MailChimp campaign with only her husband, whose skill set matches her own, was like stepping back in time. “It reminds me of a school project, for sure,” she says with a laugh, “only now with 30 people on a Zoom call.”   

The shoot took a month to put together. It took some time to procure the props they needed from home, with shipments getting delayed across the board. “I think clients are learning they need ample prep time,” Stotz says of the experience. The rhythm of the shoot also took some time to work out. It quickly became clear that having a client present on video for the entire day of shooting would not only be exhausting for the client but distracting for the photographers. “It feels like you’re on a show,” Stotz says of prepping on video. 

Instead, the shoot started with a client check-in, after which Stotz and her husband disconnected and shot for a few hours at home. Then, there was an early-afternoon video-conferencing session to go over the morning work, followed by an afternoon photo session. The day wrapped up with a final chat with the creative team. 

Stotz found that Mailchimp recognized that she was wearing many different hats and is compensating her accordingly. However, she recognizes that in the current economic climate, where unemployment is higher than it was during the Great Depression, she’ll likely have to do more work for less.

But she feels lucky to work at all. “For the first six weeks, there were no emails,” she says. “That was really eye-opening.”  

DIY Wins the Days 

Not all photographers can perform shoots in person. But for New York-based photographer Becky Yee, who shoots for clients including Ooofos, Foot Locker and The Lingerie Journal, that didn’t stop her from organizing her own professional shoot-from-home, with a makeup artist, in the midst of the pandemic. 

Yee had spent months preparing a “Natural & Naughty” feature in The Lingerie Journal that would highlight lingerie shipped by brands in Australia, the United Kingdom, and various cities around the U.S. All of the samples were in her studio in Chinatown, ready for the shoot that had been scheduled for March 20. And then, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced New York State would go on pause. “I was like, it’s such a shame all of this beautiful stuff was shipped from all over the world and I’m not going to use it,” Yee recalls.  

Rather than despair, Yee set up a shoot for early April. She shipped the samples to the Brooklyn apartment of Naoumie Ekiko, a model she had worked with in the past. Then, she virtually booked the services of makeup artist Luis Perez, who was quarantining in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Both were paid their regular editorial rate. 

The three had a pre-production meeting a few days before the shoot in which they went over looks. Ekiko walked them through locations in her small apartment—the kitchen, bedroom, living room—which she shares with a roommate.  

On the day of the shoot, the three began a Zoom call. First, Perez walked Ekiko, a self-proclaimed tomboy, through the steps of applying her makeup using the samples she had acquired on sets and backstage at fashion shows over the years. Overall, Perez directed two looks. Then, Yee posed Ekiko, who wore five different lingerie outfits.

becky yee makeup artist and model webcam photo session zoom
© Becky Yee

Ekiko had a ring light and an iPhone stand, which Yee had her adjust throughout the shoot. “She’s a professional, so she knows what she’s doing,” the photographer says. And Yee knew exactly what she was looking for, so she was able to give very clear directions. 

becky yee lingerie journal shoot photographing during quarantine over zoom
© Becky Yee

At first, Yee experimented with taking screenshots of Ekiko over Zoom, but the images were too grainy to publish. Instead, she had Ekiko use her iPhone’s self-timer app to take her own portraits. Yee would get Ekiko in the position she wanted and then take a screenshot of the Zoom screen. Then, she would send it over to Ekiko, who would recreate the pose and camera position. Somehow, it worked. 

The photographs were posted on The Lingerie Journal’s website in the beginning of May, along with a video that showed how the shoot worked logistically.

“What sets photographers apart is our way of looking at the world,” Yee says. And even when the world is changing, photographers are still able to look at it, even in totally unexpected circumstances.