The coronavirus pandemic is as far-reaching an event as most of us have ever experienced. No matter your age, background, place of residence, or line of work, you’ve most likely been affected by COVID-19. This is especially true for photographers, many of whom have had upcoming shoots canceled because of the subsequent restrictions put in place. Instead of packing for week-long assignments in a different part of the country, more and more freelancers have had to figure out ways to stay productive and sharp at home.
Sometimes, the line between work and personal life becomes blurred, and the days you work from home can be both a blessing and a curse. The truth is, working from home is an amazing opportunity, one that shouldn’t be taken for granted. But we do need to fine-tune our efforts to get the most out of the experience. The key is staying focused and balancing work with the other areas of your life while making sure to stay safe. Below, I’ll go over a few tips that may help you get through these uncertain times.
Days in the field can be long and stressful, but somehow your body puts up less of a fight when you need to get ready for a shoot at 5 a.m. than when you set your alarm for 8 a.m. to fire up your computer. The lack of a commute is a double-edged sword, with many of us stealing as much extra sleep as possible because we don’t have to allocate much time to getting ready. Even if you dread the day of editing or marketing that lies ahead, set an alarm and get yourself up right away. Yes, it’s tempting to hit snooze, but you have to hold yourself accountable. As lifestyle photographer Jon Kownacki says, “just get up in the morning and do it.”
Figure out your morning routine and give yourself some personal time before diving head-first into your work. Maybe you look forward to your cup of coffee, maybe it’s an exercise routine that gets your day started right. It’s important to be excited about your morning to put yourself in the right frame of mind.
As soon as I started working remotely, I got all of the “so you get to wear sweatpants to work” jokes. Sure, you can stay in your pajamas all day, but you still need to feel like a contributing member of society. Wash your face, take a shower — do whatever you need to start your day and feel confident. The key is to feel good about yourself and empowered to attack the day. If that means wearing makeup, business causal, or even just a nice pair of sweatpants, do it. Shoot, if dressing up in suit makes you feel like you’re going to be more productive, go for it! Remind yourself that, even when on set or in an office, the person you’re really dressing up for is yourself.
Having a comfortable office space will not only help you stay productive but can also affect your overall health and mental well-being. Editing images on your computer screen all day may force you into a dark, isolated room. This is part of the job and cannot be avoided, but it can be managed. Try to use a space with windows that you can uncover when you have breaks from editing. You don’t need perfectly balanced light and color on your screen when you’re doing tasks like sending emails and researching clients (and I know you are all dedicated to personalized marketing efforts!), so use that time to enjoy a naturally lit, inviting space.
Having an “office” — even if it is just a designated table in the corner of your living room — will help you maintain focus and organization. It’s also good to keep all your work gear in there. That way, once you’re done with your tasks at the end of the day, your work will be out of sight and out of mind. Keep all of that stuff out of the bedroom and other areas of the house earmarked for relaxation.
Decorate your space. Make it fun, encouraging, and an extension of your personality. This may mean an explosion of colorful post-it notes, photos of your family, or fun stickers that make you smile. Even though you’re at home, you’ll need to enjoy sitting at this desk for a good portion of the day.
Sitting is another key point. Humans are not built to slouch in front of computers for hours on end. It might not be easy, but it’s important to maintain good posture. Invest in a nice chair that supports your body. You many need cushions or added lumbar support, but find what works for you. Alignment is key: your back should be upright at a 90-degree angle from your legs, your shoulders should be back and down, and your knees should be bent at 90-degrees. Obviously, we can’t all sit like Emily Post for multiple hours a day, but be mindful of your posture and you’ll find yourself naturally more comfortable. And if you really don’t like sitting, consider purchasing a standing desk.
After a long day (or week), it can be tempting to just sit around and skip the gym, but activity is important for your body and your mind. Break up your day productively: yoga, jumping jacks, a walk around the block — anything that will get you out of your seat, away from your computer, and on the move.
The value of sunlight and fresh air cannot be overstated. Sometimes, when I’m trying to push through a given project, I’ll hold off exercising until the end of the day. That decision is almost always a mistake. Not only will my productivity burn out faster, but I’ll exericse ends up feeling like an easily-skippable chore. Go for a run or roll out your yoga mat, then take advantage of those endorphins to push through the rest of the day.
Even if you have a really busy day ahead and can’t get out of the house for extended exericse, make sure to set aside time for smaller, but still meaningful, activities. Every hour, take 5-10 minutes to crank out some push-ups, sit-ups, or stretches, and make sure to mix up your exercises each day to give yourself some semblance of variety. It’s incredibly easy to fall into a rut — especially now — where you feel like every day is the same and find yourself slogging through them. One of the best ways to combat this is to give your mind a break regularly by diving into a physical activity of some kind.
