Freelance Photography, in a time of plague

Freelance Photography, in a time of plague

Photographers are by and large sitting on their thumbs right now.

If your clients are events companies, universities, restaurants, theatres, if you shoot weddings or parties, if you’ve airline clients or tourism, I bet your phone hasn’t rung for 2 months. I’ve had emails from clients and they’ve had emails from me, but mostly we’ve been checking in on each other. 

Had a lovely email lately saying ‘No work for you sadly Phil. But how are you doing?’ Feels good to feel remembered. As a freelancer I usually consider myself the vulnerable one, that my clients have the comfort of a structure and a salary, but at this time it’s worth checking in on them – one way or another everyone gets hit by a crisis like this. Even if their job is secure, the lockdown is having a hellacious effect on some people’s temperaments.

So demand has been pummelled and we’re probably knee deep in this for a year. What can I do about it?

Well first of all, just because your commissions have gone downhill,  doesn’t mean your relationships have to. After 12 years as a freelancer one thing you notice is that while your clients may move from job to job, they have a way of bringing you with them. Some individuals I’ve worked for since day one have moved across four or five different employers by now, and every time they move I get a new client, and you’ve a pretty good shot at retaining the existing ones. At this weird time a lot of your contacts might find they have to move jobs. Keeping your relationships strong means that when your clients find their feet again, they’ll take you with them. 

Us freelancers, with our WFH Judge Judy omnibus habits and answering the phone in our pyjamas, can do well to remember that the rest of the world is not as accustomed to chaos and disorder. My friends who operate in the more structured world are finding this aspect of the period much harder than I am. A short email can go a long way.

Another consideration I’ve had is; to my clients I’m the lifestyle photographer, or the portrait guy or the editorial guy. All areas of work which lean heavily on people in rooms doing things. Knowing what I know – that we don’t know how long this will last, what restrictions will remain or how skittish your existing clients will feel in any case – it’s worth considering which areas covered by your skillset are COVID proof. 

Well, I bet still life photographers are working fairly unimpeded right now. So I’ve been using this free time to work on a portfolio and show clients what I can do there. I can’t expect the world to suddenly start throwing product photography commissions at me, but there’s no question that I’ve got the time to expand my offering, and a potentially interested client base to show it to.

A trip to the supermarket to pick up some exciting looking beverages (better looking subjects, and another fabulous evening’s entertainment in the mix) gave me some test subjects to work with. I gave both the brands – one a mysterious, kooky red wine leaning heavy on the atmosphere, and a beer can with a bright colour scheme and environmentally friendly credentials – and structured my visuals accordingly.

I like how it worked out. And i sent it out to my clients too. 

So, remember – everyone is in the sh*t and everyone is looking to get out of the sh*t. And these are some of the way’s i’m planning to keep on top of things.

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