How have lockdowns changed the opportunities for photographers & videographers in their early careers?

The majority of photographers, and certainly us at DGTL, earn their first photography pay-check by shooting a live event. Whilst an interest in cameras may be sparked by the  need to record moments with friends, beautiful landscapes and dramatic weather, or a  distant dream of shooting fashion editorials and headline musicians, the industry most likely to offer inexperienced photographers their first paid job is the live events industry.

My first paid photography job was working for a band who wanted live gig photos, who’d heard of me via another band I’d shot for free. For Sam it was a …, and for Matt it was a university’s Model United Nations video and then club nights. All of us started building our portfolios at clubs, festivals, university campuses and music venues – all the places that have now been shut for over a year. It was by networking with those we met, and refining our skills under the difficult lighting conditions those situations present, that we built a portfolio and a reputation. Only then did we begin getting jobs in industries beyond just the live events industry. 

A guide to club photography
One of DGTL’s early club images

So, during the pandemic and its (long-lasting!) consequences, how are young photographers starting out if the normal routes to paid work, through shooting small bands, university events, student balls, family friends’ weddings and independent festivals, are all on hold?

We spoke to artistic brand director and graphic designer Sophie Cherry about the @home initiative she and FUZE Bristol set up over the second lockdown to give their collective of creatives a chance to collaborate with professional models, and get their work seen on a large platform. FUZE is a community of 250 creative individuals; many are university students, and all of them are passionate about the arts.

“The fuze@home concept was arranged to partner those with a creative idea and a desire to direct, with one of our models, resulting in a covid-safe face-time photoshoot” said Sophie. “Our models, such as Gabby Dean and Dexter Mandrake (pictured below), have worked internationally for ASOS, Valentino and Celine. To be a creative director on a professional shoot with world-class models is an opportunity most photographers at the beginning of their careers can only dream of, never mind achieve in a lawful manner during a global pandemic!”

Whilst FUZE’s shoots, though socially distant, have continued to involve and rely on people being in them, DGTL’s Matt Greenwell has taken to instagram to document something he doesn’t need to stay 2m from – his food! He and his partner Kate have amassed 8.3k followers over the last three lockdowns on @topnosh_bykateandmatt, by sharing images of their dinners in an artistic ‘product photography’ style, with tips on how to cook/serve/pair with cocktails. This has resulted in PR gifts from Waitrose and Opihr Gin, which accompany Matt’s repeat jobs with dairy brand Yeo Valley. He produces short films about their collaborations, and new social media campaigns.

Whilst instagram pages can start as a bit of fun, they can be a valuable way of marketing yourself and your work, especially if you are a younger person without the content to fill a website. Particularly this year, when you’ve been unable to meet brand owners and potential clients in person, being able to showcase personal projects on platforms that have the potential to send your account viral, or at least attract positive attention and recognition, is essential in building an online portfolio that clients who haven’t met you may stumble upon, and will trust immediately. 

Matt believes he’s “been quite lucky” when it comes to the live events industry shutting down, because he has never specialised too much on one certain area of photography/film since going freelance. He says he’s continued to work by creating content for “businesses who’ve realised they need a better online presence because they can’t get out to clients to sell.” Additionally, because he’s now “a solo operation, there is no delay in production due to studio size/access or big crews so that’s been quite helpful this year.” Whilst for Matt work has “been a lot more studio based, which isn’t the most fun,” he recognises that he’s got better at lighting recently because of the time and focus studio work allows for that.

Sam and DGTL have taken on projects over the last year that might never have existed without lockdown – videos that mix interviews, storytelling, cinematic shots and sports videography to create virtual open days for schools that can’t have hundreds of prospective students, parents and visitors on site as usual. A number of projects have continued without interruption too, because of their reliance on machines and buildings rather than people. Working with Lamborghini has involved front and rear tracking, using both mirrorless DSLRs and heavy cine cameras like Alexa Mini or RED DSMC2 on the front of Sam’s van, whilst the property advertising content for building complexes in London has seen extensive drone use, with graphic animations applied afterwards.

The number of people spending more time at home and on screens during the lockdowns and because of the lack of the live events industry has massively increased average content consumption, and Netflix in particular have been keen to commission new shows. Sam has been involved as an individual on the sets of a pilot episode for a Netflix show and the fact that TV and film production has been permitted to continue throughout lockdown 2 & 3, despite other creative and live industries being banned, has meant that there have been increased opportunities in this sector, with larger budgets and more captive audiences.

Similarly, there’s been a huge increase in music video creation. Because artists cannot perform at live gigs, let alone tour, they’ve had months to write and record new material. However, with everyone releasing new songs, musicians need their work to stand out and so they’re wanting to create bigger and better music videos with greater creative visions. This has resulted in Sam filming on music videos involving burning cars, abandoned helicopters, disused prisons, car-tracking and drones, amongst other things, for artists such as Foji Gill and Simmy (signed to Revere Records) and Big Tobz, Blittz & The HeavyTrackerz (GRM Daily) – watch the videos by following the links!

This ability to adapt to the changing regulations is essential in being able to spot what kind of jobs are possible and in demand, meaning that DGTL and other photographers and videographers don’t have to stop just because live events have.

ECHT Is A Concept have been taking DJs, who’ve had all their sets cancelled, to remote locations at sunrise, where dramatic nature is their audience. They record their 30 minute sets and stream them on Youtube to those who would’ve attended live events normally, priding themselves on supporting art, music and talent in time with no events. The 5am call times and hour-long hikes up snowy mountains or muddy paths with drones, cameras, tripods, decks, speakers and generators hasn’t been easy, but the original content they’ve created out of the disappearance of live events is inspired and poses the question ‘has a lack of live events forced photographers & videographers to be more creative?’

The disappearance of the most easily accessible jobs in the live events industry has been difficult for young creatives who’ve been been left with no option but to try and break into the more intimidating areas of the trade which have higher entry-level requirements. But, for them, and particularly for more experienced creators, this break in the normal chain of supply and demand has allowed them to make the most of the gaps in their schedules due to cancelled event-jobs. They’ve been able to return to the grassroots of photography and videography – their initial inspirations and reasons for wanting to pick up a camera – shooting what they want rather than just what is happening in-front of them during an event. This prioritisation of personal and individual passion projects and preferences, as well as the opportunity for more artistic direction during the absence of events work, could result in a shift in photography and videography approaches, from commercially-driven to ‘creativity-first’, which may be one of the dew positives to come from the pandemic!

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