When you’re at home all day and your pantry is right there, it’s easy to snack aimlessly and endlessly as if you’re at the craft services table. It takes real willpower to avoid this habit. Start with a wholesome breakfast, don’t starve yourself at the beginning of the day, and make healthy choices throughout. You’re going to snack, so have healthy options as readily available as the crackers, cookies, and cereal.
Remember: even though you may be rushing to complete a project, you don’t have to scarf down a granola bar. Plan your meals so that when you take a break, you can make yourself a balanced lunch. You’re allowed to take advantage of the fact that you’re at home and can cook a meal for yourself.
Another way to stave off the urge to snack is to fill up your stomach by drinking water throughout the day. Plus, when you’re at home, no one is counting how many bathroom breaks you take.
Most of you, I’m sure, love the business side of photography and look forward to the days you get to spend researching clients, updating emailers, and sending out invoices. Surprisingly(!), not everyone feels as passionate about these chores as you do. Erick Regnard cops to this:
The business side of photography is obviously the most boring side, but it needs to be done. It takes at least 50% of your time, but unless you have an agent that hands you clients on a plate and sorts out all your quotes, you need to do all the work yourself. This means wearing lots of different hats: the bookkeeping, the marketing, the social media, finding clients, learning new programs and cameras, etc. When there are things to do, we put our heads down and do them.
If you’re not blessed with total dedication, one of the hardest parts of working from home is staying on task. As a freelancer, you don’t have someone over your shoulder watching you show up and leave each day, so you need to be your own boss. It is obscenely easy to hit “Command + T,” open up a new tab, and fall down an hours-long YouTube rabbit hole. You must hold yourself accountable for what needs to be completed in a given day or week. One simple trick I use is to make lists of realistic goals and check items off as I accomplish them. Research 20 clients, check. Update and send your treatment, check. Send out handwritten snail-mail promos, check. That psychological boost does wonders, and those adorable animal videos on YouTube aren’t going anywhere. Outdoor lifestyle photographer Scott Markewitz offers this advice:
Prioritize the important tasks and get them done first. There’s always more to do than you have time for, so focus on the things that are going to help you achieve your goals and you’ll be more productive overall.
Due dates are also important. Set early deadlines for tasks to avoid procrastinating and prolonging correspondence with a client. This way, as things come in, you won’t be overwhelmed by a rushed timeline. Not to mention, a photographer who works in a timely fashion is more likely to get repeat business.
Being on your own also means that you won’t have someone else to recognize your smaller accomplishments. Reward yourself. Maybe it’s with a break or a piece of chocolate, but you can still remind yourself that you’re doing a good job and have something to look forward to while you’re working to complete a task. Again, this is where those adorable animal videos on YouTube come into play. Just don’t lose track of time!
This is a unique time in our lives, mostly because we have more of it than we could’ve ever imagined. Simply put, we don’t know when we’ll return to normalcy. One silver lining to this predicament is that you can schedule ample time for creative personal projects (that are feasible within the COVID-19 restrictions, of course). Plus, actually photographing something is a great way to take your mind off the unglamorous, nitty gritty parts of freelancing, like client outreach and social media marketing.
Not only has Nils Hendrick Mueller continued to get his photographic reps and stay technically sharp, he’s done so while spending quality time with his son. Adorable bonding sessions aside, this speaks to one of the beauties of photography: you can take it in just about any direction, while simultaneously experimenting with your equipment to give you an even better understanding of it. So, get those creative juices flowing, think up a concept or story idea, and take a few hours (or days) to execute it.
When you’re done with your workday, be done. You’ve set a closing time or goals for your day and now that you’ve accomplished them, take time for yourself. It’s easy to allow owning your own business to take over your life, but you need to set boundaries. Remember to treat your house as your home even though you have the opportunity to work there as well.
When you’re done, walk away from your workspace or maybe take some time to get out of the house: run to the grocery store or take a walk — but sanitize and practice social distancing if you do! When you come back, or once you unplug, your home should be your personal space, not a workspace. Recharge and relax.
Scott says, “Most of the time, I’m able to find a good balance between work and play. My main focus is getting the work done, but I also have the flexibility to jump out to ski, bike, or run when I have free time.”
In my experience, the biggest downfall to freelancing and working from home is being on your own, and that is only exacerbated these days. Not all of us are social butterflies, but we may need to stretch our comfort zone to find our tribe and do that within the constraints of social distancing. You may have to reach out in other areas of your life to find people to whom you relate and who may be in a similar situation. The photography industry provides many opportunities to get involved. Sign up and be active in your local ASMP or APA chapter or attend a creative happy hour.
The main goal is to interact with people outside of your day-to-day work. Not only will you be able to meet new people and make friends, but you can also find mentors and share ideas. With everyone contributing different experiences, you may find that not only are you having a great time, but you’re growing as a person and as a business owner.
Working from home is challenging, but it’s also an opportunity that we’re lucky to have. You live by your own rules and grow in a self-sustained environment. As a photographer and business owner, you get to follow your passion every day and your success is solely dependent on what you put into it. As a final piece of advice, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.