The Photographer’s Guide to COVID-19

The Photographer’s Guide to COVID-19

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Guest post by Dr. Tola Ajibade, a member of our NJspots community.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Coronavirus (COVID—19) right now, and the impact it may have on photographers. 

CLEAN YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR, and read the rest of this list for the best tips on staying safe (and sane).

Please consult the CDC and the New Jersey Department of Health for all the latest information.

THE VIRUS

The Coronavirus is part of a family of viruses known for causing respiratory infections, like the common cold. However, they can also cause more serious infections. For example, the viruses that caused the SARS and MERS outbreaks of yesteryears are also coronaviruses. This most recent one causes the disease COVID-19.

Generally, it’s spread through droplets. These are usually things like mucus and tiny vapors that come out of our airways while we talk, cough, sneeze etc. The virus can exist in the droplets for up to 3 hours after an infected person has coughed or sneezed in an area. 

It can also survive on hard, non-porous, surfaces like metal, glass, and plastic (i.e. most photography gear) for up to three days in some cases. Contact with these surfaces can also spread the disease.

Who's Affected?

With any disease outbreak, there are four categories of people most likely to be affected:

  1. The elderly 
  2. Young children and babies
  3. Those who are already sick and/or immunocompromised
  4. Pregnant women. 

This can vary a little from outbreak to outbreak, but usually, those are the groups to be concerned about first.

With this outbreak, it seems to be hitting the elderly and already sick/immunocompromised the hardest. It has largely left children alone. Pregnant women do not currently appear to have increased risk of infection relative to everyone else.

Common Symptoms

People can go up 14 days after contracting the virus before they start to show symptoms. This is one of the reasons behind its rapid spread.

Most people (up to 80%) will have a mild infection consisting largely of fevers, dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, etc. Those may clear with basic over-the-counter medication and little to no significant intervention.

However, if you’re older or already sick/immunocompromised, you could have more serious complications including pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. This typically requires more focused care in the hospital and possibly in the ICU.

JOIN OUR SLACK COMMUNITY!

Work on social distancing by connecting with other photographers in New Jersey.​

HOW TO BEST STAY SAFE

In general, to prevent the spread of the illness, these good old-fashioned public health measures are highly recommended:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds every time you do it.
  • Clean your cellphones, cameras, lenses, laptops, and other common surfaces that you tend to touch regularly.
  • Don’t touch your face because you can pick up droplets and spread them on surfaces.
  • Don’t buy masks. Doing so will only limit the supply for people working in hospitals and for those showing symptoms.
  • If you’re sick, you absolutely need to isolate yourself to prevent or slow down the spread of the illness. If your symptoms start to worsen (e.g. getting increasingly short of breath on tasks that were once easy, being unable to keep food down, etc) then seek medical attention.
  • Call your primary care office or the emergency room BEFORE just showing up there. They likely have screening and triage protocols in place that you may not be aware of. Some doctor’s offices may have even closed to help divert resources to more crucial centralized areas such as ERs and ICUs.

The biggest problem with this outbreak is not so much that a lot of people are going to get sick. Rather, it’s that too many people will get sick all at once and overwhelm the system. That’s what’s happening in Italy right now. And that’s why those basic hygiene measures are so important for helping to flatten the curve.

Above all else, DON’T PANIC. Most people who get this illness are going to experience mild symptoms that may not require going to the hospital.

But seriously though, I can’t stress it enough: WASH YOUR HANDS preferably with soap and water. It has a 5000-year track record of saving lives.

IMPACTS ON PHOTOGRAPHY

This outbreak seems to be affecting the industry in 3 big ways.

Limitations on Equipment

The outbreak started in China, where a massive amount of manufacturing for photography gear takes place. Because of a lot of the social distancing measures they put into place, many factories had to close down or reduce production capacity. This means that certain gear may not be readily available as it once was. Additionally, it may now cost more to acquire.

Economic Downturn

For many people and industries photography can feel like a luxury service. As businesses start to scale back or close up altogether, it may be harder for photographers to find work.

Manpower Shortages

This is especially a problem for those who run large studios or whose work requires large elaborate productions. Social distancing measures (both the self-imposed kind and those required by ordinance) may make it harder to put crews together for large/complex jobs.

SHOULD I CLOSE UP SHOP?

In general, it’s hard to say. Many photographers have already had that decision foisted on them by changes in their industry. Things that might affect your decision on whether or not to stay open include the type of photography you do, the financial reserves your business has available to keep the lights on, and the financial solvency of your primary client base.

