Photography Business Survival Guide

Alright, the only thing that is certain right now, is that everything is uncertain.

It is easy to panic. It is easy to feel anxious. It is easy to freak out, let’s be honest.

I go through all these stages myself at times, and I’m quite sure you do too.

I’ve been getting emails every day from the “gurus” with “tips on working from home”, or “what to do with downtime” that are completely ignoring the biggest concern we all have right now – how this is going to affect us financially.

My answer to that is this Photography Business Survival Guide.

All my jobs have postponed – but I can’t book any future dates because none of us know when it will be safe to do so.

As food photographers, with a food stylist and a prop stylist, the food stylists are having a hard time getting food, and the prop stylists can’t get props because all stores are closed, not to mention the “stay at home” mandates that all of us should follow.

Also, it’s simply not safe to do a photo shoot right now with a crew.

You could offer to shoot remotely for some types of clients. They would send you the products. You would shoot at your space, and you would email images in for approval. Then send the products back to them if required.

It doesn’t matter what business you are in, the state of the world right now is creating many challenges, and for some, severe financial hardship.

I’ve put together a guide that I will be updating regularly in response to this pandemic. This guide will have an assortment of things for you, from financial resources, educational resources, and some entertaining ones as well.

So let’s get started.

{Some of these resources are for US based businesses – if you are in another country, I am quite sure you will have similar options as well}

Financial Resources For Small Businesses

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The first thing I want to address is the obvious struggle that most small businesses are going through right now. This is a financial struggle that most of us have never experienced before as our clients cancel jobs, postpone jobs without a solid date on the calendar, or they just completely disappeared altogether.

Here are some resources and suggestions to get financial help.

1 – Apply For An SBA Loan: If you are in financial strife, depending on the state you are in, you might be able to apply to get a small business loan with a low interest rate. The US Small Business Administration has a great page of resources. The government has financial hardship assistance called, “Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program”.

2 – Look For Local Government Help: Check your local city, county, and state for any emergency or disaster relief programs for individuals and small businesses.

3 – Defer IRS Payments: Do you have an IRS installment agreement in place for back taxes? You can call them to see if you can defer your payments for a few months or lower your monthly payment. The number is 1-800-829-1040. The hold time will probably be a long time, but could help you regardless. They will continue to charge interest of course.

4 – Do you use Photoshop or Lightroom? You can call Adobe to ask for a 3 month credit. 1-800-833-6687. You will have to wait on hold for about 1-1.5 hours. If you are monthly they will give you a credit for 3 months. Not sure what they will do for yearly subscribers.

Update: Now the hold time is more than 2 hours and they finally offer a call back feature so they can call you back. Also, if you call and get the “all circuits are busy now”, just hang up and dial back till you get through.

5 – Postpone Tax Payment: Please know the IRS has pushed our federal income tax deadline from April 15th to July 15th.

6 – Defer Other Payments: Call any company you owe money to and see if you can defer any payments. Some credit card companies are allowing this. Most of them will continue to charge you interest of course.

7 – Forbes has created a list of small business relief programs in the US.


Photographer And Freelance Artist Resources

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Photographers and freelance artists will be hit very hard by all that is going on right now. Each day there are more and more resources and lists with information to help us.

1 – Photoshelter has put together a resource list for photographers and other artists.

2 – There is a new website for freelance artists with a massive resource list as well called Covid-19 Freelance Artist.

3 – ASMP hosted a webinar about the business ramification of the coronavirus.

4 – The Workbook hosted a webinar with two producers, an artist representative, and a photographer to talk about the current situation in our photography community. You might need to register to see this, but it’s free.

5 – One of the producers in the webinar mentioned above has created a Facebook group with production resources for freelancers for this pandemic. She shares cancellation policy language suggestions for your contracts, and other resources.

6 – For those that do fine art work as well, my friend and artist consultant, Renee Phillips has put together an extensive guide/list for all artists on her website with a large assortment of resources of all types, not just for this pandemic.


This Is The Time To Work On Your Business!

Time At Home

Now I would like to share with you some ideas for the times when the stress has subsided and you can find some extra time to work on your business from home while being “socially distant” from others.

1 – Socialize Virtually – Probably one of the most important things we can do as we “shelter in place” is to make sure we stay connected with friends, family, and other colleagues during this crazy time. I’m involved with several Facebook groups and programs, so we’ve been using Zoom meetings to get together online and just chat about what we are all going through right now.

If you don’t have a current group to do this with , start one of your own! Or join our Food Photography Club Facebook group.

