Worldwide, the economy is taking a hit due to the coronavirus. As people stay indoors and non-essential services grind to a halt, many business owners are finding themselves in uncharted territory. For creative freelancers this is especially true. With people under lockdown, weddings have been canceled and publicity campaigns put on hold. This impact trickles down to all the creatives who scheduled were to work on these shoots and that includes Canadian photographer Neil Ta.
Ta, who specializes in weddings and corporate portraits, is one of many creatives who has seen his business radically change in a short period of time as the reality of COVID-19 settles in. As a professor, as well as a photographer, he's also had to tackle the transition into the virtual classroom. So what's it like for Ta—who usually sees his workload ramp up in the spring—during this difficult time?
We had the chance to speak with Ta about how he's tackling this sudden shift and uncharted situation. From learning new skills to using technology to stay connected, Ta is making the best of what's ahead. Read on to learn more about how this photographer is staying busy during the coronavirus and how it's changed his day to day routine.
Can you share a bit about your photography business?
I started full-time with photography a little over nine years ago, after working a number of years in a corporate environment. The majority of my business comes from corporate and institutional clients as well as weddings. More recently, I started teaching part-time at Seneca College's Photography Program in Toronto. The work I'm most fond of is my personal projects such as this project I shot in Havana or my very early rooftopping work.
When did you first start noticing the effects of the coronavirus on your business?
The first couple of months of 2020 were surprisingly busy. Winters are usually a bit slow for my business, but January and February were just as busy as my busiest months. Everything was business as usual up until Monday, March 9th; that's when I had my first cancellation (for an out-of-country shoot). The seriousness of the pandemic didn't really sink in until Wednesday, March 11 when the NBA suspended the season. After that, within a few days, all of my planned shoots for the rest of March and April were either canceled or postponed.
As a small business owner, how do you prepare yourself for situations like this? Obviously a pandemic is something extraordinary, but there are often business downturns for other reasons.
To be completely honest, I think a lot of creatives have really poor business acumen and lack professionalism. That's no fault of their own, as many post-secondary arts programs don't stress the importance of the business aspects of being an independent creative. I was lucky because I studied business at university and worked in corporate marketing for seven years before starting my photography business.
Having exposure to that world gave me more insight into things like maintaining sufficient cash flow, which at a time like this is critical for sustaining myself through the pandemic and eventual global recession. Even though I have planned for downturns in cash flow, a prolonged pause in business could do irreparable harm. The other elephant in the room is that no one knows what the world—for photographers—will look like once the dust settles, so there is a bit of anxiety beyond just getting through the critical stage.
How are you using technology to your benefit during this time as a creative?
I'm trying my best to keep involved in the community by offering some free sessions online using Big Blue Button. The college course I am teaching this semester has moved completely online, so I've been navigating the various tools available to hold online lectures and run quizzes and examinations virtually. The break has also allowed me to dabble in programs like Premiere Pro, which I haven't had a lot of experience with (since I don't do much video work).
What do you think is the most important thing creatives can do to keep themselves afloat during this time?
It's an unprecedented time for everyone. Every single business has had to scale back operations or put things on pause. Now might be the best time to have an honest discussion about the future of your business, both short and long term. It's a great opportunity for creatives to learn new skills and programs, update their portfolio, reorganize content, or get to those personal projects or images that have been sitting on your hard drive waiting to be rediscovered. Upgrade your skillset so you are better at the end of this than you were at the beginning.
How do you keep yourself motivated and hopeful during a downturn like this?
Start by waking up at a normal time. Take a shower and get ready for the day as you normally do—it doesn't matter if you don't leave the house. Your attitude and motivation will improve as a result. Try to plan as much as possible for the day and write down a list of tasks that you want to complete daily to help maintain some structure. When we're in situations that are mostly out of our control, it is more important now than ever to control what little we can. As the saying goes: “We can only control our effort, not the outcome.”