Hard numbers are hard to come by because things are changing so rapidly, but here are some things to consider depending on the type of photography you do:

Real Estate and Architecture Photography

These photographers may be able to continue working depending on the local market. Contact with other people can be minimal in many instances. The concern here is less from a public health standpoint and more of a market issue.

Wedding and Event Photography

In general, photographers of people will likely be the hardest hit. This is particularly true for photographers who specialize in situations that involve large numbers of people. For these photographers, public health concerns may be the biggest limiting factor.

Many states and cities have implemented restrictions on public gatherings past a certain size usually not more than 250 people. Check your local ordinances to figure out what you should be doing.

Additionally, the CDC has now published recommendations to limit gatherings to 50 people or fewer, and the White House suggests 10 people or fewer. Admittedly, that’s confusing, so use your best judgement — but definitely err towards smaller crowds for their safety and yours.

Maternity and Newborn Photography

Thankfully, this outbreak does not appear to disproportionately affect pregnant women and children. Maternity and newborn photographers may be able to keep shooting, but it’s imperative that you keep the above public health measures in mind.

You have to be diligent washing hands and cleaning surfaces (which you should already be doing anyway). Besides, it’s bad for business if you get your client sick.

Portrait Photographers

This may be highly variable depending on your primary demographic. If most of your clients are older people, then it’s probably best that you scale back with them and move to shooting a different demographic.

Given the new CDC and White House recommendations, if you do a lot of family portraits, you may need to have strict requirements on the size of the family that you are able to shoot at once as well as the length of each shoot.

I would argue that you should cap your family shoots at no larger than 5 people. It’s entirely possible that recommended social distancing measures could get more stringent as time goes on. You may even want to implement a hand-washing policy before the start and stop of each shoot. I’m sure your clients will appreciate that you keep their health and safety in mind.

Sports Photographers

Most sports photographers have already had this decision made for them. Sporting events and franchises have largely shut down regular operations.

From a public health perspective, this makes absolute sense. From a financial standpoint, photographers who shoot sporting events exclusively will be the hardest hit. It’ll be a great day when large sporting events return, but it might be a while.

Landscape and Nature Photographers

Your workflows may be among the least affected since you’re usually the only human involved. COVID-19 currently is not believed to be airborne in the sense that it’s unlikely to be carried by the wind into far-flung places. Hence, you should still be able to go out and make beautiful pictures provided you’re keeping in line with local ordinances.

For example, the state of New Jersey has implemented strict curfews between the hours of 8pm and 5am. I fully expect that other states will follow suit if they haven’t already.

Additionally, if your business model relies heavily on selling prints, then you may see a downturn in revenue based on market and economic factors. Still, wash your hands and clean your equipment.

Product and Commercial Photographers

You may have limitations on the size of crews that you can bring for different jobs. These might be imposed by your clients or even the state. Most 1-2 person teams (i.e. photographer + lighting assistant) should be fine so long as people diligently practice hygiene and social distancing measures during the shoot. That said, given the impact on the economy, jobs may be harder to come by.

HOW DO I STAY SANE WITH ALL THIS EXTRA TIME?

I have some ideas, which include, but are not limited to: taking stock of your business, trying a new style of photography, and finding new inspiration from books and movies!

Check on each other

It’s important to keep in mind that social distancing does not mean a complete lack of human contact. We humans are social animals. Perhaps the most important thing we can all do is to check in with one another. A lot of us are already going through hard times and many others soon will. It can be a tremendous comfort to know that you’re not in this alone. Doing that is much more helpful than trying to panic.

Take stock of your business

If you’re anything like me, then you’ve likely complained about not having time for certain things. This is a good opportunity to take stock of various aspects of your life, health, relationships, and business. Find your strengths and buttress them. Evaluate your weaknesses and mitigate them.

Explore nature (safely!)

Nature is still free — in fact, all New Jersey State parks are remaining open, provided you follow social distancing practices. Get outside and explore. You’ll see some of your favorite places with fresh eyes now that there are fewer people.

Try something new

To keep your creative edge going, you can try a whole new style of photography that you’ve never tried before. Not only will it improve your knowledge base, but it also might give you ideas for new offerings and markets you can tackle when you start rebuilding your business.

Find inspiration elsewhere

Read books, watch movies, listen to music, paint, and dance (preferably from a safe distance). Humans have been creating things since the dawn of time for moments such as these. They will commiserate with our fears, replenish our spirits, and inspire us for the future.

If you have any questions, please reach out! And join our Slack community here.

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