2 – Finally get your photography business set up legally! I had no problem calling my state’s government to ask some questions about my corporation. Many of the states do have people working from home and answering the phone. Of course you also need to find a small business attorney – they can do everything with you over the phone.

Here are some additional business tools for running a successful photography business.

3 – Update Your Equipment List: This is something that always needs to get done, update your photo equipment list that you need for shooting on location.

4 – Paint Your Studio Walls: Work on putting together your home studio. I always use neutral white to paint my walls – this means it’s a standard white that is already mixed. It must be a matte finish. You can order this online to get delivered so you don’t have to go to the store or see if your local paint store will deliver. Home Depot is still open and offers delivery.

5 – Get Your Forms Ready: If you are just starting, you know you will need an estimate, invoice, model release, property release and some terms and conditions. Work on those now while you have time.

6 – Work On Your Marketing – there are so many things I want to work on while we are shut in. I am looking forward to this actually. Here’s some suggestions:

  • Work on your website and upload new images or make new blog posts.
  • Work on marketing materials like postcards and mailers.
  • Work on your printed portfolio (learn how to make prints).
  • Work on creating your digital portfolio on your iPad or Tablet. I personally use the Foliobook app.
  • Work on your prospect lists for food brands, ad agencies, design firms, and magazines.
  • Make a Blurb book – make either a portfolio book if you are not comfortable printing your own, or make some nice leave behind pieces for in-person meetings, like a mini magazine.

7 – Create New Images For Your Portfolio: Yes this is obvious, but it should be mentioned. How about testing product photography? Let’s face it, if you did photography for restaurants, they won’t be hiring any of us for a while as they struggle to make their payroll.

You might have to branch out to other types of businesses in order to sustain yourself as a photographer and learn how to photograph non-food products.

8- Catch Up On Copyright: This would be a great time to copyright all those images, or blog posts, or both that you have neglected to copyright recently. The copyright office is still taking submissions online, it is just taking them longer to mail out certificates.

9 – Research: It’s very important to see what other photographers are working on. Look at your favorite photographers’ websites and social media pages to see what they are doing during this time.

10 – Make Some DIY Backgrounds or Props: Making backgrounds can take some serious time – which we might have plenty of coming up. See if you can get supplies ordered online and delivered. See this post for some DIY napkins.


Take Advantage Of Educational Resources That Are Now Free

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There are several companies and organizations that have generously offered their online education products for free for a short time.

1 – PPA: The Professional Photography Association has opened their education library for free for a short time.

2 – CreativeLive: They have all of their Health And Wellness classes streaming for free during this crisis.

3 – The Resource Library: Did you know that I have a few freebies for you as well? They are in the Resource Library here on the blog.


Just For A Fun Virtual Break

Alright, the following is a list of things just for fun, to get you out of the stressful mindset you might be in. I’ve been forcing myself to do this several times a day when I get a bit freaked out about this pandemic.

1 – Go to Disneyland – Virtually! This is super fun. Disney has a Youtube channel and they have previews and tours of a bunch of their rides. These will certainly put a smile on your face.

2 – Tour A Museum – Virtually! Did you know that there are 1000’s of museum spaces and exhibits showcased on Youtube? Here is the Louvre in Paris. This channel is the Wanderlust Travel Videos. To tour other museums, simple pull up Youtube and search for “walking tour of ________”. Chances are the museum you would like to see is there.

3 – Go On A Walking Tour – Virtually! Ok, so this one is really fun. The Let’s Go Somewhere New Youtube channel has nicely shot 4K videos of walking city tours from all over the world. Here is Amsterdam:

4 – Go To Orion – Virtually! Google now has an entire collection dedicated to 360˚ videos. Play the video below and click and drag your mouse around. This one is from Nasa. Super cool! Google 360˚ videos on all sorts of topics, of course.

5 – View The Getty Photography Collection: The Getty has always been very supportive of photography (many museums are not). There are some amazing images in this collection that you will certainly recognize.

6 – Learn A New Language For Free: If it comes down to it, and we are still homebound, we might have more time on our hands that we originally thought we would. How about learning a new language? Duolingo has free tutorials for many languages.

7 – Learn A New Ark Skill: One of my favorite websites has a list of 13 Youtube channels you can learn to paint for free.


So there you have it, for now. Hopefully some of these can help you, and at least give you a smile for just a few minutes.

Please join us in the Food Photography Club Facebook Group for a community during these times.

If you feel there are any resources, or for fun links to add, please let me know in the comments below.





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